Children in police custody: How far have we really come since Confait?

Dr Miranda Bevan

In April 2021 it will be 50 years since three teenagers confessed, in a South London police station, to having played a part in the murder of Maxwell Confait. Readers will no doubt be familiar with the case. Ahmet Salih had just turned 14, Ronald Leighton was 15, the eldest of the group, Colin Lattimore, was 18 years old, but was identified at the time of his arrest as having ‘the mental age of a 14 year old’. The Fisher Inquiry found that each had been questioned in the absence of a parent or independent adult, that they had not been informed of their legal rights and that Colin Lattimore had been subjected to oppressive and unfair questioning.  Their convictions, which rested solely on their confessions, were overturned in 1975, but the disquiet caused by the case was a significant factor in the establishing of the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure which led, in turn, to the passing of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE).

As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, change is again on the horizon – with the legacy of the use of virtual legal advice in police custody under the Joint Interim Interview Protocol as yet unclear, the Criminal Legal Aid Review soon to report and resources ever more stretched. Against this backdrop, and as the anniversary of the Confait case looms, it seems a fitting time to ask: can we be satisfied that the sort of injustice experienced by the Confait suspects is not being repeated today?

The intervening decades have seen profound changes to the legal framework protecting children in trouble with the law, not least with the ratification by the UK of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990. International, European and domestic instruments and guidance now require a child-friendly approach to be taken, and underline the importance of effective participation, including in the police station. PACE, and its attendant Codes of Practice have themselves been repeatedly amended. But, in practice, how far have we really come since Confait? In answering this question I draw on the findings of a qualitative research study (Bevan 2019; Bevan 2021), which included 41 interviews with children and young people with experience of detention as a ‘juvenile’ in police custody (referred to here as young participants and individually by pseudonyms), supplemented by observations in three force areas and further police, professional and volunteer interviews.

Appropriate adults: My Mum’s not really good at all that law stuff, so she just keeps quiet’ (Zayn)

PACE Code C introduced the mandatory presence of an appropriate adult (AA) for child suspects, and AAs are now consistently present in child suspect interviews (Criminal Justice Joint Inspection 2011). However, despite the extraordinary demands placed on the AA (Code C 1.7A) – to support and advise the child, facilitate comprehension and exercise of their rights, safeguard their welfare, oversee due process, and support their communication with the police – the role is required primarily to be fulfilled by parents or other familial adults, and otherwise, most commonly, by trained, but lay, volunteers.

Familial AAs involved in the study frequently felt out of their depth, intimidated into going along with what officers said and lacked an understanding of what they were expected to do and how they might intervene effectively. At the same time, while the presence of familiar adults could be reassuring, it often introduced a layer of emotional complexity and tension which added to the challenges a child suspect had to navigate in detention. Lay volunteers, by contrast, had a better appreciation of the role and process, but young participants often found it difficult to connect with an unknown stranger, commonly very much older and of a different background and ethnicity to them.  

Perhaps most significantly, child suspects on observation waited on average five and half hours to see their AA  (in keeping with the Children’s Commissioner’s research) – the timing of their attendance frequently being organised for the convenience of the investigation rather than the needs of the child.  As the role is currently conceived and fulfilled, the AA is too frequently ill-equipped to insulate a child from the sort of unfairness experienced by the Confait suspects.

Legal advice: ‘I didn’t want one (a solicitor)…I just wanted to get out’ (Alex)

Today the recitation by the Custody Officer of the right to legal advice is a routine event, but meaningful engagement with that right is not.  In England and Wales child suspects as young as 10 are required to opt for legal advice (in contrast to the mandatory provision in a number of European states) and quantitative research has long identified the strikingly low uptake of legal advice by children (Kemp, Pleasence and Balmer, 2011).

Young participants provided a range of reasons for declining advice, including being too anxious and distressed to engage with the offer at all, failing to comprehend the benefits of legal advice, doubting the independence of solicitors, and being overwhelmed by desperation to get out of detention.  AAs were not always informed of their right to request legal advice themselves, and family members often declined for the same reasons as their children. Charlie Taylor’s youth justice review proposed an ‘opt out’ position for legal advice for children – my findings suggest that such a change may not go far enough.

Interview techniques: ‘..even if you did say something they will try and twist it into thinking that you’ve said something completely different.’ (Harper)

While a murder investigation, such as the Confait case, would today likely be handled by officers with specialist interview training, the less serious offences for which children are more commonly detained are not. In stark contrast to the approach taken to child witnesses, child suspects are not required to be interviewed by officers with specialist training to elicit their best evidence (Gooch and von Berg, 2019). Young participants described a range of oppressive questioning approaches in interview – including unduly repetitive questioning, the drawing of unfair inference from leading questions and heightened pressure as a result of reference being made to release – many of the tactics for which Lattimore’s interview was criticised almost 50 years ago. 

Nor is it clear that fitness for interview and risk assessment processes today are sufficiently tailored to ensure identification of the sort of learning difficulties experienced by Colin Lattimore. Even where vulnerabilities are identified, adjustments in interview, particularly intermediary assistance and speech and language support, are vanishingly rare. The blanket remedy is the presence of the AA, who is, by definition, not an expert in supporting more profound communication and comprehension difficulties.

