The New Policing


Eugene McLaughlin

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    List of Figures

    • 1.1a PC George Dixon: the iconic constable 14
    • 1.1b Tom Riley: from delinquent to ‘cop killer’ 18
    • 2.1 London East End bobby 1950s 35
    • 2.2 New York city cop 1950s 41
    • 5.1 NYPD partol cars, Times Square, New York 123
    • 5.2 Safer neighbourhood policing, London 136
    • 6.1 Positive Action poster: Police Federation 151
    • 6.2 Positive Action poster: Gay Police Association
    • 7.1 Stephen Lawrence memorial banner 179
    • 8.1 Memorial for 7/7 bomb victims 202
    • 8.2 Jean Charles de Menezes shrine 207


    There are already many books in circulation that are able to provide readers with overviews of the core subject matter of police studies, such as the historical origins and development; roles and responsibilities; the legal powers of police officers; recruitment, socialization and career progression processes; the occupational dynamics of policework; police-community relations; the organizational structure of control and accountability; the work of specialist units; and crime control issues facing the police in the twenty-first century. There are also a multitude of empirical reports that present findings on critical operational issues confronting contemporary policing. The police remain an intriguing research site because it is the most visible representation of the state's sovereign authority in civil society and police officers are authorized to use their considerable powers to take action against crime and disorder in a manner that is both fair and impartial. Sitting alongside this corpus of police-centred work is a rapidly expanding literature that locates ‘the police’ within a broader framework of policing, security, regulation and governance. My intention has not been to replicate these texts but to reconsider some of what I view to be the defining concerns of traditional police studies and work within the transformative approaches of the new police studies. The story I tell is from a British perspective but it also touches upon much broader shifts that are restructuring the Anglo-American policing model.

    This book remains very much a work in progress for the following reasons. First, it cannot claim to be a comprehensive survey of the bewildering number of ‘nooks and crannies’ of contemporary policing. Space limitations and analytical interests have required me to make some difficult choices about what to include and what to neglect. Second, it is extremely difficult to sift out what is of long term significance in policing in a moment of contradictory transformation. During the past decade exceptionally well publicised claims have been made with regard to numerous state-of-the-art policing policies and tactics. As demands for punitive ‘law and order’ measures have become an ever more important feature of the tabloid political culture, there are intense pressures to announce new crime control strategies. The contemporary landscape of policing is as a consequence littered with various initiatives that have been disposed of once they fulfilled a particular public relations function. Hence it is increasingly difficult to distinguish between rhetoric and reality. In addition, there seems to be an increasing gap between what police scholars and police officers understand to be ‘really’ significant. This is compounded by the sheer organizational complexity of contemporary police forces, constituted as they are through overlapping institutional configurations and networks. Third, I remain ambivalent about whether we can refine further the conceptual tools necessary to research this rapidly changing institutional field of study. I have been attempting to understand policing for many years. My overall analytical understanding of the state of British policing is constituted through researching those high profile crisis moments when an aspect of policing has to be examined, explained and ‘resolved’ in the political realm. This includes the Scarman report (1981) into the riots of 1981; the Sheehy report (1993) into the organizational structure and rationale of the police; the Macpherson report (1999) into the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence; the Patten report (1999) into the future of policing in Northern Ireland and the more recent Independent Police Complaints Commission examination (2006) of the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes. Such incidents and controversies tend to cast long, unresolvable shadows over how we understand and evaluate policing.

    This approach is supplemented by analysis of various overarching governmental projects to reform police structure, powers and accountability and, at a more local level, attending public meetings about neighbourhood policing issues. Some of these are routine and some are organized by single issue campaign groups who have mobilized around a specific cause for concern. It is in such fora where one can witness the conflicting shifts in policing. It is also where one learns to interrogate the contradictory multi-tiered realities that are an inevitable part of contemporary policing. It can also be a deeply depressing experience to hear the latest generation of well-intentioned senior police officers attempt to explain why something did or did not happen; respond to public concerns and manage public expectations; or detail the local implications of the latest round of top down organizational reform and modernization. A final reason why this is very much a work in progress is that the theoretical registers that one has to analyse and offer explanation seem to be increasingly inadequate to the task. During the past 30 years our understanding of the police and policing has undergone major transformations. Re-reading the classic texts of the Anglo-American sociology of the police one has a sense that they are both obviously familiar and strangely unfamiliar. Going behind ‘the blue curtain’ generated a research energy that is, for the most part, difficult to realize in contemporary police studies. These studies of patrol work as culturally crafted practice are remarkably self-contained with a relatively secure set of assumptions about ‘the police’, ‘police officers’, ‘police character’, ‘police work’ and ‘the policed’.

