Police decision-making in tackling organised crime: Constructing and prioritising crime problems in the UK

Research Institution / Organisation

Cardiff University

Principal Researcher

Maria Pournara

Level of Research


Project Start Date

October 2014

Research Context

​This research seeks to track and trace how national-level, strategic organised crime priorities have been defined by four UK law enforcement agencies (NCIS, NCS, SOCA, NCA) and how and why these have evolved and changed over time. This is an area of policing where the validity and reliability of available intelligence and information to guide their actions is frequently limited and uncertain, as such decisions about how, when and why to intervene are especially complex and contingent.

Through application of a critical analysis of the existing ‘rational actor’ framework for police decision-making, as well as a social problems process model, combined with understandings of a variety of influences such as individual-cognitive, cultural, legislative and social, the study aims to produce new insights into the ways in which police organisations seek to manage the social impacts of organized crime. The research seeks to address the following questions:

  • How do law enforcement organisations construct and calibrate their priorities in tackling organised crime? In particular, how and why have some organised crime threats been elevated while others have been fading away in the organisations’ agendas?
  • How do organised crime threats change and develop over time?
  • What kinds of factors play a role in shaping the setting of organisational, strategic priorities in terms of organised crime, and what implications do they have for the design and delivery of effective operational responses?

Research Methodology

​A key focus for the study is to identify factors that influence the setting of organised crime strategic priorities and shifts in their relative positions. To this end, the study adopts a socio-historical perspective and a multi-method research design.

The study involves an extensive content analysis of annual reports published by the four national agencies from 1993-2017, as well as a thematic media analysis of a sample of 314 newspaper articles from the same time period. The main aim is to track and trace trends and patterns of change in various organised crime problems, such as drugs and human trafficking, and cybercrime among others. To complement and triangulate findings from the document analysis, the study uses data from 15semi-structured interviews with individuals who have worked in the areas of decision-making and priority-setting in policing and law enforcement in the UK. The participants provide invaluable insights into organisational priority-setting processes. The adoption of this form of ‘between method triangulation’ develops different kinds of insight into police decision-making processes that can be validated against each other, to build up a more nuanced and compelling picture.

Interim reports and publications

​Not available

Date due for completion

December 2019
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