The politicisation of policing since 9/11

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Policing and crime control has become even more politicised since 9/11. Discuss.

The events of 9/11 have led to a change in the policing environment in Australia. The distinct boundary that once existed between police and military functions has blended together resulting in the development of hybridised security agencies (McCulloch 2001). In addition there has been a move towards a pre-emptive style of policing (Zedner 2003). This shift in policing style can be attributed to a “culture of fear” within Australian society, which has become even more prominent since 9/11 (Mythen 2014). The media has been fundamental in proliferating risk talk throughout the community. They can be considered to be ‘fear entrepreneurs’, hyping up one-off incidents, which can lead to increased punitive responses (Bottoms 1995, pp. 44–45). The introduction of tough new bikie laws is a part of the pre-crime strategy that Australia’s security and police agencies have transitioned into (Goldson, et al 1993). However the introduction of such laws can have negative consequences (Peterson 2014).

In the post–September 11 environment the Australian Government, along with governments all over the world intensified their focus on national security, particularly counter-terrorism (Australian Government, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Transnational Terrorism, pp. 7-9). In Australia more than 35 pieces of anti- terrorist legislation have been passed at the federal level since September 11 (Peterson 2014). The expansion of Federal power into law enforcement in Australia has been growing since the 1970s, and has led to the blurring of the borders between the states’ internal and external coercive capacities (McCulloch 2001; McCulloch and Pickering 2009, p.639). The accelerated integration of national security and criminal justice under counter-terrorism frameworks (Zedner 2003, p.636) consolidates the tendency of federal involvement in law enforcement, which has extended in the wake of September 11, and the shift away from traditional criminal justice concerns (Cole and Dempsey 2002). Anti-terrorism legislation is regarded to have increased police powers (Lynch and Williams 2006), boosted managerial powers to unparalleled levels while simultaneously eroding the demarcation between security and intelligence agencies and state and federal police services (McCulloch 2001). As a result of this demarcation paramilitary police units have formed within state police forces (Head 2000). Policing has shifted in focus away from individual offending towards pre-emptive strategies that aim to identify threats and make interventions before crimes take place (McCulloch and Pickering 2009, p.633). This has led to the development of a new model of criminal law and law enforcement wherein surveillance and risk management have come to assume increasingly prominent roles.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Security Organisation (ASIO), are both recognized as leaders in the domestic counter-terrorism arena (Hocking 2004), and have seen a substantial and unprecedented growth in their role, responsibilities, powers and resources due to federal anti-terrorist legislation (Bronitt 2004, pp. 43-44). As a result of these changes the AFP and ASIO have become more a heavily involved and invested in law enforcement at a state level (McCulloch 2001). Historically the ASIO’s role was that of managing Australia’s external threats, but in recent decades has seen its role change, with ASIO becoming increasingly focused on the nation’s domestic concerns (Bronitt 2004). The blurring of the line between the police and military has intensified focus on security, which has led to the development of Australian police paramilitary units (McCulloch 2001). These units train with the military, have access to a wide range of military resources like weapons and equipment and constantly train towards the use of lethal force (Jaggers 2008).

The focus on counterterrorism and the integration of national security and criminal justice has seen a shift in focus away from individual offending (Zedner 2003) towards a pre-emptive style of policing that aim to identify threats and make interventions before crimes take place (Hocking 2004, p. 162; McCulloch and Pickering 2009, pp. 639-640). National security no longer focuses beyond the sovereign border to target external threats (but utilizes the shift to pre-crime as a way of intelligence gathering to target and manage ‘risk’ populations (Hogg 2007, pp. 90-95). The introduction of new ‘preventative’ counter terrorism laws are less concerned with the traditional manner of criminal justice (Hocking 2004), of due process like gathering evidence to prosecute, convict and punish offenders but instead focuses on managing threats through restriction and incapacitation of those individuals and groups considered to be a risk (Mythen and Walkate 2006, pp.15-18).

