“Politicians use Brå’s results as the basis for decisions and legislation. They must, of course, be sure that the information they receive is reliable”, says Malin Wieslander, one of the three researchers who have written the report.
They have interviewed current and previous employees at Brå, together with previous national police commissioners and ministers for justice, a total of 37 people.
“Not all were critical. We point out in our study that there is no reason to simply question without thinking the research that Brå carries out. But our results show that there is a significant risk that the results are biased in some cases, and this raises some serious problems”, says Malin Wieslander.
The report does not identify which studies may be biased, nor does it describe what may be politically sensitive.
“We can’t divulge this information without risking revealing who our sources are. And what is politically sensitive can change as time passes. But we can say in general that we have looked at issues of criminal policy. Our study shows that certain of the methods used in Brå reports and the selection of study objects can be questioned. One example is the annual national security investigation (Nationella trygghetsundersökningen)”, says Malin Wieslander.
A dependency relationship with the police
The study has been carried out by three researchers, two of whom are connected to the Center for Advanced Research in Emergency Response, CARER.
The researchers have shown that Brå as a government agency is eager to maintain good relationships with the Swedish Police and thus cannot take a sufficiently critical stance to the police in its reports. The researchers believe that this reduces the possibility to rectify irregularities in police operations. There is a risk that reports from Brå lack bite, which in turn may have consequences for crime and how serious societal problems are approached.
“The Swedish Police finances large parts of the police-directed research carried out by Brå. Several people in our interviews have described how certain politically sensitive issues have been adapted, and that results are promoted that support the agenda of the client. This increases the risk of corruption within research. People have described difficulty in their employment situation after expressing criticism”, says Malin Wieslander.
A culture of silence
The researchers describe in the report a culture of silence within Brå, and suggest that the agency aspires to employ people who are easily controlled. They also point out that the situation with Brå raises problems, since it is difficult to know which studies and statements from Brå can be taken as reliable, and which ones should be “treated with caution”.
Malin Wieslander acknowledges that the results from the study may affect confidence in Brå.
“It is, of course, extremely serious if decision-makers receive erroneous information published in biased research reports that have been slanted, tidied up or censured. There are good reasons for Brå to increase its transparency, review its work culture, and strive towards a role that is more independent from the Swedish Police.”
The study has been carried out by three researchers in the Center for Advanced Research in Emergency Response, CARER. These are Stefan Holgersson, professor in police sciences at the Norwegian Police University College in Oslo and docent in the development of information systems at LiU; Ossian Grahn, research fellow; and Malin Wieslander, senior lecturer in pedagogical science at LiU.
The study has been examined by several researchers with expertise in research ethics and the methods used.
The report (in Swedish): “Går det at lita på Brå? En studie om bias i myndighetsforskning”
(“Can we rely on Brå? A study of bias in the research of a government agency.”)
Updated 22 January 2020
Translated by George Farrants