criminology

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Examining The Police Organisation And Public Concern Criminology Essay

The police are an institution whose principal role is to uphold the law and enforce the conformity of rules for the greater good of the community or, arguably, in the interests of the dominant groups within the society. Although this authority is vested in them by the state, it is the members of the community upon whom the evaluation and measurement of the visible elements of legitimacy rest. However, since the nineteenth century the police have ensured a degree of legitimacy and public consent despite being unable to perform in a fair and just manner (Mawby, 2002). Public consent and legitimacy are therefore based on a service that is viewed as such and the basis upon which positive relations with those being policed are developed. Therefore legitimacy of the police also becomes questionable when they decide to break the law or take different approaches in dealing with particular groups within the society, one which has become increasingly diverse, multi-cultural and economically unequal.

Derived from the Greek word ‘polis’ which makes reference to politics or policy, policing was usually confined to the moral behaviour of a civil society (Palmer, 1988: 69), it was designed to ensure that citizens kept the peace and were law abiding and described the relationship between the citizens and the police. One in which the role of the citizens was paramount to policing largely due to the fact that previously there was no centralised system therefore there was total reliance upon the eyes and the ears of the community through self-policing and informants (Johnston, 1992), also stated that during the eighteenth century criminal justice was under the ordinance of parish constables, justices of the peace and their deputies in what was then regarded as an execution of their civic duties. British policing then was therefore based customarily on securing order through those who were appointed as representatives thus making the regulation of social and economic issues personal. It was usually run by an oligarchy of wealthy landowners who assumed influential elite roles in office; an authorisation that seemed to have given them not only unrestricted access and the ability to influence all points of existence within the family, religion and politics but also affected the level of confidence and consent gained from the public in general.

The nineteenth century was also a period which symbolised an increase in urbanisation and industrialisation brought about as a result of the steady rise in capitalism. Allured by the prospect of wealth, the labouring classes had flocked to the cities from the countryside with the intent of selling their labour to the capitalists for a price. They were no longer bound as labourers under serfdom and that caused major concern amongst the propertied elite who thought that a method of control was necessary as a threat to the social order was imminent.

Prior the nineteenth century, policing in Britain was usually a private and formal affair that was mainly used in addressing morals, governmental or economic issues and according to (Johnston, 1992) for a reward, citizens were often encouraged to spy on each other and when arrested they became informants on their accomplices in return for mercy. This method of crime control, he further argued had also set precedence for criminals to police each other as it was the criminals who were usually recruited from their criminal underworld and sent to police their counterparts and because these activities were regulated by the state, the absence of centralisation meant that the criminal justice system was in disarray and left open to be purchased and negotiated (Ibid).

The Bow Street Runners replaced the thief-takers in a move that signalled the first indication of the forces’ attempt at professionalization but they only lasted eighteen months due to lack of funding from central government. However, by the nineteenth century, the implementation of policing was through local authorities across the country by selected watch committees whose duties mainly included the regulation of immorality such as street prostitution, drunkenness, idleness, poor relief and licensing laws (Rawlings, 2002), this was an autonomy that was achieved through the 1835 Municipal Corporation Act which made it compulsory for councils to select watch committees to run the police force and maintain moral order. Crime had been categorised therefore it developed publicly while its enforcement remained private, (Uglow, 1988) further stated that a pattern of criminal law and social control had already been established and was similar in nature as well as centred mainly within the civil society rather than the boundaries of the state.

Arguably, crime was the impetus behind the formation of Robert Peel’s new Police in 1829 and policing by consent was one of its founding principles. It instituted changes within the old system because the role of the police as an instrument of social control was then transferred from local and voluntary hands to a hierarchical body of men who, according to (Mawby, 2002), operated in accordance to formal rules of law under central government. A change which also signalled the transition to a more uniformed, bureaucratic, paid police force, by which they became a single monopoly supplying social control to the state with its main objective now focused around the protection of citizens and crime prevention rather than detection alone. Within this role the police sought to create an image of trust within the local communities by being unarmed and had their truncheons hidden (Reith, 1962) under the garments they wore. The working class were also incorporated within the force (Reiner 2000a: 48-59) under the guise of public consent in terms of passive acceptance of the police by people from all walks of society.

Different methods of controlling society emerge from time to time and throughout the ages the development of the British police in the nineteenth century was not a mere representation of the dominant or sovereign class but also dealt in a coercive manner with the population. (Brodgen, 1987) described them as being organised on an overly militaristic model, as they were supposed to be ‘civilians’ in uniform with individual responsibility who were employed to patrol the everyday life of the community; a position that would render them highly accountable for their actions which should be conducted with the consent of the public. Rather than doing so, the role of the modern British police during the first half of the twentieth century arguably was a reassertion of state power to the rise in urban disorders similar to the Gordon Riots of the 1780’s which saw an upsurge of a particular group of people described then as the ‘dangerous classes’, against whom the old techniques used in policing had become ineffective.