    The carefully situated findings of previous generations of researchers are by no means redundant and future generations of students of policing should be encouraged to read them in the original. However, an underlying theme of this book is that the academic context within which contemporary police studies takes place is radically altered. Now there is an expectation that police scholars can produce work that on the one hand demonstrates theoretical connections to broader intellectual shifts and on the other meets the policy demands of professional policework. This ‘disciplining’ has produced a notable schism within police studies and a re-profiling of police scholarship. There are an increasing number of contracted researchers and consultants who use managerialist methodologies to evaluate police personnel, practice and procedure and turn out ‘what works’ reports. The aspiration to move from an ad hoc administrative police studies to a fully-fledged police management science is supported by the decisions of funding bodies. There would seem to be less room for those scholars who wish to work from the outside to interrogate the state institution that is expected to symbolize and guarantee public safety and a civil society. And yet it has never been more important to forge a critical police studies that is capable of conceptualizing policing developments against socio-cultural, economic and political transformations. It remains the case that studying the police in the broadest contextual manner is of vital importance because, as we shall see in the course of this book, postmodernity seems determined to beat out its particular complex of volatile tensions and anxieties resultant from everything from consumerization, cultural differentiation, social fragmentation through to a global war on terror on the ‘police anvil’ with a merciless vengeance.

    The structure of this book is relatively straightforward. Each of the chapters has a distinct focus, namely, popular cultural history, sociological origins, traditional perspectives, new perspectives, crime control, culture and accountability. Chapters 1 to 4 seek to provide readers with a systematic overview of the origins and development of key theoretical perspectives in police studies. The origins of chapter 1 lie with my engagement with the work of police historians on the peculiarities of the ‘uniquely mild’ system of English policing. I did not want to repeat the ‘distant past into the present’ narration of the parish constable, watchmen and ‘bobbies’. Nor did I wish to recount the influence played by late eighteenth and early nineteenth century reformers on the development of the ‘new constabulary’ or arguments between scholars on the relationship between the police and state (national and colonial) formation. I decided to locate my historical analysis with the cultural work that went into producing PC George Dixon, the iconic ‘bobby on the beat’. The complex of cultural images and associations articulated through this powerful national popular representation pre-dates sociological interest in the British police and in unpredictable ways arises like a phoenix from the ashes to insert itself in contemporary debates. Sooner or later we have to confront and make sociological sense of the interpellative powers of the Dixonian policing imaginary. This chapter is also intended to strengthen the case for culturally based analysis of the mass mediated nature of police representations.

    Chapter 2 is the result of an increasing concern to locate, remember and rethink the sociological origins of police studies. The intention is to provide readers with an in-depth analysis of one of the first sociological analyses of the police. Along with the seminal research of William Westley Michael Banton's, The Policeman in the Community (1964), represents the breakthrough in postwar police studies. Both authors presented a convincing case as to why ‘the police’ should be a legitimate research topic for sociologists. They also demonstrated what is distinctive and significant about a sociological approach as opposed to numerous legal-constitutional, public administration and historical studies. Although their work was inspirational for a generation of Anglo-American police scholars, both authors have now been reduced to the dust laden status of the bracketed footnotes (see Westley, 1951; 1953; 1970 and Banton, 1964). This is remarkable given that they bequeathed a distinctive field of inquiry, a ‘knowledge structure’ replete with key sociological concepts and research questions and a distinctive methodological approach. They also created two fundamentally different conceptualizations of policing, one ‘profane’ and one ‘sacred’. William Westley insisted that conflict and violence were intrinsic and indeed defining aspects of US policework while Michael Banton identified the conditions that produced consensual, benign policework in Britain. Banton's explicitly comparative focus also introduced a vitally important analytical bridgehead between the UK and US police studies. In more recent times, such transatlantic ties have been less concerned with comparative academic research matters than with the introduction of American police discourse and practice into British policing. As with every other field of public policy, it seems that Britain is willing to import policing policies from the United States.