Length and harshness of detention episodes: ‘It’s bare long. Honestly every minute feels like 10 minutes’ (Zoe)

In one significant respect things are worse than at the time of the Confait case – average detention periods have increased (Kemp, Pleasence and Balmer, 2011) . On observation the average time spent by a child in custody was 11 hours and 45 minutes.  Additionally, despite their right to accommodation and support appropriate to their age and vulnerabilities, young participants had frequently experienced largely the same detention conditions as adults – held in adult cells and with little support to cope with lengthy periods of isolation. Granted, detention periods may be protracted as a result of safeguarding concerns, and to enable the attendance of the AA. But the effect on the child’s capacity to participate effectively in the interview can be profound. By the time they were required for questioning, young participants were often too exhausted, hungry or desperate to get out, to take in legal advice, or give a good account of themselves in interview. Alternatively, many described making ‘no comment’ to get it over with more quickly, or in an attempt to retaliate for what they considered to be unjustified treatment.

So, how far have we come since Confait?  Whilst the protections for child suspects on paper promise much, in practice the position of the child in police detention is only minimally improved, if at all. Progress has, arguably, been more presentational than effective and the scope for injustice remains substantial. As no other, the Confait case taught us the critical significance of police interview, the extreme vulnerability of child suspects and the need for timely and specialist support. Fifty years on, as we contemplate further changes, we must make sure those lessons are learnt.

Dr Miranda Bevan is Lecturer in Law at Goldsmiths, University of London and a Visiting Fellow at the Mannheim Centre, LSE’. Email:

‘The research was supported by an LSE Studentship and an ESRC Post-Doctoral Fellowship (Ref ES/V007084/1).’

Old tricks for new dogs. What price local knowledge?

Professor Jason Roach and Professor Ken Pease

One way to denigrate experience is to invoke the saying ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks’. The unstated assumptions are that the new tricks are better than the old, and that anyway the old dog is too stubborn or inept to bother learning them. Some old dogs are indeed stubborn and inept.  But there are opinionated over—confident young dogs too. Failure to teach new dogs useful old tricks is arguably even worse than failing to teach old dogs useful new tricks.

The common issue is arrogance, both from the old sweat who thinks no-one can teach him anything, and the young tyro who thinks the same. Asking either ‘How do you know that?’ evokes a withering stare of contempt, an unspoken ‘How dare you presume to challenge my assertion?’

One of the frequent side-effects of being an academic is that the longer you are the more you tend to be drawn to revisiting some of the theory and research that you were taught as an undergraduate. In our case, this has been regular conversations about the psychology that we were taught (albeit some 30 years apart), explaining why, for example, we wrote a book, ‘Evolution and Crime’ (2013). We recently scanned an introductory psychology textbook from 1990’s to see what we might revive in pursuit of crime reduction and policing today. Instead of agreeing that each chapter topic was either still popular or too outdated for any resurrecting by us, we found it to be a rich source of not just nostalgia (although admittedly a lot of nostalgia) but of psychological ideas, theories and approaches ripe for applying to 21st century policing, that had for some reason fallen by the wayside. Unless told otherwise, this is the first of our ‘resurrection’ articles.   

Another common side-effect of aging in academia is that we tend to speak about great academics that we have had the privilege of being been taught by or have met in the past. As the first author’s list is considerably shorter than the second author’s as he much younger (and more handsome) we begin with a true legend.1

The second author (KP) was privileged to be taught by one A.R.Jonckheere, a brilliant psychologist/statistician now remembered for his eponymous Trend Test, and less recalled for providing the most endearing example of nominative determinism we know. His full name was Aimable Robert Jonckheere and he was indeed lovable. He was also amazing in the depth and breadth of his talents. Professor Gloria Laycock recalls a weekend when Jonck (as he was known to colleagues, friends and students) suggested a game of Scrabble. His then girlfriend agreed on condition that it would be in English, not any of his other languages.

During a seminar in Jonck’s office circa 1964, he described a visit he had just made to the Nobel Laureate ethologist Niko Tinbergen at Oxford. Tinbergen worked a lot with sticklebacks. Wanting to know how accurate Tinbergen’s stickleback predictions were, Jonck designated a stickleback in the tank and asked him to repeatedly predict the direction in which the stickleback would turn next. Statistician that he was, Jonck said ‘I did a sign test in my head’ and concluded that Tinbergen did significantly better than chance. The point is that prediction was Jonck’s acid test of someone’s expertise, echoing the Russian proverb favoured by President Ronald Reagan ‘Trust, but verify’.

So, what has this got to do we crime and policing? Please bear with us a little longer.

The perspective from which evidence based professional practice is branched has its origin in medicine with the Cochrane Collaboration, named for Archie Cochrane, a medic who underwent radical surgery for a cancer which he did not have. The core Cochrane insight – based upon his surgeon’s confidence that he was dealing with cancerous tissue without waiting for a pathologist’s report – was that medical practitioners claimed (in good faith) expertise which they did not possess, and which had to be tested. How do you know that someone has expertise? The evidence lies in their capacity to predict. The surgeon thought he could predict what the pathologist would report. It turned out he could not. For 2000 years of medicine, confidence outran competence.

The larger scale work was pioneered by Philip Tetlock (see Gardner and Tetlock 2015) with an honourable mention going to Nate Silver (2012). Tetlock started by studying political pundits. Put kindly, their predictive powers were execrable. He went on to craft the Good Judgement Project (GJP). The predictions which he elicited were about difficult to predict real world events. He collaborated with Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, recognising the centrality of prediction in making the intelligence services skilled.

Much of policing is understandably ‘reactive’, triggered by the reporting of a crime by the public. That said, policing requires an extensive skill set. All skills are tested by accurate prediction. Thus, skilled policing is discernible by accurate prediction. In football, goalkeeper capacity to anticipate where the penalty taker will direct the ball makes the save easier. Whereas for cricket the capacity to anticipate the googly enhances the batter’s capacity to remain. Prediction is what lets the best professional gambler get rich and bad prediction often letting the bookmaker.  Yet, for some reason, the aura of expertise typically leaves the capacity to predict untested. Why?

