The Power of Three? Examining Quality Service in Policing

Legitimacy and public confidence have been key elements of policing since the inception of the modern police service in 1829. There are a plethora of issues that affect both legitimacy and confidence the impact of which result in a waxing and waning of public support for policing over time. In general terms there are two ways that the police tend to deal with this; they adopt a coercive enforcement style of policing which reflects the identity of a police ‘force’, or they adopt a more welfare oriented style of police ‘service’.

Throughout time the police have, to various degrees, focussed on a style of policing that emphasises the critical nature of engaging communities in order to help or allow them to pursue their mission of preventing or detecting crime. The relationship between the police and citizens has resulted in the coming and going of a multitude of tactical options from Community Policing, Reassurance Policing, Problem Oriented Policing and Neighbourhood Policing to name a few.

The link between each of these tactics is the standard of service delivered to the community. Commonly referred to a ‘quality of service’, Waters (1996) divides the concept of ‘quality service’ into three areas –

• Functional – this aspect embraces operational activity such as crime clear up rates and response times to emergency calls

• Internal quality – the internal quality dimension is concerned with organisational culture, management and staff development

• Interactional – interactional relates to inter agency partnerships, responding to community requirements and the provision of a reassuring police service.

This is the first of three blogs that will examine the impact of politics on the establishment of a quality service style of policing.

The objective of ‘quality service’ is to deliver a police service that the public want (Waters, 1996), a reflection of Peel’s philosophy for policing. As the public become more conscious of their rights and their expectations of public services increase, citizens are not only likely to ask for more services, but they are likely to expect higher quality service (Butler, 2000). It can be argued that just like all other complex agencies that are involved in service delivery, it is important for the police to know the level of satisfaction with the services that they deliver as this enables them to analyse and identify gaps, alter activity and ultimately improve the service to the public (Sacco, 1998). Hirst (1991) argues that in consequence of its monopoly the police should have the greatest commitment to ‘quality service.’

This is an aspiration that can be traced back to the foundation of modern day policing in 1829 by Sir Robert Peel and his first two Commissioners, Rowan and Mayne. The ‘new police’ was established as a result of increasing urbanisation, increased crime and the unsatisfactory use of militia to deal with public insurrection (Lee, 1901; Reith, 1948; Critchley, 1977; Alderson, 1979; Ignatieff, 1979; Stead, 1980; Emsley, 1983; Bittner, 1990; Alderson, 1998; Reiner, 2000).

Peel constantly supported reform linked to capitalism and encumbrances on trade as he had an economic obsession that warped his wider political judgement (Evans, 1991). This suggests the possibility that the ‘new police’ arose as a functional corollary of the structural trajectory of capitalism, industrialisation and urbanisation (Johnston, 2000). In other words, Peel wanted to encourage financial investment in the capital and may have seen the increases in crime and insurrection as a threat to this.

Peel was aware that engaging citizens was a crucial factor in successfully establishing the police. The link between the police mission of preventing crime and the quality of the relationship between the police and citizens is demonstrated by Peel who stated: –

“It should be understood at the outset that the principle object to be attained is the prevention of crime. To this great end every effort of the police is to be directed…He [the Constable] will be civil and obliging to all people of every rank and class…” (Critchley, 1967: 52)

In order to break down barriers and refute ideas that the new police were spies for the government Peel made four key decisions. First he developed a uniform for the police that would encourage people to approach them for assistance (Critchley, 1977). This is evidenced by Rowan who in 1833 gave evidence to a Parliamentary Select Committee and stated

“There was a discussion with the Secretary of State [Peel] whether they [police officers] should be put into uniform or not. The question was discussed at great length, and the advantages and the disadvantages of the two systems weighed; it was thought more desirable that they should be in uniform; it was obvious, if it was a quiet uniform, that a person wanting assistance might obtain the aid of a policeman.” (Critchley 1977:89)

Second, Peel did not arm the police. This decision was significant as it ultimately endeared them to the community (Palmer, 1998). As the police were not armed and had limited powers they were compelled to rely on public support and approval rather than the exercise of oppressive authority (Critchley, 1973).

Third, in the recruiting strategy for constables of the ‘new police’ Peel realised that if he appointed gentlemen to higher ranks they would not have associated with the common man, so ordinary policemen were drawn from the lower orders of society, but were often distanced from their social origins (Critchley, 1973; Emsley, 1983; Palmer, 1998; Reiner, 2000; Hurd, 2007; Emsley, 2008).

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, in order to ensure compliance with Peel’s mission, detailed General Instructions were published for all ranks. The instructions were documented in three volumes that served to guide the ‘new police’ in terms of structure and legality. By giving direct instructions to each rank they were left in no doubt as to what their role was in relation to the mission of preventing crime, and the value of a quality service built through engaging citizens.

The importance of the requirement to build a relationship with the public was identified by Reith (1956) who stated that without the cooperation of the public the police would cease to function. In providing leadership and direction to constables and how they would establish a relationship with the people of London, Rowan wrote: –

“He will be civil and obliging to all people of every rank and class. He must be particularly cautious not to interfere idly or unnecessarily in order to make a display of his authority; when required to act. He will do so with decision and boldness; on all occasions he may expect to receive the fullest support in the proper exercise of his authority. He must remember that there is no qualification so indispensable to a police officer as a perfect command of temper, never suffering himself to be moved in the slightest degree by any language or threats that may be used: if he do his duty in a quiet and determined manner, such conduct will probably excite the well disposed of the bystanders to assist him, if he requires them.” (Ascoli 1979:86)

Did Peel achieve his mission of building a relationship based on a ‘quality service?’ Well, it is well documented that initially there was a great deal of violence against the new police, especially as they became established throughout the country. The initial lack of police legitimacy prevented police leadership from pursuing its original mission of crime prevention through community engagement. The result was that the police mission veered from one that sought to prevent crime through community engagement to one of enforcement and coercion with the salient feature of early police experience being associated with conflict (Adlam, 2000; Crawford, 2007).

It is difficult to establish the exact date that the police obtained their legitimacy. It is likely that acceptance of the police was almost complete some years after the Great Exhibition as Reiner (2000) states that it seems that police had attained a large measure of legitimacy by 1870. As the working class became incorporated into the political, social and economic fabric, so acceptance of the police spread down through the social order in the UK (Reiner, 1992) with the majority of settled and respectable working class together with upper and middle class eventually joining the veneration of the ‘bobby’ as the embodiment of citizenly idea (Palmer, 1988).

So the police service in its modern form was established, but would face political turmoil and challenge over the forthcoming years. The next in this sequence of three blogs will look at the impact of the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher on quality service.

Dr Andrew Fisher is a Consultant in police-community engagement and an Associate Lecturer at Liverpool Hope University

One thought on “The Power of Three? Examining Quality Service in Policing

  1. Very thought provoking blog blog and an important reminder that public supprt of the police is directly linked to the quality of service delivered. Police in the US continue to face the same challenges as evidenced by the shape American police training has taken, with strong emphasis on the tactical disciplines and minimal emphasis on customer service.

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