    Chapters 3 and 4 are intended to provide a tentative framework through which to organize the key perspectives that constitute both traditional and new police studies. Although there is of course an arbitrariness about this framing and there is also the danger of over-simplification, I feel it is important to recognize that there are distinctive perspectives influencing police studies. Chapter 3 outlines the four theoretical perspectives that characterize traditional police studies: ethnographic; Marxist; administrative and left realist perspectives. Although they work with different domain assumptions, explanatory concepts, research concerns and methodologies, each has been influenced by the others. We start with the first wave of eclectic ethnographic police studies that sought to expand upon the concerns of Westley and Banton. The aspiration to represent the inner realities of policing meant that the expressive culture, active agency and organizational identity of the street cop were the primary focus as was the drama of ‘doing’ policework. These studies also identified the complexities and contradictions of the police function in liberal democratic societies. The dominance of ethnographic approaches was challenged by a Marxist police studies underpinned by the insistence that ‘the police’ be defined, first and foremost, as a political category. This allowed for the opening out of a structuralist interrogation of the policing of Western capitalist societies. Analysing how specific class interests are written into policing broke dramatically with ethnographic studies, centering the experiences of those subjected to policing and constructing a set of politicised research interests around the question of the true function of the police in a capitalist society. More recently, administrative and left realist perspectives have concentrated on identifying the highly localized role police can and should play in responding to public fears and concerns about crime, disorder and anti-social behaviour. This chapter stands as a reminder of just how influential police-based scholarship has also been to a much broader based criminological conversation. The study of ‘the police’ and ‘policing’ inevitably touches upon a complicated range of core philosophical, sociological and governmental issues. It is hard, for example, to over-estimate the broader impact of Hall et al's ‘authoritarian state’ thesis and Wilson and Kelling's ‘broken windows’ theory.

    In chapter 4 I attempt to pull together and organize a variety of perspectives that have been generated as a result of a widening of the analytical lens from state-bounded conceptions of police sovereignty to ‘policing’, ‘security’ and ‘governance’. The mutually conditioning relationship between nation state and police is under severe strain. This new police studies draws upon broader debates about the turbo-charged implications of the shift to postmodernity This has stimulated ‘thinking at the limits’ consideration about the disaggregated, pluralized, patchworked, ‘pick n'mix’ shape of ‘future policing’ resultant from the impact of (a) pluralization of local policing and security activities and (b) the de-bordering of national policing, security and intelligence interests. There is enough evidence to suggest that this expanded conceptual imagination associated with the pluralist and transnational thinking has inaugurated a fundamental paradigm shift in police studies. I will leave it for readers to review the different perspectives and to work through the co-existent dislocated futures of policing laid out in this chapter. To further clarify the ‘newness’ of the new police studies, chapter 4 also considers the work of a small group of scholars who have argued that the transformation of police-media relations is arguably one of the most important analytical and methodological challenges currently facing police studies. Because of public obsession with crime, flashing blue lights and wailing sirens dominate the 24/7 news headlines and entertainment media schedules. This allows the media to play a powerful role in shaping public understanding of the ‘spectacle of policing’ and the criminal justice process. Some writers would go so far as to argue, for example, that hard and fast ‘real’ and ‘fictional’ representational regimes are now so intimately inter-connected and inter-textualized that the borders between the two have all but collapsed, creating a multitude of synthetic policing imaginaries. This is compounded by the fact that realizing ‘instantaneous’ legitimation requires the police to impress themselves increasingly on the public imagination through a range of pro-active communication, public relations and image manipulation strategies. Finally, as shall be noted in several chapters, the newsmedia can also provide an invaluable, if unpredictable, form of public scrutiny in controversial policing incidents. The political ramifications of the wrap-around prime timing presence of the 24/7 global media on policing and the disintegration of the representational regime of policing requires much more detailed consideration than is currently given.

    A central intention of chapter 4 is to suggest that no single theorization is capable of dominating our understanding of contemporary developments in policing. And to a considerable degree, this is little more than a reflection of the dislocated condition of a core state institution that is being compelled to re-imagine itself on the sharpest edges of radical transformation. This is the basis for the much more grounded and specific discussion that takes place in chapters 5 to 8. The British police have never looked more professional, techno-rational, outward looking and progressive in thinking and operationally transparent and police performance is now measured and evaluated to an unprecedented degree. And yet there is a sense in which wave after wave of reforms have produced a hollowed out shell of a distinctive policing model that once was and could have been. Living as it is within the wreckage of futures that might have been, might explain why the British police seems to be incapable of generating a persuasive, legitimating, and durable ‘home grown’ philosophy of policing. Such a philosophical vacuum means that it is extremely susceptible to being hegemonized further by US policing discourses and ideas of ‘how to police’ crime. In chapters 5 to 7, I use a case study approach to examine three critical issues confronting the British police in more depth. My empirical reference point, for the most part, is the Metropolitan Police, the British police force with the most complex, pressurized, multiply symbolized working environment. In recent years it has found itself under relentless pressure to fast-forward strategies to demonstrate that it can: re-police crime, disorder, incivility and anti-social behaviour (Chapter 5); re-culture the organization so that it reflects the multi-cultural global city it is responsible for (Chapter 6); and re-structure modes of accountability so that they are capable of connecting with the security needs of myriad neighbourhoods and communities (Chapter 7). In the competitive globalized market place of policing, securitization and crime control, the Metropolitan Police must contend not just with the private sector but being increasingly evaluated against the aggressively branded NYPD's ‘zero tolerance’/‘quality of life’ policing model and the Chicago Police Department's community oriented policing model.

