“The house always wins” — Empirical reflections on UK Freedom of Information legislation for policing research
Keywords:Police Data Management, Criminal Justice, Research Methods, Freedom of Information, Policing Research
Freedom of information legislation (FOIL) as a method for criminal justice research is relatively underexamined, notwithstanding its marketisation as an academic resource. This paper investigates the seldom-used technique in the context of policing research conducted with forty-five (45) forces in the United Kingdom. An examination of the instant study, previous research using the method, the challenges the researcher faced, and the overall merits of using FOIL, are supplemented by consideration of the general efficacy of the provisions in the jurisdiction. Despite improvements to accessibility, the principal issues plaguing the method continue to be non-responses, late responses, misunderstood requests leading to relaying of unwanted data, unlabelled and unsorted records, raw data without contextual information to make sense of it, and out-of-date information. Recommendations are afforded and contextualised to inform potential users of the nuances of FOIL, in what can be described as a work-in-progress rather than a reliable data collection mechanism.