“Ahead of Time”. Police Work in the Future

Monday, 11 July 2016: 12:00
Location: Hörsaal 26 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Jonas GRUTZPALK, FHoV NRW, Germany
When police officials define the duties of their organisation they often use a formula that says that police work consists of repression and prevention.  Whilst we might have a pretty clear picture of what „repression“ might look like, it is more difficult to grasp what might be meant by prevention. So German police officials often use another formula to describe that. They say that police needs to “get ahead of the situation” (“vor die Lage kommen”) in order to be preventive.

German police law in fact draws quite a fascinating picture of the police as an agent who works in the future: “It is the police’s duty to prevent hazards and thus to prevent criminal acts and to prosecute future criminal acts.” (ASOG Berlin, §1 (3))

How police is supposed to do that is the question of my intervention. A part of the answer is the statistical one. Sherlock Holmes has beautifully described the statistical look into the future: „While the individual man is an insoluble puzzle, in the aggregate he becomes a mathematical certainty. You can, for example, never foretell what any one man will do. But you can, with precision, say what an average man will do. Individuals vary, percentages remain constant. So says the statistician“ (Doyle 1890).

This statistical „discovery oft he future“ (H.G. Wells 1913) (which might also be regarded as one of the many birthplaces of sociology) is widely used in the prediction of possible traffic accidents in police work. But what other sources and methods do police officers have to „prevent future crimes“? How do we find out about their concepts of the future and how might Sociology even be able to assist them to do a better job?