This has long troubled one of us in the policing context. For instance, police officers (designated Crime Prevention Design Advisors, Architectural Liaison Officers, or similar) have long advised planners on crime-facilitating design features. We could find no studies of whether these recommendations had any validity in identifying places that would be prone to crime. Our colleague, Leanne Monchuk, gave experienced Designing Out Crime Officers plans of an estate which had been built a decade earlier but with which they were unfamiliar. She then compared the locations identified by the CPDAs as crime prone with the locations at which there had actually been crime. The results (Monchuk et al. 2018) were as might have been expected on the basis of larger scale work on prediction. Nobody was perfect. Some were modestly skilled at prediction, some were random. A small study, but enough to persuade us that police capacity to make predictions relevant to their work should be tested, not assumed.

We see evidence-based policing to be of two kinds. The first is to identify those things worth doing in crime control. This is the Cambridge emphasis. The other is to so develop individual officers so that they are best equipped to do the things worth doing skilfully in the messy world of implementation. For this, we think the Tetlock approach necessary. It has the incidental effect of revealing senior officer hubris, just as Cochrane undermined physician hubris.

In hope of ‘starting the ball rolling’, here are some of the things which Tetlock established.

1. Some people are superforecasters, reliably beating the odds.

2. Superforecasters were not necessarily the most intelligent participants. They had these attributes

  • They did not see the world through a big theory lens (like Marxism)
  • There were conscientious in gathering relevant information
  • They adjusted their view readily when new information became available
  • There were ways of setting up groups which outperformed the predictive accuracy of its members.

One of us (JR) has conducted interviews with those police traditionally referred to as ‘ace thief-takers’, those seemingly gifted to spot a ‘wrong-un’ in a crowd and who invariably get more ‘collars’ than their colleagues. Although not yet complete, the findings suggest that said individuals are not simply good at predicting criminality based on the picking-up of various different cues, but that they have excellent memories for faces, and arguably, and most importantly, are willing to test their predictions and be wrong!

If you find yourself in sympathy with the ideas expressed here, we suggest that they could be incorporated into policing in many ways. For example, body worn camera footage for developing incidents be shown to apprentice officers, with predictions about how the incidents resolve themselves tested against actual outcomes. Not allowing experienced officers to escape, predictions made at Tasking and Coordinating meetings seem to provide scope for prediction testing.

Those familiar with the research on ‘super recognisers’ and will know that some police staff identified as being in the top 30% at facial recognition (e.g. based on CCTV images) or number plate recognition, have been put together in specialist teams (e.g. MPS). We posit that although memory will play a large part here, prediction will also play a significant part.

In hope more than prediction, we write this article in a hope that readers might access the GJP website, read Tetlock’s work, especially Tetlock and Gardner’s book, and recognise the potential of the approach in enhancing relevant policing skills.

Please do contact us if we have aroused your interest for testing some of these ideas

Thank you for your time.


1: The second author has nothing to contribute to the following two anecdotes as he was not born for another five years and makes no apology for this.

Jason Roach is Professor of Psychology and Policing and Director of the Applied Criminology and Policing Centre at the University of Huddersfield and Editor for the Police Journal. Email: Twitter: @jrro47

Ken Pease OBE is Visiting Professor at University College London, the University of Huddersfield, University of Loughborough, Manchester Business School and Chester University. Email:

Transforming Police Education and Professional Development in Response to the Vulnerability Agenda and Covid-19

Dr Gareth D Addidle and Professor Joyce Liddle

Vulnerability, a complex ‘wicked issue’, is moving up global political agendas (Addidle and Liddle, 2020). It is a phenomenon resulting from a set of economic, housing, physical, family and cultural inequalities, as individuals and groups experience varying levels of disadvantage. It is also influenced by age, class, occupation, gender, ethnicity and disability, and can bring differential outcomes for individuals as a result of natural hazards such as floods, or other forces such as pandemics within broader social, economic and political changes. Vulnerability can manifest itself as poverty, marginalization and lack of assets, and arises at many levels and over time, as it renders individuals incapable of coping, or leaves them physically weak, economically impoverished, socially dependent, humiliated and psychologically harmed. This blog aims to highlight the increasing need for such issues to be contextualised and addressed in police education and professional development (as part of the broader professionalisation agenda). We argue that including vulnerability in education and development will also support the important growth in contemporary public health policing.

Ideas of equality, freedom and common good form the basis of social justice, often at variance with many injustices persisting across the world. Globally, vulnerable and marginalised communities face substantial barriers in their fight for access to quality and affordable healthcare and other services. COVID 19, a critical public health crisis, further exposed the levels of vulnerability across all societies, as the numbers of sufferers are found disproportionately in disadvantaged, impoverished or BAME communities, with rising levels of homelessness, crime and social inequality. In the UK, many of the social, economic and environmental impacts of COVID 19 remain to be seen in coming decades, but the challenges  are arising at a time when many deprived areas are yet to recover from the 2008 Global economic downturn and fiscal crisis, let alone those still reeling from the demise of traditional industries in the 1970/80s. In the past 2 years alone, Tees Valley lost most of its steel making facilities to China, and Middlesbrough, is not only ranked as the poorest and most deprived place in the country, it is also the most unsafe and insecure locality to reside in (Telford and Wistow, 2019).

