Reflections – State of the Art

I. In this brief set of observations, I want to say something about changes in the social world and policing since the early ‘seventies when I began studying policing. My effort here is to outline the changes visible in the U.K, although increasingly the scholarship is “Anglo-American.”  This does not refer to the cultural differences, which remain significant, but the publications and research findings that are shared and cited.  In the spring of 1973, I carried out some fieldwork with the police in South London. At the time, I entertained the idea that I might outline the contours of the police role, perhaps comparatively, and was influenced by Michael Banton’s work (I had met him when he visited Michigan State University the previous spring). I have been standing on the shoulders of those policemen ever since and remain grateful for what they taught me in those long warm days.  What has changed since then?

II. It seems fruitful to set as a baseline somewhere in the late ‘seventies, bearing in mind that politics and economics, as well as local concerns differed then as they do now in the Anglo-American world (North America, Australia, New Zealand, the U.K.). Certainly, there was distinctive field of police studies, while a few sociologists such as Albert J. Reiss, Jr., William Westley and Michael Banton, and journalists such as Ben Whittaker and Peter Laurie, had sketched out some issues. While there was some trans-Atlantic and Antipodean circulation of scholars, people moving here and there on sabbatical and for conferences, there was little appreciation of European or Latin-American scholarship.

The general mood of the time was one of complacency in part because officially recorded crime (ORC) was low, of little concern and policing itself was seen as an accepted, everyday banality. This was just before the Brixton riots, or more precisely, the rebellion they represented, and there was little concern in the Anglo-American world with the ghettoized, destructive, impoverished state of minorities in spite of the riots; only the tactics of policing were being re-thought.  In England, Lord Scarman’s report did elevate governmental concern.  The crime of concern was “decent nineteenth street crime:” robbery, burglary, assault and the odd pub fight and minding “toe rags” (I am exaggerating of course, but the world view of the ‘street bobby’ was not broad). Terrorism resided somewhere else, certainly for scholars resident in the United States. It was easy, when I lived in England in the ‘eighties, to accept the BBC version of “the troubles.”

The idea of a functioning criminal justice system in which police played a reasonable and rational role as “gatekeepers” did not exist. This catchy oxymoron emerged full-blown in the Challenge of Crime (1967), making a number of dubious assertions and reifying a mess. The notion that there was a closed, integrated, logically articulated and functional system with complementary parts, mannered and graceful interchanges and frequent detailed and information-rich transactions, was accepted and now is featured as the caricature of practices in every textbook in the field. The actual content, function and meaning of these transactional links was never well explored. The gloss on police practices that was to become a more specified Judges’ Rules was moving toward public presentation, and the existence of “plea bargaining” in England was grudgingly accepted by the government of the day. The examination of the judicial system and the role of the police in it began to surface in the U.K., but the police did not see themselves as “law enforcement” nor the subject of an academic discipline (Heslop, 2012)

There were few governmental agencies concerned with the state of policing, perhaps the Home Office and its branches in Scotland and Northern Ireland, but they had little interest in funding research on policing (this was to change in the ‘eighties). There was little police leadership at the national level, although it was beginning to emerge by the late ‘seventies in both the United States and England. The miners’ strikes, and concern with policing of such affairs, brought out the new powerful role of the Home office, of the tacit notion of “mutual aid” between Constabularies, and in due course national figures such as John Alderson and John Alderton, and later Sir Kenneth Newman (Sir. Robert Mark had been perhaps the first nationally known “police intellectual”) appeared. And in the background, always was “the troubles,” seen as a kind of Irish anomaly –blame the victim- hopefully, the BBC announced, soon to be ended by resolute actions of Conservative politicians.

The era of police media crusades, campaigns and “wars” on drugs, crime or whatever was not found outside the United States. Buzz words, community policing, policing by consent, had not yet supplemented “police-community-relations,” and other faddish approaches such as zero tolerance, broken windows, and later, “intelligence-led” policing, were mere chat in the Harvard Yard and in bars on Harvard Square. They did not remain there, for George Kelling and William Bratton brought the broken windows “good news” to England in the late 1990s.