    The concluding chapter addresses concerns that even the new police studies will become analytically redundant as a result of the fallout from the mass casualty terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on 11 September 2001. Britain's integral partnership with the US in the global ‘long war’ – unlimited in time and space – against Islamic terrorism has unknown implications for internal policing and security. Initially, those concerned with civil liberties and human rights in Britain managed to rein in demands for new police powers and counter-terrorism methodologies that were deemed to be vital to deal with the increased threat of mass casualty violence. They did so by reference to the Northern Ireland experience and claiming that the terrorist threat was being overstated by authoritarians wishing to manipulate public fears and insecurities. However, the political and newsmedia terms of the policing debate changed dramatically in July 2005 with the no-warning suicide bomb attacks on London's transport system, the subsequent failed attacks and the fatal shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes by Metropolitan Police officers. This chapter is anchored by Sir Ian Blair's high-profile November 2005 BBC Dimbleby Lecture. This touchstone – ‘What kind of police service do we want?’ – lecture reflected on some of the key issues and debates raised in Chapters 4 to 7. Long term, we now have to give sustained attention to the construction of a critical police studies that is capable of engaging analytically and politically with the multi-tiered national security policing modality that seems likely to emerge during the next decade.


    In writing this book I have been fortunate to have had the encouragement and support of a number of colleagues and friends. A particular debt of gratitude and friendship is owed to John Muncie and Karim Murji. Over the time this work has been developing John and I have concluded many criminological publishing projects with Sage. Throughout he always reminded me that at some time I would have to settle my account with police studies and move on. For many years Karim and I produced numerous papers about the impossibilities and refusals of policing and some of the core chapters in this book could not have been completed otherwise. Gordon Hughes and Sarah Neal have helped to work through different futures of policing, community safety and crime prevention and governance. Many of the arguments that are central to the book reflect engagement with the work of: Michael Banton, Maureen Cain, John Clarke, Adam Crawford, Adam Edwards, Clive Emsley, Stuart Hall, Frances Heidensohn, Paddy Hillyard, Simon Holdaway, Gordon Hughes, Tony Jefferson, Anja Johansen, Les Johnston, Michael Keith, Ian Loader, Barry Loveday, Agon Mulcahy Pat O'Malley, Tim Newburn, Maurice Punch, Robert Reiner, Phil Scraton, Jim Sheptycki, Joe Sim, Betsy Stanko, Kevin Stenson, ‘Tank’ Waddington, Louise Westmarland and Lucia Zedner. I am indebted to Pat O'Malley, Robert Reiner, Betsy Stanko and Tank Waddington for reviewing the manuscript. The usual qualification applies of course: any errors of fact or analysis remain my responsibility. I would also like to thank colleagues at the Open University and City University who have required me to think beyond police studies. Alison Wakefield kept reminding me of the limitations of a state centred conception of policing, whilst Chris Greer has been instrumental in making me think seriously about the under-researched relationship between the police and the 24/7 information age. At a key moment, Winifred Power deployed her incisive editorial skills to help me make sense of police theory.

    I wish to also express my sincere gratitude to Caroline Porter, Miranda Nunhofer, Louise Skelding, Ian Antcliff and the editorial team at Sage for their unfailing patience, general support and advice at key moments. This includes clearing the permission to reproduce in chapter 1 some of the material that appeared originally in ‘From Reel to Ideal: the ‘Blue Lamp’ and the cultural construction of PC George Dixon’, Crime, Media and Culture: an International Journal, 2005, 1 (1): 1–32. I would like to acknowledge Canal Plus Image UK and Getty Images for permission to use the photographic images used in Chapters 1 and 2 and the Police Federation and the Gay Police Association for providing the images used in Chapter 6. Finally I would like to thank Kate Lowe. Needless to say, without her continuing support and friendship The New Policing would not have been possible.

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