Public health approaches in policing support the Policing Vision 2025 (NPCC, 2016), which focuses on: proactive, preventative activity; working with partners to problem-solve; vulnerability; building cohesive communities; improving data sharing; evidence-based practice; and, whole-system approaches (Christmas and Srivastava, 2019). Police and other statutory agencies have a duty of care to vulnerable individuals; and in order to seek appropriate solutions to the ‘wicked’ issues, suitable framing of situations can be reached by ‘holistic’ understandings on the political, social and environmental determinants leading to vulnerability, and how resources and capabilities can be used effectively (Brookes, 2019, in Addidle and Liddle, 2020). In keeping with the central theme of this blog, these duties and what they mean in practice must be reflected in education and training/development.  

Prior to the pandemic, the College of Policing, Public Health England, the National Police Chiefs’ Council and others had already signed up to the policing, health and social care consensus in 2017.  Thus, demonstrating a strategic commitment to working better together on prevention and early intervention, in recognition that the majority of police work is rooted in complex social need (College of Policing, 2020). Public health approaches, whilst different from traditional models of response policing with a focus on individuals and enforcement, build on police experiences of neighbourhood policing and problem solving. As a consequence, public health approaches to policing acknowledge the overlap between these various vulnerabilities and thus seek better crime and safety outcomes by addressing the roots of crime in social inequality and public health crises.

The pandemic has proven to be a crisis like no other, even for services like the emergency services, primed to respond to the most serious of incidents.  For all public managers these unprecedented times present not only a crisis but a continuum of crises pre-dating even the 2008 financial crisis. What the pandemic has done is hastened the need to further develop public health approaches to policing and the role of universities in this. Past and current University education and training provision in the field of Vulnerability has been fragmented across many disciplines including social work, probation policing, criminology, social policy, sociology, politics economics, business, for example. With respect to police education in particular, it has become more professionalised and governed by the College of Policing who continually strive to reflect societal changes in an evolving curricula. Likewise social work education and other disciplines are guided by national standards emanating from respective professional associations, as they too seek relevance to changing societal needs. What is perhaps now different (although has previously been acknowledged for policing generally – see Tong and Hallenberg, 2018) is the inter-disciplinary nature of the practice of policing vulnerability and how it needs to be reflected in police training and professional development.

Vulnerability is now a core area of teaching for pre-join degrees for professional policing, police constable degree apprenticeships (PCDA), degree holder entry programme (DHEP) as part of the police education qualifications framework (PEQF), and again in support of the Policing Vision 2025.These provide the means for closer partnership working and shared educational development between HEIs, College of Policing and police services across England and Wales.  Following approval and support from the College of Policing, Vulnerability is a key part of the educational curricula across all of the degree pathways in England and Wales.  Sitting alongside topics such as response policing, community policing and counter terrorism, Vulnerability is taught as both an individual unit/module/progression/evidence base and one which is interlinked with most, if not all, other parts of the police curriculum – thus reflecting the breadth, inter-disciplinarity and gravity of the issues.

From personal experience, both authors have been involved first-hand (at different levels) with curriculum requirements and educational developments in this area. A growing need for research informed teaching and evidence-based research must reflect the continuous development of these crosscutting and resource intensive areas for policing. ‘Partnership working’, as demonstrated by those as set out previously at the public health/policing strategic interface must respond holistically to a multitude of issues, concerns and priorities confronting each separate service.  The role of the police and policing is changing, therefore we contend that education and training must develop at the same pace, if not faster.

In terms of professional development, the College of Policing has a number of continuous professional development (CPD) training packages tailored to dealing with issues relating to Vulnerability.  These reflect the 13 strands of vulnerability as determined by the College of Policing: domestic abuse; adult sexual exploitation; stalking and harassment; the missing and absent; female genital mutilation; managing of sex and violent offenders; adults at risk; child abuse; honour-based abuse; modern slavery and trafficking; forced marriage; serious sexual offences, and child sexual exploitation (Cleveland Police, 2020).  These are broadly reflected in both CPD and the PEQF educational requirements and developments for police alongside the evolving Vulnerability Policing Strategies across Police Services in England and Wales. Adding to this, Chief Officers are encouraged to create and promote opportunities for officers and staff to enhance their knowledge and skills relating to vulnerability through various mechanisms, for example, briefing, policy, CPD and training (College of Policing, 2020).

Vulnerability and its associated issues are now part of all aspects of police education (and as a by-product) the work readiness of students/student officers to better deal with multifaceted and interconnected issues that they will contend with in the future workforce. Police training and education have both generally moved towards a focus on the needs of the service that reflects broader societal changes. With this in mind, it is clear that the impacts of the current pandemic and Vulnerability agenda are, and need increasingly, to be central to police education as we move into a new era of public health policing.  This is something academic education and training has the potential to address by contextualising policing for those who practice it.  This is an opportunity for the police-academic partnership to cement a ‘one for all and all for one’ relationship.

Dr Gareth D Addidle is a Senior Lecturer in Policing at Teesside University.. Email:

Professor Joyce Liddle is Professor of Public Leadership and Enterprise at Newcastle Business School. Email:

Out of Court Disposals: Setting out the two-tier framework

Cerys Gibson

The recent Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021 (the Bill) has had much media, academic and political attention since its first reading on the 9th March 2021. This blog focuses on Part 6 of the Bill, which restructures the system of adult out-of-court disposals in England and Wales.