Arguably, though, the potential for politicised policing and crime control has increased since 9/11 whereby politicians (and police) may invoke a terrorist threat
to justify the expansion of police powers (Cole and Dempsey 2006). They do this by pre-empting the threat of terrorism and utilizing coercive measures like compulsory questioning and detention by agencies (Australian Government, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Transnational Terrorism, pp. 7-9) such as ASIO to restrict the movement and association of certain groups deemed to be engaging in suspect behavior (Lynch and Williams 2006). In addition, security agencies haves sought to criminalize people who associate with groups deemed to be terrorist organizations, even if they are not suspected of having committed a crime (Morgan, Dagistanli and Martin, 2010; McCulloch and Tham 2005). Measures such as the criminalization of association are pre- crime techniques that expand the responsibility of criminal law by fulfilling the demand for security, which as (Zedner 2007, p. 265) explains ‘dictates earlier and earlier intervention to reduce opportunity.’ The notion of what Furedi coins a ‘culture of fear’ is what has allowed society to become susceptible to these frankly invasive measures Mythen and Walkate 2006, pp.2-3).

Furedi’s Culture of Fear risk theory is apt in defining the pervasive contemporary mood (Mythen 2014, p. 27). Western citizens are living in an anxious and risk adverse era in which politicians are happy to take advantage and capitalize on. This allows them to introduce tough penal laws and increase police powers under the pretext of fighting terrorism (Morgan, Dagistanli and Martin 2010, p. 588). The powers introduced under this pretext after the event of September 11, have become a normalized and legitimate way of dealing with domestic crimes (Hogg, 2007). An integral part of Furedi’s theory is that fear is promoted by what he labels as ‘professional panic-mongers’, or ‘fear entrepreneurs’ (Mythen 2014, pp. 27-35) like the media and politicians. The media plays a central role in shaping public discourses on terrorism and counter-terrorism (Goldson, et al 1993). The media’s construction of risk and danger in society has the potential to be socially disabling due to the social conditions of risk, particularly in a post-9/11 context (Bottoms 1995, pp. 44–45). The irresponsible pronouncements and policies seek to manufacture and trade alarm rather than allay public fears (Mythen 2014). Alarmingly, because of the ubiquitous nature of fear (Mythen 2014, p. 29) within the community there has been a trend to introduce punitive laws to deal with these ‘one-off’ events (Cohen 1985). This has led to the conception of a ‘new’ or ‘popular’ punitiveness, which is charactereised by harsh and disproportionate (Goode and Ben-Yehuda’s 1994) prison sentences. Anti-terror laws are considered to be an appropriate example of popular punitiveness (Pratt et al., 2005, p. 12).

The introduction of laws to crack down on bikie gangs in both South Australia and New South Wales is a way of combatting what the police call the changing nature of outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMCGs) (Schloenhardt 2008, p. 8). According to senior police officers in NSW, increasing their powers is an effective strategy in combatting the threat OMCG’s pose to society. NSW Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, was interviewed on ABC television in 2009, calling for the state government to enact legislation to increase police powers(Afp.gov.au, 2014). Essentially the basis of these laws is the politics of fear. OMCGs have been the focus of much discourse due the inclusion of members with strong Middle Eastern backgrounds (Morgan, Dagistanli and Martin 2010, p.585). Politicians and security agencies have equated OMCG’s members to terrorists in order to justify the expansion of police powers (Schloenhardt, 2008). Scipione defended his call for extensive policing powers, as he felt that the bikers responsible for violence being perpetuated within the community were ‘terrorists’ and deserved to be treated as such (Morgan, Dagistanli and Martin 2010, p.585). Due the involvement of some members with a Middle Eastern background the Police Commissioner under the pretext of stretching the word ‘terror’ was able to impute a more sinister dimension OMCGs (Peterson, 2014). The media has been fundamental in constructing OMCGs as morally threatening folk devils due to their alleged involvement in nefarious criminal activity (Morgan, Dagistanli and Martin 2010, pp.586-587). The media were able to utilize preconceived perceptions and existing apprehensions to further the ‘folk devil’ imagery (Cohen 1985; Goode and Ben-Yehuda, 1994). Bike laws fall under the ‘pre-crime’ strategies (Zedner 2003, p. 160) that police agencies are utilizing as they anticipate criminal activity, seeking to contain it before it occurs (Loughnan 2009, p. 457).

