Systems & complexity

Knowledge sharing practices and issues in policing

Effective knowledge sharing both within and between police organisations is arguably becoming essential for policing success. With this in mind, a recent paper1 presents the results of an integrative systematic literature review of research into knowledge sharing within and between police organisations.

Challenges and complexities in regard to police knowledge sharing have given rise to research across a range of disciplines. Key areas of interest identified through this research are:

  1. Fragmented, bureaucratic institutional forms can stifle the flow of information around police services, and sub-groups (e.g. frontline patrol officers) can be disinclined to share information with other sub-groups (e.g. detectives).
  1. The introduction of new technologies over the years from two-way radio to computerised record systems, surveillance technologies and mobile computing solutions are continuing to transform policing. Although assumed to improve productivity and efficiency, there are indications that technologies can reduce officers’ time spent on street-level activities.
  1. Increasing knowledge linkages between police and non-police organisations when dealing with crime and security issues. Arguments have been made for expanding surveillance networks where police organisations are able to access records from insurance, educational, financial and telecommunications institutions and sometimes vice versa. Global trends are also showing a change in the governance of policing, with non-police organisations increasingly taking over security roles.
  1. The conception that we are moving towards a society where there is greater assessment and management of risk and hence where there is much greater collation and dissemination of data on individuals.
  1. An increasing movement towards transnational policing where international bodies (e.g. Interpol, Europol) co-ordinate operations across sovereign borders, or where police organisations in different countries directly work with each other to build an integrated understanding of security issues.
  1. A lack of knowledge regarding policy content and the economic, political and ideological contexts in which they originate can influence the success of policy transfer from one domain to another.

However, the literature is fragmented. In consideration of this, the aim of the paper is to present the first systematic review of the topic that integrates the existing literature to highlight:

  • different types of knowledge sharing and organisations studied
  • major barriers and enablers that have been identified
  • accompanying practical and research recommendations.

A search and relevance assessment for the literature review resulted in 39 papers being identified for further analysis, representing the following countries: Australia (2 papers), Belgium (5), Canada (3), Germany (3), Italy (2), Netherlands (6), New Zealand (1), Norway (8), Singapore (1), UK (4), and USA (4).

Data was collated from the 39 papers using a structured template. The templates were then analysed for common themes in relation to the six areas of interest above.


1. Types of knowledge investigated most frequently in past research

Overwhelmingly the papers found in the literature review are focused upon the sharing of police intelligence, with 29 out of 39 papers addressing it. ‘Intelligence’ describes information used for police investigations, including the gathering of evidence leading to the arrest of criminals, and the collection and presentation of evidence and testimony for the purpose of obtaining convictions.

2. Types of organisations most frequently investigated in past research

The literature was dominated by questionnaire, interview and case studies. 27 of the 39 papers referred to instances where knowledge sharing is intra-organisational, 18 papers referred to where knowledge sharing is inter-organisational, and 10 papers referred to where knowledge is shared with other law enforcement agencies or partner agencies with which the police liaise.

3. Types of knowledge sharing activities, practices or processes examined most frequently, and their benefits and drawbacks

Overwhelmingly the literature focused on the use of technology as a means by which knowledge is shared within policing contexts, with 30 out of the 39 papers mentioning it.


Eight of the 39 papers that were published by Petter Gottschalk and colleagues. Gottschalk argues that, given the volume of information that police forces must possess, the use of large-scale information technology systems is essential. He proposes a model that conceptualises on a continuum the four stages involved in knowledge management within police investigations, and the level of IT support required at each stage.

Other methods

Online methods of knowledge sharing were discussed by 23 papers in total, and these methods included the use of online databases, mobile data terminals, intranet systems, internet and email. More and more information is being shared by police officers using the internet, email, personal computers, and mobile telephones, as opposed to via face-to-face meetings.

4. Main barriers and facilitators of knowledge sharing

Knowledge management strategy / legislation

Inconsistent force strategies around knowledge management impact upon knowledge sharing.


Because of the increased adoption of information technology and the increasing overall quality and IT competence of police officers, the police organization is well positioned to share information effectively, and to better equip officers with the necessary means to discharge their knowledge sharing duties. However, several papers describe issues around technology as creating some barriers for the sharing of knowledge.


Cultural issues impact upon the sharing of knowledge, particularly aspects of the occupational culture within the police force. Departmental / agency ‘empires’ and ‘silos’ inhibit effective knowledge sharing.

Loss of knowledge

Police knowledge is being lost as the ‘baby boom generation’ approach retirement age, and police forces are failing to capture and retain retirees’ knowledge before they leave.

5. Key practical recommendations to promote knowledge sharing in policing contexts

  • Proactive role of management in promoting knowledge sharing
  • Providing training and education in knowledge sharing activities and processes
  • Creating a knowledge sharing culture, for example through regular team briefings and team building events
  • Identifying which knowledge is important to share and where it resides
  • Systematic dissemination, implementation and evaluation of knowledge sharing practices
  • Having formal strategies for management of explicit and tacit knowledge
  • Compatibility of systems (inter- and intra-organisational and cross agency).

6. Major research recommendations

  • Conduct empirical research to test theoretical assumptions / frameworks
  • Explore the impact of technology on knowledge sharing
  • Explore the impact of leadership and management on knowledge sharing
  • Investigate the impact of knowledge being lost from policing organizations
  • Research challenges for knowledge sharing arising from handling sensitive and personal information
  • Explore best practice in knowledge sharing across countries
  • Investigate the management of different types of knowledge
  • Explore enablers and barriers relating to inter-agency working.

Header image source: LAPD by John Liu is licenced by CC BY 2.0.


  1. Griffiths, K., Birdi, K., Alsina, V., Andrei, D., Baban, A., Bayeral, P. S., … & Gruschinske, M. (2016). Knowledge sharing practices and issues in policing contexts: a systematic review of the literature. European Journal of Policing Studies, 3(3), 267-291.
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Also published on Medium.

Bruce Boyes

Bruce Boyes ( is a knowledge management (KM), environmental management, and education professional with over 30 years of experience in Australia and China. His work has received high-level acclaim and been recognised through a number of significant awards. He is currently a PhD candidate in the Knowledge, Technology and Innovation Group at Wageningen University and Research, and holds a Master of Environmental Management with Distinction. He is also the editor, lead writer, and a director of the award-winning RealKM Magazine (, and teaches in the Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU) Certified High-school Program (CHP).

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