There are currently six types of adult out-of-court disposals, each with its own Code of Practice or guidance. These are: the community resolution, cannabis/khat warnings, Penalty Notices for Disorder, simple cautions and conditional cautions. However, in 2011, the Criminal Justice Joint Inspection (CJJI) (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate) criticised the ‘piecemeal’ approach to the current system of out-of-court disposals. After further scrutiny by the Home Affairs Committee in 2015, the Ministry of Justice, College of Policing and National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) developed a new two-tier system of out-of-court disposals to replace the current model. This new two-tier approach was piloted in 2015-16 in West Yorkshire, Staffordshire and Leicestershire. It simplified the current system of six out-of-court disposals into a two-tier model consisting of:

  • Community Resolution– aimed at first-time offenders, to resolve minor offences through an agreement with the offender and, where appropriate, the involvement of the victim. Would not appear on criminal record but may be disclosed as part of an enhanced DBS check. Generally, no action can be taken if the conditions of a community resolution are not complied with.
  • Conditional Caution– designed to tackle more serious offending and more extensive offending history than the community resolution in diverting offenders to a rehabilitative, reparative or punitive condition. Conditional cautions will generally be disclosed on both standard and enhanced DBS certificates for 6 years after it was given, where the individual was aged 18 or over at the time of the caution.

This new structure represented a seismic change to the system of out-of-court disposals, removing the simple caution, cannabis/ khat warnings and Penalty Notices for Disorder. Instead, the system of out-of-court disposals would include only two disposals, both of which encourage the police to attach rehabilitative and/or reparative conditions and involve the victim in decision-making. In its strategy on out-of-court disposals, the NPCC emphasised that this streamlined  system of out-of-court disposals aims to provide ‘rehabilitative opportunities to offenders to turn their life around at the earliest opportunity’ and result in quick and efficient resolution of cases without requiring the cost of court time.

The evaluation of the two-tier pilot found no statistically significant difference in the 12-month re-offending rates for those who had received an out-of-court disposal in the pilot areas compared to those in similar police force areas and no statistically significant difference in when offenders reoffended or the types of offences they went onto commit. Yet there is some evidence that early intervention and diversion can be highly effective in preventing reoffending and increasing victim satisfaction. Individual police forces have launched initiatives such as Checkpoint in Durham Constabulary, Turning Point in West Midlands Police and CARA (Conditional Cautioning and Relationship Abuse) in Hampshire Police, all of which contribute to this growing body of evidence and demonstrate the potential benefits of adopting a condition-focused approach.

For the last few years, the NPCC gradually implemented this new approach, encouraging police forces to adopt it when it was operationally viable for them to do so, without setting rigid time frames on this process. As a result, some forces implemented the new system while others did not. In September 2020, the government published the White Paper: ‘A Smarter Approach to Sentencing’. The Ministry of Justice noted in its Impact Assessment in April 2020 that only 11 police forces had voluntarily adopted the two-tier system of out-of-court disposals. In this Impact Assessment, the Ministry of Justice identified that this partial change resulted in a lack of consistency between forces and a complex system for the public to understand. The government therefore announced it would intervene by legislating for this two-tier system of out-of-court disposals to ensure that all forces adopted this new approach.

This brings us to the present day and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill: Part 6, which sets out the government’s promised legislation for a two-tier system of out-of-court disposals. However, the Bill will replace the previously envisaged community resolution and conditional caution with what is in effect two types of conditional cautions:

  • Diversionary caution – designed to replace the conditional caution, with two key differences regarding the offences for which they can be administered and the upper limit of any fines administered. Diversionary cautions can only be used for indicatable offences in ‘exceptional circumstances’ and with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions (clause 77) and the Secretary of State can make regulations prohibiting their use for offenders who have already been cautioned (clause 95). The upper limit of any fines will be set in secondary legislation rather than primary legislation, meaning that Parliamentarians could only reject, rather than amend, proposals regarding the value of these fines (clause 80).
  • Community caution – designed to replace the community resolution (except for antisocial behaviour, where community resolutions will remain a non-statutory option), it is actually more similar to the conditional caution. The most important difference between the community caution and community resolution is that the community caution is formally administered by the police and will appear on an offender’s criminal record, and offenders will be required to comply with the conditions attached. This can include paying a fine as a financial condition or completing unpaid work. Failure to comply with conditions could result in a police issued fine.

The two-tier system of out-of-court disposals is very likely to become mandatory across England and Wales, with some exceptions to allow for initiatives such as deferred prosecutions.

My research into the use of conditional cautions in three police forces in England and Wales demonstrates that this implementation requires careful planning. My research evidenced the extent of work required to prepare the force and local services for the introduction of a two-tier system, and encourage frontline officers to buy-in to the new approach and provide training. Forces needed to liaise with local service providers to design interventions to which offenders can usefully be diverted and build on existing and new partnerships to try to provide these services freely so they are available to all. Forces also needed to create capacity to support this rollout, either in creating central teams to focus on administering conditional cautions, or administrative teams to monitor conditions on behalf of officers.

The sections of the Bill relating to the changes to out-of-court disposals will come into force once the Secretary of State appoint regulations made by statutory instruments. It is important that forces are given time to implement these changes to ensure well-considered, appropriate conditions are mapped out and the disposals are used consistency within the force.

This seismic change to the system of out-of-court disposals, making further amendments to the previously-planned two-tier system, may bring some benefits in reducing reoffending, improving victim satisfaction and ensuring that all police forces have a similar model of out-of-court disposals. However, the changes sit at the crossroads of a number of issues, with three important concerns summarised below:

  • Consistency of out-of-court disposals. The eventual legislation for the two-tier system will mean that offenders in different police forces should receive similar out-of-court disposals. This will result in a more consistent approach than the variation inherent in the partial voluntary adoption of the previous two-tier model. However, the offenders’ actual experience of the disposals, in terms of what they are required to do, and whether they will need to pay for it, will vary between forces.

When conducting my research into the use of conditional cautions in three police forces in England and Wales, I found there was a wide variation in the conditions used, as forces relied on their relationship with their PCCs and local service-providers to map out appropriate conditions.