In addition to the calls for new legislation that affords the police and other agents increased powers, a National Anti-Gang Taskforce was established in response to the threats of OMCGs (Afp.gov.au, 2014). The taskforce is comprised of 70 members from the Australian Federal Police and State Police forces (Pmtranscripts.dpmc.gov.au, 2014), which is evidence of the continual integration between domestic and national security (Crimecommission.gov.au, 2015). The role of the National Anti-Gang Taskforce is to directly target and investigate gang members in Australia and provides State and Federal law enforcement agencies with intelligence (Pmtranscripts.dpmc.gov.au, 2014). The National Gang Taskforce was developed following consultations between the AFP and State and Federal agencies (Afp.gov.au, 2014). Public safety and protection was the basis for the establishment of this taskforce, and used as justification for these preemptive strikes (Jaggers, 2008).

However the has been much controversy over Australia’s antiterrorism laws. Many have commentated on the fact that these laws unfairly label and stigmatized certain groups (Clarkson and Morgan 1995; Peterson 2014), like Bike gangs. Critics have also argued that introduction of antiterrorism legislation is undermining the social contract between police and the public (McVeigh et al., 2009, p. 13). This is due to the fact that in the South Australian legislation, if you are seen to be belong to an OMCG, or seen to associate with it, there is grounds for an arrest (Morgan, Dagistanli and Martin 2010, p.591). Under the new anti-terror legislation, if you are suspected of having involvement in a crime, you can be charged and the presumption of bail removed. The Judicial system has the capacity to remand you in custody, until you are able to establish that you are there for a legitimate purpose (Jaggers, 2008). This violates due process, detracts from fundamental civil liberties that we are all entitled to and can lead to grave injustices being committed and human rights abuses (Zedner, 2003).

In the aftermath of September 11, there has been a move towards a pre-emptive style of policing (Zedner 2003). This has led to the integration of national and domestic security agencies, which have had an important effect on the way risk populations, are policed (McCulloch 2001). In addition, the media has been instrumental in cultivating a ‘culture of fear’ which see risk being hyped, being ubiquitous within our society (Mythen 2014). The negative consequences of the new anti-terror legislation is that it has the potential, as seen with Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs to stigmatised and unfairly label what the pubic perceive to be ‘risk’ populations (Peterson 2014). As a result this has led to the erosion of basic civil liberties (Morgan, Dagistanli and Martin 2010, p.591).

References

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Jaggers, B. (2008).Anti-terrorism control orders in Australia and the United Kingdom. [Canberra]: Parliamentary Library, Dept. of Parliamentary Services.

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Lozusic, R 2003, Gangs in NSW, Briefing paper number 16/02, NSW Parliamentary Library Research Service

Lynch, A. and Williams, G. (2006), What Price Security? Taking Stock of Australia’s Anti-Terror Laws. Sydney: UNSWPress.


McCulloch, J. (2001), Blue Army: Paramilitary policing in Australia, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press

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McCulloch, J. and Tham, J. (2005), ‘Secret State, Transparent Subject: The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation in the Age of Terror’, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 38: 400–15.


McVeigh, T., Syal, R., & Hinsliff, G. (2009, April 19). How the image of UK police took a beating. The Observer, pp. 12–13.


Morgan, G., Dagistanli, S. and Martin, G. (2010). Global Fears, Local Anxiety: Policing, Counterterrorism and Moral Panic Over ‘Bikie Gang Wars’ in New South Wales.Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 43(3), pp.580-599.

Morgan, R (Eds.), The politics of sentencing reform (pp. 17–51). Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Mythen, G. and Walklate, S. (2006). Beyond the risk society. Maidenhead, England: Open University Press.

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Schloenhardt, A 2007, The market for amphetamine-type stimulants and their precursors in Oceania, Australian Institute of Criminology, p. 32.

Schloenhardt, A. (2008, April). Battling the bikies: South Australia’s Serious and Organised Crime (Control) Bill 2007. Law Society Bulletin (SA), 30(3), 8–11.


Zedner, L. (2003). Too much security?.International Journal of the Sociology of Law, 31(3), pp.155-184.

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