Initially there were also social and political opposition, as (Braithwaite, 2000) stated that due to its dominant nature, this Peelian model of state policing was a process that was established very slowly and painfully amidst the increasing demands for accountability in terms of the effectiveness and legitimacy in how their traditional functions were delivered (Loveday and Savage, 1996) and which resulted in a loss of legitimacy during that period. Collective disorders then were normal occurrences, usually political, within society that entailed a system of bargaining by riots. However, from the nineteenth century onwards it was seen as more of a threat to capitalist interest whereby the bond that exited between the community and the police was extinguished and replaced by the cash nexus which came to prominence as a result of industrial unrests and the growth of social divisions. This fuelled a rise in crime which in turn caused the privileged class to seek protection from these dangerous classes via private policing in order to secure their castles of consumerism. By and large, it would then seem that the exacerbation of crimes and inequalities were exposed as methods of security and policing used as a strategy to control the border between those who are from the excluded classes and the wealthy.

From a traditionalist perspective (Crithley and Reith, 1990), the ‘Whig’ approach in establishing order was that there was a needed to maintain and control the dangerous classes whereas the revisionists blamed the growth of capitalism and class divisions for the problems of urban unrests which it thought needed an efficient, centralised police force that was nationally directed (Radzinowicz, 1968) to deal with crime which was becoming highly visible as a national problem. The revisionists therefore saw the need for the old system of policing and their communities to be broken up and dismantled and existing relationships revamped. In order to bring these dangerous classes under control the power had to be transferred to a more central body that was free from political influence and able to conduct its duties without bias.

Traditionally, policing and the police had always been governed by masculinity and (Fielding, 1994, p.47) has argued that policing is almost a pure form of hegemonic masculinity but during the war women had to assume the many roles of men so women policing has its roots in the post-war era and was usually voluntary. The Women Police Volunteers was first formed by Margaret Damer-Dawson and Nina Boyle, as police officers, their main role addressed issues surrounding women’s moral and physical health needs (Bland, 1985), an impetus provided by the war and secured women’s future recruitment to the police force. Initially there was resentment to the presence of women in the force but the demarcation of women into specific areas of policing mirrored broader societal gender roles and expectations (Brown and Heidensohn, 2000) which further legitimized their entry into policing roles and their involvement of great relevance in areas related to domestic violence, child protection and social issues.

Overtime the roles of the police changed from the televised version of the ‘Dixon of Dock Green’ character, which depicted the perfect ‘English Bobby’ in the 1950’s during what was regarded as the ‘golden era of policing’. Arguably an image that shall never be matched because the cosiness associated with that image has long since bade farewell to that reality; one in which the uniformed officer was symbolic of policing by consent and according to (Stephens, 1988), basked in universal public esteem and respect. No longer was there the familiar neighbourhood police who patrolled the streets and maintained moral order and community spirit, instead it was dominated by a more militaristic, heavy-handed ‘Darth Vader’ style policing approach that caused the force to become socially isolated and changed public attitude towards them. (Reiner, 1985, pp. 48-82) stated that the public’s evaluation of the acceptability of police action decreased and instead has seen an increase in its politicisation especially since the 1960’s.

It would then seem that the relationship between the police and the public has always been controversial and problematic, additionally, the cultural diversity of the population has led to more problems with communication. If the police are to maintain any legitimacy at all their actions have to be balanced and this has to be conducted in a fair and just manner (Reiner, 2000) which is often by communicating in a milieu of conflicting and diverse values. Controlling crime and maintaining the peace has always been at the forefront of political debate regarding their tactility in addressing these issues as (Stephens, 1988) points out, they became subjected to political controversy and since the 1960’s police evaluation became a growing political element and the legitimacy of their actions a major operational issue. This is partly as a result of the widespread corruption scandals that permeated the force, such as the Confait Affair (Royal Commission, 1981) in the 1960’s, corruption in the force and the ethnic unrests of the 1950’s, 70’s and 80’s.

With an unparalleled police disciplinary procedure unlike any other, the Tri-partite system was established under the 1964 Police Act (Newman, 2005) and consists of 43 forces; this structure is the current system in place in England and Wales that distributes responsibilities between the Home Office, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the local police authority. It is a system that attempts to create a balance of powers in providing accountability to Parliament and the local populations through local police authorities. In addition to the tripartite structure and the legislation associated with it, the police are also subjected to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE, 1984). This articulation, according to (Critchley, 1978) in governing the police has balanced the professional independent authority and accountability of the police both locally and nationally. What then becomes obvious is the effort being made to balance the unwarranted exercise of coercive power by the police in order for them to operate more effectively and legitimize their actions.

