Department of Criminology and Sociology of Law (IKRS)

May 26, 2024

Work-related crime involves criminal offences associated with working life. Increased intelligence work and collaborationBut what exactly have you been researching? The police must be able to anticipate criminal offences in order to ensure a safe society. We are also seeing increased use of intelligence work and collaboration with other agencies on information and sanction opportunities. Vestby shows how collaboration and intelligence work across the agencies supports specific action-oriented understandings of crime.

Over the last decade, police have become more future-oriented and strategic. Annette Vestby demonstrates how the police work creatively and pragmatically to solve their tasks.

Work-related crime involves criminal offences associated with working life. These crimes might encompass anything from social dumping to human trafficking, but they often involve tax evasion and violations of laws related to pay and working conditions. Photo: Borrowed from Økokrim.

In 2014, 18 people were arrested and a large criminal network was uncovered when a raid against the Lime stores was carried out. The raid was the result of long-term investigations made by several agencies which led to a number of criminal and administrative violations being uncovered.

The raid was carried out by 280 service personnel from the police, the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration (NAV) and the Norwegian Tax Administration. The Lime stores were found to be run by a criminal network that was linked to human trafficking, exploitation of illegal labour, money laundering, social security fraud, tax fraud, violations of immigration law, violations of the Working Environment Act, identity theft and credit card fraud.

“The unusual thing about this case was that the agencies had collaborated very closely. As a result, the various government agencies received in-depth information about the people in the Lime stores. The interdisciplinary collaboration was a clear reason why they could crack down on various forms of criminal offences,” says Annette Vestby, who has written a PhD on work-related crime. She has looked at what kind of crime this is and what type of offences are followed up on.

She says that work-related crime is very complex, and the term is used for various forms of exploitation of workers, environmental crime and tax evasion.

“The seriousness of the cases may vary, and there are examples of cases that deal with everything from social dumping to human trafficking, as we saw in the much-discussed Lime case,” Vestby says.

Vestby also says that her research shows that the specific criminal and unethical actions that are addressed largely depend on the agency assessing them and what type of tools and instruments the agency has at its disposal.

Increased intelligence work and collaboration

But what exactly have you been researching?

Vestby says that there has been an expectation over the last decade for the police to work in a more preventive and preemptive manner. The police must be able to anticipate criminal offences in order to ensure a safe society. The opposite is to restore order after an adverse event has already taken place.

“There has been a shift towards a more future-oriented and strategic police force. We are also seeing increased use of intelligence work and collaboration with other agencies on information and sanction opportunities. Within this proactive shift, the police’s own assessments of what type of resources should be used where become more important,” says Vestby.

Vestby explains that the way the police react is related to what the police see as being possible to carry out. An example of this is exploited workers who may be the victims of human trafficking. The police are aware that this exists, but resource-intensive penal provisions need to be applied.

“The police are completely dependent on the willingness of the victims to give a statement and cooperate throughout the process. Other rules can often be used against an enterprise that exploits workers. There are administrative regulations and sanctions associated with taxes and fees, and these can serve as a type of sanction for the enterprise or even stop their operations altogether,” says Vestby.

In her doctoral thesis, Vestby shows how the agencies have different instruments at their disposal and that they affect which cases are actually prosecuted. The Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority may require information on working conditions and employment contracts, while the Norwegian Tax Administration has access to tax documents. The agencies carry out various checks and inspections. The peculiar thing about the Lime case was that the agencies joined forces to investigate the conditions and carried out a joint raid against the stores. 

In addition, several of the people Vestby spoke to were concerned that workers who are actually being exploited might be looked upon as criminals. If this results in the employee being expelled from the country, the individual worker is affected much more than the employer.

“The position of exploited workers is a good example of the assessments being made,” says Vestby.

Practical criminologies

What does your thesis contribute to research?

“For me, it has been important to empirically investigate how the police, both alone and together with other relevant agencies, understand their surroundings. How they do this is also affected by the tools and instruments they have at their disposal. This, for example, is something that the police intelligence doctrine does not describe, which I believe increases the risk of proactive efforts simply reproducing what the police already know, what they already can do, and what fits with the available instruments,” says Vestby.

Vestby shows how collaboration and intelligence work across the agencies supports specific action-oriented understandings of crime.

Are the police wrong?

“The police are not necessarily wrong. I see pragmatic, problem-solving agencies performing certain actions to complete their primary tasks. In the thesis, I call these ‘practical criminologies’. Such an approach to crime is in a reciprocal relationship with the control agencies’ need to make the problems manageable. They must at some point act based on the instruments and information they have.

I have been interested in finding out what types of understandings help shape the efforts being made, which the police organisation may not necessarily reflect upon themselves. However, the police are focusing on objective and data-driven decisions as part of becoming more strategic,” says Vestby.

The police use both traditional intelligence analysis and digital variants based on machine learning because they want to be able to make data-driven decisions. It is hoped that these decisions are objective and independent of special interests or politics.

“We now know quite a bit about how police practice affects the source data that is included in these analyses. It has therefore been exciting to study work-related crime as a case study, and look closer at the various narratives that give criminal offences, perpetrators and victims meaning within the agencies’ social mission.

Vestby says that the intelligence method used by the police is very objectively oriented, but that reality is more complex. Many police officers are well aware of this.

The doctoral thesis contributes to critical and current discussions on the use of analyses that attempt to predict future risks within the public sector in general, and the justice sector in particular.

See also


Annette Vestby defended her doctoral thesis Practical criminologies: sensemaking and proactive policing at the Department of Criminology and Sociology of Law on 12 December 2023.

The thesis focuses on work-related crime and uses it as a case to study how specific theories about what crime consists of and how it can be sanctioned are related to the available courses of action, which the police perceive as feasible. The research is based on interviews with police officers, but also with individuals from the Norwegian Tax Administration, the Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority and the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration. She has also conducted field observations and studied publicly available documents such as threat assessments and strategies to tackle work-related crime.

Vestby is employed by Statistics Norway (SSB).

The source of this news is from University of Oslo

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