International Conference : Police Intelligence, from Local to Global From 1750 to the Present Day

Brussels, 25-26 January 2024

Police and intelligence are two concepts that are intimately and invariably linked. From the police utopia of François-Jacques Guillotte (Mémoire sur la réformation de la police de France, soumis au roi en 1749, ed. by J. Seznec, Paris, Hermann, 1974) to the ‘Clearview AI’ affair or the use of facial recognition software based on illegal data by the Belgian police, police work has often been confused with the collection and processing of information. Compared to the latter, intelligence is defined by Sébastien Laurent as ‘an element of information theoretically enriched by verification and analysis’ and it contributes to the decision-making process. Despite its decisive role in the functioning of the state, the economy or international relations, intelligence has only been addressed within the framework of questions on surveillance, centralisation, bureaucratisation, the identification or use of information and communication technologies, the control of political radicalisation or even espionage. As a corollary of the inexorable growth of the state, and barely transcending the image, intelligence in the field of policing is often fantasised and has hence often been restricted to the practices of political police forces, willingly cultivating a culture of secrecy. Flies, snitches and spies have been the focus of the researchers’ preoccupations, with no real questioning of their role in the construction of administrative knowledge. Within this very fragmented historiography, intelligence in the context of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes has attracted most of the attention.


For the past twenty years, however, researchers have begun to explore the history of information, surveillance and control technologies, particularly in the wake of Michel Foucault’s work on the disciplinary society and security measures. It is only recently, however, that intelligence has emerged as the subject of a specific field of study, more focused on a historical anthropology approach, as evidenced by the work carried out in the field of ‘Intelligence Studies’. In this emerging historiography, the specific policing aspect of intelligence generally only appears as an aside to its military, diplomatic or economic functions. The aim of this conference is therefore to take a look at police intelligence, to highlight its specific characteristics and its role in the work of law enforcement agencies. It will thus aim to present new developments and consider new approaches in the history of the administrative management of information and, above all, in the history of the police.


The conference will also aim to address the questions, as yet little explored by historians, of the production and use of police intelligence, of the parties and tools involved in its development, and of the content that feeds it. To highlight these changes in the contexts and uses of intelligence, the conference will consider a lengthy timeline, from the middle of the eighteenth century, a period that saw the proliferation of modern police systems and the development of a transregional security culture geared to political surveillance, to the present day, a time of unprecedented use of information and communication technologies to the benefit of the police. Finally, it will take a resolutely comparative and transnational approach.


Thursday, January 25 (Room P02)


9:00-9:15: Welcome coffee


9:15-9:30: Introduction


9:30-10:30: Knowledge and expertise (I) (Chair: Xavier Rousseaux, UCLouvain)


  • Guus Meershoek (Twente University/Dutch Police Academy), Modernizing criminal investigation in Amsterdam. The emergence of the concept of modus operandi
  • Philippe Hebeisen (Université de Neuchâtel/Centre d’histoire du XIXe siècle, Paris 1-Sorbonne Université), Learning, using and transmitting (new) police techniques: Neuchâtel and Switzerland at the turn of the 20th Century


10:30-10:45: Coffee break


10:45-12:15: Knowledge and expertise (II) (Chair: Antoine Renglet, UCLouvain)


  • Marco Cicchini (Université de Genève), Dividing for Intelligence: Guillote and the Police during the Enlightenment
  • Andrew Brown (Independent Scholar), Who was British State built to notice? George Bakewell in Victorian England’s "Society of Strangers"
  • Amélie Gaillat (Mary Immaculate College, Limerick), The evolution of the use of informants as part of information gathering practices in France, England, and Ireland at the end of the 19th century


12:15-13:30: Lunch


13:30-15:00: Races, gender and sexualities (Chair: Nathalie Tousignant, UCLouvain)