The soon-to-be formed connection between policing and capitalism, and the idea that police was a business or an industry with a “product,” citizens as “customers,” policing as a “service” with the constraints of efficiency and effectiveness, and an earnest, well-managed corporate structure with a strategic business plan and annual reports competing for a “market share” remained a trick bag yet unopened. Nostalgia remained the dominant rhetorical trope.  Policing was largely, as Bittner noted in 1970, unaffected by modern notions of public administration. Police were not engaged in “partnerships,” and the world of private policing was not researched nor even much noticed by scholars until Shearing and Stenning began to publish their rich theoretical explorations. I continued in the ‘nineties to be skeptical of buzz words like community policing, the broken windows trivialization of police work, and claims about robust innovations that could be wrought by means of cosmetic changes and stylish rhetoric.  Policing is done on the streets by sensible people making decisions in contexts fraught with uncertainty.

Policing was well-known and described both sides of the water as “a job,” and a good job it was for tall, modestly ambitious white men with secondary education: it featured steady pay, no prospects for lay-offs, redundancy, or being fired, solid benefits and a pension. It was my impression even in the ‘nineties that most police officers were locally recruited, lived nearby –matrilocally- and rarely moved between Constabularies unless they sought ACPO level posts. They policed people like themselves, perhaps. Bramshill Police College was an extension of “cloud cuckoo land,” “fitted carpet land,” and as mysterious as other management lairs.

Police featured modest armament and it was said that the English police were “unarmed.” Certainly the idea of a specialized team of experts was beginning to emerge in the late ‘sixties, and became  visible in the siege of  the Libyan embassy, and with the known involvement of the SAS. The assumption, now held resolutely in every city in the United States, that one must have a hostage rescue team, specialized weapons and tactics, and paramilitary uniforms and equipment, had not yet been widespread.

Communications were primitive, although 999 and centralized dispatch were present, a combination of foot patrol, area cars, and “pandas” filtered and rationed the service. The area cars were equipped with radios and officers with mobile radios (See Manning, 2003 on changes in the police car).

III. While the previous points can be contested, the contemporaneous scene is open to all for speculation. The following, then, is more likely to be subject to debate. I hope so.

In 2013, there was a degree of police pride, certainly in the United States, as a result of taking credit for the reduction in ORC crime that has been unfolding for more than twenty years in the Anglo-American world. On the other hand, new forms of crime, the criminalization of migration and immigration; crimes of the internet; sex trafficking; globally organized terrorism; and others to be named have been responded to by forming multi-national, trans-national and ad hoc policing networks that have yet to be fully understood. As a complement to the crime control concern that has been the core of the police mandate for more than 40 years,  provincial Constabularies  have joined national police units in a concern for, training for, and intelligence gathering around “security.”  Unfortunately, this is a sponge concept with no clear definition, parameters or boundaries, and comes to public attention when visible; media amplified events capture the public imagination.

The rhetoric of policing has now collided with reality in England. The privatization, out-sourcing, and  creation of hybrid groups carrying out police functions is going forward in England with unknown and less than fully unanticipated consequences (See Brown, forthcoming). What will the PCCs do?  The Independent Review of Police Officer and Staff Remuneration (2012), the most comprehensive study ever made of the labor economics of policing, and one of the most comprehensive studies of the craft, will most certainly mark a turning point in the administration and governance of policing.  This report takes on fundamental conditions of work: pay, perks, pensions, health benefits, recruitment and training, retirement, pay injustices (comparison of pay differentials between non-sworn and sworn employees) as well as revealing by implication the traditional feudal and personalistic practices of promotion and transfers, informal punishment, the variations in workload by shift, and the long-standing seniority basis for most pay. This study did not address the long-standing crafty work of the CID. The question of police efficiency has meaning with respect to budgeting and personnel use, although it has not seen as pertinent when the police are called on to work long hours in riots, in natural and human disasters, and in searching for lost children.  Their honor is not impugned then, or when sacrifices are made on behalf of us all.  The rhetoric of policing as a business has come back with a vengeance. Because policing is a locally budgeted matter in the United States and the economy has improved, there is no debate about police pay, perks, pensions and conditions of work. Perhaps it will come.