As more forces adopt the new two-tier model, data will be needed on the conditions used in each force and the costs involved to ensure they are accessible for all, evidence-led and proportionate. 

  • Proportionality. The new diversionary caution may be used for any offence, with exceptions for indictable-only offences and with regulations providing rules about their use for repeat offenders. The new community caution will not be used in indicatable-only, certain either-way and certain summary offences, to be determined by regulations. There will also be regulations about their use for repeat offenders. It will therefore be important to analyse these regulations to determine whether offenders receive a disposal, and conditions, which are proportionate to the offence they committed.
  • Up-tariffing by design. The new two-tier system, in streamlining out-of-court disposals, will remove police options in how they may close cases. Officers will no longer be able to choose an informal disposal, such as a community resolution, to dispose of very low-level crime. How this change will be communicated to the public, including employers who may potentially hire the offender, and how this will be mitigated by the government’s criminal record reform, included within the same Bill, remains to be seen.

It will be crucial that, as the Bill progresses through its relevant stages, the Ministry of Justice, NPCC and police forces work together to bring about and manage this seismic change to the landscape of out-of-court disposals, mindful of unintended consequences and communicating changes transparently to the public.

Cerys Gibson recently completed her PhD at the University of Nottingham. Her project was funded by the ESRC. Email:; Twitter: @GibsonCerys; Website:

‘Decolonizing’ Criminology?: Possibilities for anti-racist approaches to transform police education and professional development

Dr Lisa Long

Racialised bodies are overpoliced, under protected and in the extreme killed through racist policing (Long, 2018). Whilst there are calls to abolish the police to eradicate racist policing any revolutionary response to social justice problems, such as defunding and abolition, would require a global paradigm shift. In the meantime, immediate strategies are necessary in order to mitigate the excesses of racialised policing and save lives.

From 2020, applicants to the Police Service of England and Wales will need to either have or work towards a degree level qualification upon entry.  Higher Education has a central role in this ‘re-professionalisation’ (Holdaway, 2017) of the police service. Education develops “critical, enquiring and challenging minds” which can enrich policing and challenge ‘policing by stereotype’ (Lee and Punch 2004:248). However, critical thinking is inhibited if the course focuses on functional policing (Lee and Punch 2004:247); further, functional policing courses reproduce negative features of police occupational culture, such as ‘isolation’ and a ‘them and us’ mentality (Heslop, 2011). The latter approach is evident in the newly emergent suite of ‘Police Studies’ degrees emerging in UK Higher Education. Facilitating functional policing courses under the auspices of Higher Education is the antithesis of ‘decolonizing’. 

Decolonizing:“a way of thinking about the world that takes colonialism, empire and racism as its empirical and discursive objects of study; it resituates these phenomena as key shaping forces of the contemporary world. The aim of decolonizing is to develop ‘alternative ways of thinking about the world and alternative forms of political praxis’” (Bhambra et al., 2018:2).

Criminology is another option for future criminal justice practitioners; Criminology itself is an inherently colonized and racist discipline, focused on control of undesirable populations (Agozino, 2010). Therefore, the options for police officer education are limited to two, often uncritical and deeply colonized subject areas.  This post explores the possibilities that an anti-racist education – which draws on decolonizing principles – poses for transforming students into racially literate, reflexive practitioners.

Decolonizing knowledge

In the 2017-18 graduate cohort there was a 13% gap between the likelihood of White students and Black, Asian or ‘Minority Ethnic’ students being awarded a first class or upper second class (2:1), despite equal entry grades (Universities UK, 2019). The lack of a racially diverse and inclusive environment for learning is one factor in understanding this attainment (or award) gap.  The student-led Why is My Curriculum White agenda (#whitecurriculum) highlights the colonial continuities within the curriculum. Course content is not diverse or inclusive and the established canon, irrespective of discipline, is predominantly centred on the work of (often dead) White men. Academic systems of knowledge are colonized, built upon ‘epistemologies of ignorance’ (Sullivan and Tuana, 2007).  In contrast, a decolonized curriculum, ‘acknowledges the inherent power relations in the production and dissemination of knowledge, and seeks to destabilise these, [propagating] new forms of knowledge which represent marginalised groups” (Begum and Saini, 2019:198).

In a ‘research led’ teaching agenda, students are taught through the findings of research within the discipline. Therefore, the way research is conducted and the forms of knowledge that are produced through research can either disrupt or reify the centrality of White, Eurocentrism within the curriculum. For example, professional policing practice is informed by the ‘what works’ agenda (College of Policing 2020).  The N8 partnership, established between eight research intensive Northern universities and 11 police forces and Police and Crime Commissioners across the north of England, to facilitate research collaborations and “achieve international excellence in policing research”, contributes to ‘what works’.  However, the membership of the partnership (defines, through inclusion/exclusion, which forms of knowledge constitute ‘research excellence’. Further, the quality of research within H.E. institutions are assessed through the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and, the outcomes inform the allocation of public funding for research.  However, the assessment is undertaken by panelists from predominantly UK based, Russell Group universities who, by virtue of the institutions they represent, are disproportionately older, white and male (Sayer, 2014).  These forms of knowledge serve to reproduce the White, colonized, curriculum. 

In order to facilitate an anti-racist education, which challenges dominant narratives about racialised groups, knowledge must be built upon formerly ‘de-legitimized’ knowledges, such as that produced in the Global South and non-English speaking nations, indigenous forms of knowledge and experiential knowledge produced in non-elite settings such as post-92 universities, community settings and grass-roots organisations. This makes it possible to imagine a critically informed, evidence-based education that will equip students to engage in frontline work that maintains a critical stance towards institutionally racialised practices.

