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The making of an expert detective: The role of experience in English and Norwegian police officers’ investigative decision making

Journal article
Authors Ivar Fahsing
Karl Ask
Published in Psychology, Crime and Law
Volume 22
Issue 3
Pages 203–223
ISSN 1068-316X
Publication year 2016
Published at Department of Psychology
Pages 203–223
Language en
Subject categories Cognitive science, Psychology (excluding Applied Psychology), Applied Psychology


Biased decision-making in criminal investigations can impede or arrest the progress of justice. Previous research has not systematically addressed the effects of professional experience on the quality of detectives’ decision-making. Using a quasi-experimental design, this study compared the quality of investigative decisions made by experienced detectives and novice police officers in two countries with markedly different models for the development of investigative expertise (England and Norway). Participants (N = 124) were presented with two semi-fictitious cases and were asked to report all relevant investigative hypotheses and necessary investigative actions in each case. The quality of participants’ responses was gauged against a gold standard established by a panel of senior homicide experts. In the English sample, experienced detectives vastly outperformed novice police officers in the number of reported gold-standard investigative hypotheses and actions. In the Norwegian sample, however, experienced detectives did not perform any better than novices. We argue that English (vs. Norwegian) detectives may benefit more from professional experience due to their Professionalising Investigation Programme and a nationwide accreditation program, requiring them to engage in extensive standardized training, systematic evaluation and synchronized development. In contrast, Norway lacks such requirements. Methodological limitations and implications for police training and accreditation policies are discussed.

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