  • Catherine Denys (Université de Lille), "Noté de police" in the Île-de-France (Mauritius) : Police Intelligence in the French Ancien Régime Colonial Context
  • Romain Jaouen (Science Po Paris, CHSP), Intelligence-led policing at the 20th century’s midpoint? The case of vice-squad work and homosexuality in Paris
  • Herbert Reinke, Reader’s Digest and Police Intelligence? The (Re-) Rise and Fall of Data Collections on “Gipsies” in the Federal Republic (early 1950s to 2000)


15:00-15:15: Coffee break


15:15-16:45: Mobilities and migrations (Chair: Margo De Koster, Ghent University)


  • Torsten Feys (Flanders Marine Institute), From information to intelligence: foreign sources within the Sûreté Publique’s web of informants to monitor immigrants in Belgium, 1839-1914
  • Sarah Frenking (Erfurt Universität), Border (Crossing) Intelligence. Practices and Perceptions of Police Inspectors at the French-German Border around 1900
  • Laura Di Fiore (Universita Degli Studi di Napoli), Following the Exiles. Police Intelligence in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in the 1850s.

Friday, January 26 (Room P61)


9:00-10:30: Imperial circulations and Imperial legacies (Chair: Xavier Rousseaux, UCLouvain)


  • Arda Akinci (Universidad de Salamanca), Threats, Practices and Integration to the European Security Culture: The Modernization of Policing and Surveillance in the Ottoman Capital Istanbul during the Rein of Abdulhamid (1867-1909)
  • Maggie Freeman (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), The Arab Legion and the Architecture of Policing in Jordan (1921-1946)
  • Laura M. Calkins (Texas Tech University), Beyond Breaking the Black Market: Rice Rationing in Postwar Singapore and the Internationalization of Police Intelligence Work


10:30-11:00: Coffee break


11:00-12:30: Political threats and political transitions (Chair: Nico Wouters, National Archives of Belgium)


  • Jonathan Daly (University of Illinois at Chicago), Intelligence, the Russian Security Police, and the Threat of Revolution
  • Corneliu Pintilescu (George Baritiu History Institute of the Romanian Academy Cluj-Napoca), "From Anarchist to communist Danger": Policing the Radical Left and Developing the Transnational Collaboration of the Siguranţa (1908-1924)
  • Maïté Van Vyve (Ghent University), Bombs, Bullets, and Borders: Cooperation Between the Belgian Intelligence Services, Local Police and Russian Ochranka in Their Hunt for the Anarchist Abraham Hartenstein (1909)


12:30-13:45: Lunch


13:45-15:45: Techniques, administration and operational management (Chair: Michaël Amara, National Archives of Belgium)


  • Jonas Campion (Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières), "Intelligcence"  or "Smart" Objects? A 20th Century Police History in Quebec through the Police activity reports
  • Anja Johansen (University of Dundee), Policing the police: Gathering, archiving and use of citizens’ complaints as intelligence for managerial knowledge in Berlin and Paris, 1890-1914
  • Hjørdis Birgitte Ellefsen (Norwegian Police University College) and Heidi Mork Lomell (University of Oslo), Intelligence policing before ILP? A Norwegian case study
  • Achilleas Fotakis (National and Kapostrian University of Athens), People, papers and statistical tables. Information sources in the Greek police forces, 19th-20th century


15:45-16:00: Coffee break


16:00-16:30: Conclusion, David Churchill (University of Leeds)


International Conference : Police Intelligence, from Local to Global From 1750 to the Present Day
Document Adobe Acrobat 1.9 MB


Brussels, 25-26 January 2024



UCLouvain – Saint-Louis Campus

43 boulevard du Jardin Botanique,

1000 Brussels


Rooms :

P02 (Thursday, January 25)

P61 (Friday, January 26)


Access & maps



Participation is free of charge, but registration is required.

Please send an email before January 15th 2024 with the subject "registration Police Intelligence conference" to

Centre de recherches en histoire du droit, des institutions et de la société