The militaristic policing of the miner’s strike in 1984 from the public’s perspective was that the police acted in favour of the government (Scranton, 1985) and the 1980’s Brixton riots, brought about as a result of the reintroduction of the SUS laws were two such incidents, done without the consent of the public, which further alienated the police from the community causing them to face severe criticism regarding their relationship with the public as well as their performance and management levels. (Morgan and Newman, 1997) further stated that public confidence fell to an all time low but the simultaneous rise in crime meant that action needed to be taken to effect changes in how the police force was also managed and structured. Despite this, the police still manage to ensure a degree of legitimacy and public consent since the nineteenth century through the implementation of major structural reforms within the force aimed at gaining public trust once more but still faced criticism in the way some communities were policed.

The Scarman Report (1981) into the Brixton Riots and the Home Office Circular (114/1983) on operational efficiency conceded that there were major issues that needed to be addressed and highlighted deficiencies in the force’s capacity to supervise and implement disciplinary procedures within its membership along with its poor standing amongst a section of the public. The police have considerable discretion in how they conduct matters but publicly they are accountable for their behaviour, see (Manning, 1988), and a combination of these elements create a distinct police culture, an adaptive occupational culture and a supportive canteen culture. The McPherson Report (1999) which followed in response to the death of Stephen Lawrence also made further recommendations and criticized the force for being professionally incompetent and institutionally racist. The Police Act (1996) further placed statutory requirement on police forces to seek public consultation in local communities on citizens’ experiences of the police regarding their attitudes and impartiality. Loader (1997) also diagnosed those actions as a one way process of instruction that is not based on mutual dialogue, but rather a type of ‘pedagogic policing’. It may be argued that these and other civil unrests have, to an extent, exposed the consequences of police isolation from the communities they should be serving. Media representation of the police can also be threatening or opportunistic in its portrayal, research has suggested that up to two thirds of people get information through the media rather than direct contact with the police (Skogan, 1990: 18-19).

Since 2003, the police service has increasingly sought to reassure the public about its abilities especially with relation to the reduction of crime and disorder. The National Reassurance Policing Programme (NRPP) is one of many in a line of government-led policies that has been firmly adopted by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and is also supported by individual forces all over the country (Home Office, 2004). The introduction of Neighbourhood Policing in 2005 was another initiative undertaken by the police and this required teams of consistent and recognizable officers, Community Support Officers (CSO) and Special Constables to be present in each neighbourhood. They then work in conjunction with local partnerships to help identify and tackle issues that affect the local area by pooling information in order to give progress report back to the community. There are also Safer Neighbourhood Panels developed to support these teams by using available community intelligence to identify, monitor and review local priorities. In doing so Neighbourhood Policing was to provide visible, accessible and well known local police officers, promote community involvement and attempt to ensure efficiency by identifying and targeting the problem. This is done to maintain police legitimacy and better engage with citizens daily to help reduce both crime and the fear of it.

The police service have also made an effort at professionalization to increase the skills and service of its officers by using competency-based frameworks and specialised training and

It may be argued at length that the very structure of policing is at present being subjected to a series of continuity and changes worldwide as globally there is an elemental break with the past (Braithwaite, 2000) further stated that it is also being challenged by a growing diversification of policing provision. Instead there is now increasing competition and cooperation with various policing agencies both between and within states (Sheptycki, 2000) which also adds complexity and diversity to their functions. Also argued by Neyroud and Beckley (Simultaneously the police are also facing increasing demands for a certain amount of accountability regarding their effectiveness and legitimacy in how their traditional functions are delivered (McLaughlin and Murji, 1993).

The historic evolution of the Metropolitan police as an organisation should therefore be in line with the social and political understanding of crime control. Its development rested on the principle that the police should be a visible and accountable body in the public life of the nation which, argues (Manning, 1977), reflect the contemporary ethos that the police are symbolically representative of the state and its potential to enforce its will upon the people. Hence, it may be potentially and boldly seen as legitimate in order for it to be effective and it is within this context that it is being portrayed as the main characteristic of British ‘policing by consent’ which, according to (Loader, 1997) relies on public trust that the law rather than politics will govern the police. Legitimacy and consent has therefore been maintained by the police through interaction and response to the concerns of diverse communities that further reinforces the practice upon which the foundation of the British police was built.


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