There is a large but recently inconsistent funding of police research and strong union-like groups such as IACP and PERF in the United States, while ACPO has been dismantled in the U.K. The command leadership of policing in the Anglo-American world is now well-educated with both professional and graduate degrees. The level of formal education of police is rising and has been for more than 40 years.

Police are remarkably less violent, more specific in their assessment of the violence-potential of citizens, and are much less likely to be shot at and to shot people. This is perhaps because of the growth of the use of non-fatal tools such as Tasers and Mace. No one actually knows why this is the case. On the other hand, events that feature police violence, especially that which emerges rapidly in contentious encounters with citizens in everyday policing, is now captured immediately by hand-held cameras- smart phones and the like. These images in turn are then found on You Tube, Face Book and other social media worldwide. Police are more accountable to everyday citizens informally than ever before. The police, on their part, are now monitored by their own in car cameras, CCTV and other surveillance cameras, their own personal and departmental mobile  phones and smart devices as well as their MDTs.  The average police officer, especially the younger officer, is now very technologically savvy.  The establishment of the College of Policing, an idea with many shapes since I first visited Bramshill in the 1970s, is now in process.

Police in the U.K. are remarkably well-armed albeit in closely supervised and highly trained units. They are better trained and nimble and can be rapidly deployed. They are more likely to share and have shared with them data from national units, especially in connection with the vague idea of “terrorism.” The NYPD, for example, and the London Metropolitan police have large, well-trained and funded specialized units with international offices and partnerships that focus on anti-terrorism.

Policing in the Anglo-American world is no longer carried out almost entirely by white men. What this means in terms of the operation of policing, their basic internal dynamics and practices, no one knows. There are reasons to believe that the occupational culture of the uniformed patrol officer in the U.K. has little changed (Loftus, 2009). There are varieties of policing on the table- hybrid, private, out-sourced, voluntary, public and ad hoc partnerships as well as extensions of the “police family” (Manning in Brown, forthcoming).

The field of police studies, although it is a patchwork of ideas and concepts, is beginning to be  established as an academic program in the Anglo-American world.  There is a keen awareness
of the importance of international cooperation amongst academic societies. There are more journals than anyone can enumerate, and these are interdisciplinary and international in scope, audience, authorship and editorship. There are abundant ethnographies, chapters and articles based on qualitative data on policing, but we still stand in the shadows and cite the classics of the late ‘sixties and ‘seventies (Manning, forthcoming).

Policing is more likely to have a variety of technological tools, some of which are used. These include mapping, crime analysis, surveillance cameras, in-car cameras, computers and microphones, connection to national databases, and efforts to apply systematic data to crime reduction efforts. The direct consequence(s) of these technologies is difficult to determine, although they doubtless have reduced the processing time for calls, increased data storage and capacity, and facilitated data transfer and sharing. Police now carry one or more smart phones. The social media have penetrated policing and most large departments have a website, can be followed on Facebook and/or Twitter, use e-mail and the internet, and have Media offices and spokespeople to provide information and reactions to current affairs and events. How this reflexivity patterns or shape policing is as yet unknown.

IV. It is not possible to make predictions in social science. Such claims are mystifying and misleading. It is likely, however that corporate greed, immigration across national borders, climate change and related issues of the environment, the human and other species in ecological tangles, and terrorism and related issues of nationalism will continue to shift attention away from the uniformed officer and “his” culture, immediate street level crime that has been the focus of police research, and local studies of the correlates of ORC. More research will be comparative and cross cultural.

Professor Peter K. Manning – Elmer V. H. and Eileen M. Brooks Chair in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northeastern University, Boston, MA. 

One thought on “Reflections – State of the Art

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