Police Legitimacy

This blog was originally posted in December 2011

It is perhaps a phenomena of modern day policing that policing styles should change and community policing is a case in point.  Policing communities, working with them to identify and solve their problems has been a feature of policing around the world for many years.  The UK, USA, India, UAE, Canada and many other countries have recognised the values of engaging communities.  The value of this style of policing was recognised by Wilson  who stated

“The aim of public relations is to develop a favourable public attitude, based on respect for and confidence in the police.  Public cooperation is essential to the successful accomplishment of the police purpose.”
                        (Wilson 1963: 182)

Some 130 years later The Royal Commission on Policing (1960) declared 

“The police cannot successfully carry out their task of maintaining law and order without the support and confidence of the people…they act for the community in the enforcement of law and it is on law and on its enforcement that the liberties of the community rest.”
                                                                                                (Critchley, 1973: 291)
The passage of time appears to have had little impact on this issue as thirty three years later the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) made a very similar statement: –

“… the police service critically depends not just on the confidence of individual customers but on the confidence of the community as a whole if it is to function effectively .”
                                                                                               (ACPO, 1993: 3)
This suggests that in order for the police to ‘function’ they need the support and co-operation of the public and community policing provides an ideal vehicle to accomplish this.  This comment is supported by former Chief Constable John Alderson whose ideas on how the police should relate to communities manifested itself over 30 years later in the shape of the National Reassurance Policing Project (NRRP).  This was followed by a mandate from New Labour that all police forces in England and Wales must have a neighbourhood policing function.  They then dispatched Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary (HMIC) to verify that forces were doing as they were told.  

The New Labour Citizen Focus agenda with its emphasis on levels of confidence and satisfaction provided a tactical framework that included documents such as Hallmarks of Citizen Focus to assist police forces get to grips with this style of policing.  However, the emphasis on crime reduction by the UK Coalition government has seen the demise or reduction in emphasis on Citizen Focus.  It would be interesting to have HMIC revisit all forces and compare the emphasis, structures and resources dedicated to neighbourhood policing.  

The legitimacy and efficacy of community policing seems to be suffering attacks in the USA.  Articles have been published that suggests that the CAPS programme, the forerunner of many UK strategies, has been withdrawn.  In fact this article documents the thoughts of one Chief who suggests that community policing should be ‘killed.’ http://www.iacpcommunitypolicing.org/profile.php?uid=27&blog=92%E2%80%8F

This proposition seems to be a little extreme, especially during these times of financial crisis.  The relationship between the police and community is essential as citizens and communities as a whole become stressed as they face up to the harsh realities of job loss, higher bills, higher taxes etc.  Stepping back to a time where the emphasis was on ‘reactive’ policing is a dangerous precedent.  However Alderson (1984) lamented the extent to which reactive policing, whilst deemed efficient and with a consequent orientation to mobile rather than foot patrol, may have caused and he argued that the reactive style of policing was causing the police to lose the ‘art’ of preventative policing.  

The next twelve to twenty four months will be interesting for policing in UK and USA as the challenge to return to a ‘coercive’ style of policing gathers pace.  I wonder who will be strong enough to resist the politicians, aldermen and police commissioners as they seek recognition and citizen support to keep them in office.  I think that there are some battles to be fought and I hope that the police believe in themselves, the validity of community policing and have the stomach for the fight

Published by thebluelocust

Former police superintendent. Current university lecturer, police trainer and Director of Blue Locust Network Ltd

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