Developing racially literate practitioners through ‘dialogue’

Institutional denial of racism contributes to the failure of the police to eradicate racist policing outcomes (Long, 2018). Developing racially literate students, with an understanding of the experiences of Black and People of Colour, and discrimination and exclusion of racialised populations, will empower them to challenge dominant narratives, including racism denial. This necessitates having ‘difficult conversations’ (Watt, 2017), in the classroom, about race in order to raise critical consciousness.

Conversations about race are often met with racism denial and trivialisation; further, racialised students cannot openly share their thoughts or experiences in this context (Watt, 2017). These situations require sensitive handling. However, through a ‘problem -posing’ (Freire, 1970) education, students are facilitated to challenge dominant narratives and the power structures upon which they exist and perpetuate oppression.  Further, a ‘problem posing’ education involves the constant unveiling of reality, and through co-investigation of that reality, critical dialogue between the teacher and the learner.  Dialogue, for Freire (1970), is a critical conversation that requires both intellectual and emotional engagement and forms the basis for praxis.

Connelly and Joseph Salisbury (2019) argue that the use of emotion in the classroom can challenge racism denial and play a part in politicising students towards social justice activism. Through analysis of student responses to ‘difficult conversations’ about the Grenfell tragedy, they show that ‘the operationalisation of emotionality’ alongside a critical, theoretically informed analysis in the classroom can be socially transformative. Utilising critical dialogue in the classroom is one way to develop critical consciousness about racism and can transform learners into reflexive practitioners- ‘critical intervention’ in societal oppression can occur when learning evolves into praxis (Freire, 1970).


This post has explored the potential for decolonizing principles to inform anti-racist education. It presents some of the ideas explored in a paper currently under review.  However, as a Criminologist, it is a challenge to reconcile working in an authoritarian discipline with the principles of decolonizing. It is acknowledged here that the police cannot be decolonized (and possibly nor the university). However, drawing on decolonizing principles to diversify research knowledge and curriculum content, and engaging in critical pedagogy, can empower students to challenge their own perceptions and behaviours, and the role of agents of social control in perpetuating racism. This could be of benefit to the diverse communities that they go on to serve.

Dr Lisa Long is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Leeds Beckett University. Email: Twitter: @therealljlong

What are police learning during the pandemic?

Professor Jonas Grutzpalk

Ongoing police officers have a lot to learn. The police studies curriculum in German Northrhine-Westfalia (where I teach) touches a lot of different topics ranging from ethics, sociology, intercultural competences etc. to different branches of law (penal, traffic, civil service) and so called “police subjects” such as forensic science, tactics, traffic management. There are communication trainings and our students reflect on their growing identities as police officers in special coaching sessions. They are taught how to shoot and how to hold a police line amongst other things. And they train on the job.

The question I would like to raise in this paper is: how does coronavirus change all that? How is police education impacted by Covid19? And in what ways? Are there lessons which are important for future police generations that are being learned right now while policing the actual pandemic? Might it be that police forces are learning something about policing a pandemic that ought to be taught in police academies all over Europe?

All these elements of the police training aim at preparing idealized police officers (in the sense of Max Weber’s “ideal types”) for the job. The underlying question here is: What does it take to be a good police officer? And the answer is that actually it takes a lot and it takes a lot from very different branches to be a good police officer. Communication is most important, but physical, psychological and personal aptitude is very important too. Knowing the law might be essential but understanding people, groups and crowds might be of some use too. So creating a good curriculum for police training is in fact already quite tricky as one might want to teach everything that is important and at the same time not overload the curriculum.

In a series of interviews I conducted in the recent weeks with police officers on and off the job I asked my interviewees what police as an institution had learned during the pandemic already and what kind of learning processes they would welcome. Their answers touch the following topics: Communication with the citizens, self-protection, online-teaching, and home working and administration. There are of course a lot more topics one might think about like the management of crowds or the rising problem of violent scepticism towards the measures taken to flatten the curve of new infections. But let us talk about the issues raised by my interviewees here: 

  • Communication. Some of my interviewees argue that communication with the people “on the street” has become more difficult as wearing masks has made it hard for them to express themselves through facial expressions. And it has also become more complicated to decipher the emotional status of the people police are dealing with. My interviewees said that they were on their way to learn other ways of deciphering their communication partners and that they themselves were figuring out ways of making themselves understood without being able to rely on mimics in this process.
  • Self-protection: Spitting at police officers has always been a way to show contempt. With Covid19 this form of physical attack has gained a new and more dangerous meaning as it might also be meant to willfully infect police officers with the coronavirus. Self-protection of police officers – which is an important part of the training – thus shifts from fending off coarse attacks to avoiding encounters that might result in an infection. But that of course broadens the gulf between police and civilians – which is something my interviewees tried to avoid to the best of their abilities. How it might be possible for police officers to protect themselves against harm and be somewhat accessible for the people they deal with remains to be learned.
  • Online teaching: Most of the courses have gone on online and teaching this way is – as most of us know – not rocket science in the world we live in. But still we come to realize that there are some shortcomings in online-education that might impact on the quality of police education. The main concerns expressed in this context deal with the emotional well-being of the students who are particularly social human beings but also the content of what is being taught as some of the material is classified. Police education is learning how to deal with the issue of online-education and there are a lot of new lessons learned on the way.
  • Home working and administration: One of my interviewees raised the question of whether the police would ever be able to implement home working. One of the main issues here is of course data security but there seems to be a cultural problem to this too. Police (in Germany at least) likes to reflect itself as a special branch of public administration that is dealing with facts “out there on the streets” (Grutzpalk & Hoppe 2018). This self-image seems to contradict the idea of a police officer working from his computer at home. Learning in this context might also require police officers to unlearn a certain vision of the police-self and accept a rather more prosaic vision that understands police as nothing more than a branch of public administration.

