Fieldwork in police studies: The ethical dilemma in participatory observation with police patrols
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Police research in Norway is a young research discipline and its methodological approaches have to a small extent been discussed in public. The aim of this article is to discuss one of the most controversial approaches in police studies: participatory observation with police patrols. This research method becomes particularly controversial when participation takes place in a private arena, that is, in private homes. The conflict between two central values, a consideration of privacy versus the need for direct access to police methods, is examined in this article. Ethical guidelines were mandated in Norway in 2005 to govern police research and to assist with providing a legal framework for researchers participating in police patrols within private domains. A call to amend the law to provide for this research method was proposed in 2007. A comprehensive public hearing as a result of the proposal did not lead to any initiative to adjust the law. In recent years there has been an increased participation of TV media in the Norwegian operational police service resulting in an increased relevancy of this methodological discussion. Using documents from the public hearing, this paper outlines the key arguments made. It contributes to the debate by further advancing a rationale for retaining the use of participatory observation in policing research. It highlights the potential positive and negative impacts of such research, concluding that the valuable contributions from this research methodology help to make a strong case for allowing this type of research to continue.
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