These few examples show that the current pandemic is imposing quite some lessons to be learned on modern policing. There are a lot more still waiting to be mentioned. The interesting thing about these lessons is a) in how far they might be institutionalized, b) how they might impact police conduct in everyday life and c) if they will ever be learnt or will they rather be ignored.

In order to learn more about these learning processes the “Policing Pandemia – European Research Observatory Network“ has been put up amongst others by members of CEPOL and the “Polizei.Wissen” revue. The latter is planning to publish a special issue to which interested researchers, police officers, and teachers might contribute. Find the link to the Call for Entries here:

Dr. Jonas Grutzpalk is Professor of Political Science and Sociology at the University of Applied Sciences for Policing and Public Administration in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. E-Mail:, website:, twitter: @JonasGrutzpalk

Notes on Police Research in France

Professor Jacques de Maillard and Professor Wesley G. Skogan

Until the early 1980s, social science research on policing issues was extremely rare in France. Most of what was written were essays by politicians, investigations by journalists or, more often, memoirs by former police officers. The rare academic works were dominated by narrowly legal approaches describing police powers and their legal framework, or philosophical texts discussing in the abstract what police powers should be. While these publications were of interest, they took little account of police practices in the field and the dynamic features of police organizational life. For many academics, policing in action was a “dirty subject”, one associated with the mundane and sometimes unpleasant daily functions of the State (see Berlière and Lévy 2011). At the same time, the police saw external researchers as excessively critical, engaged in a needless airing of the organizational and political realities they knew well and struggled to deal with.

While police research in the United States began to develop in the early 1960s, in France the start came later, in the 1980s. It was the work of a few pioneers who, in sociology, political science or history, invested in this field of research. Without the list being exhaustive, the research of René Lévy (1987) on the work of the judicial police, Jean-Marc Berlière (1992) on the professionalization of policing under the Third Republic, or Pierre Favre (1990) on the policing of political protests, were the among first social science inquiries in the field. But above all, the emergence of this field of research was led by the sociologist Dominique Monjardet. Coming from the sociology of occupations, where he had already carried out promising work, he stood at the origins of empirical research on public security and public order policing (see for a synthesis see Monjardet, 1996; or Monjardet, 2008).  It should be noted that the development of this field benefited from the creation of units such as the Institut des hautes études de la sécurité intérieure (IHESI)within the Ministry of the Interior in 1989. Research institutes brought together researchers and provided funding, and kindled forums for exchanges between academics and practitioners. The journal Les Cahiers de la sécurité intérieure, published by IHESI, provided an outlet for these activities[i].   

Almost forty years later, the situation is quite different. Research on policing seems solidly established (although see Ocqueteau and Monjardet (2004) on the complex relationship between research and the Ministry of the Interior). It is not possible in this brief review to give a comprehensive overview of research conducted on French policing (see our new book!), but a wide variety of research fields are being explored. These include the emergence of modern police forces, the history of colonial police forces, the professionalization of policing in the contemporary era, changing models of policing, policing during repressive periods in French history (for example, the creation of the Police Nationale during the German occupation of the 1940’s), the feminization of the police, stop and search practices, police relations with young people from minority backgrounds, efforts toward police reform, the introduction of neo-managerialism, the work of oversight bodies, the role of police in maintaining public order, the professional socialization of police officers, political surveillance, and police involvement in partnerships with other organizations and the community. Research on many of these topics have been published in major French social science journals, either generalist (Revue française de sociologie, Revue française de science politique, Sociologie du travail, and Vingtième siècle), or thematic (Champ pénal/Penal Field, Déviance et Société, and Cultures et conflits).

However, there is a paradox. On the one hand, this research has been very open to theories, concepts and methods developed in other countries. This is illustrated by the work co-directed by Jean-Paul Brodeur and Dominique Monjardet (2003) which was devoted to the major texts of Anglo-Saxon research. Research in France has also internationalized and become involved in cross-national comparisons (Berlière et al. 2008; de Maillard and Roché 2009; Fillieule and Della Porta 2006; Houte and Luc 2016; de Maillard 2017). On the other hand, much of this work has not been translated into English, giving much of the world a restricted view of police research in France. Some exceptions to this include the publication in English of Didier Fassin’s (2013) important work. Other authors whose research has appeared in English include Emmanuel Blanchard, Laurent Bonelli, Thierry Delpeuch, Jérôme Ferret, Olivier Fillieule, Jérémie Gauthier, Fabien Jobard, René Lévy, Jean-Paul Brodeur, Benoit Dupont, Christian Mouhanna, Frédéric Ocqueteau, Geneviève Pruvost, Sebastian. Roché, Jacques de Maillard, Vincent Spenlehauer, and Mathieu Zagrodzki.

The need for greater cross-national communication in the policing arena set the agenda for our new book, Policing in France. Our goal was to promote a broader understanding of the police system, police practices, and relations between police and the public in France. The book’s 20 chapters are originally written essays on key topics that draw heavily on recent social science research. The volume is organized in four sections: historical background, organizational features and reforms, changing institutional and political contexts, and police problems and strategies. The book is available now in paperback and electronic form, and the French-language version should appear in 2021.

Jacques de Maillard Professor of Political Science at the University of Versailles-Saint-Quentin, and Director of CESDIP. Email :

Wesley G. Skogan is Professor Emeritus at Northwestern University. Email:

See further: de Maillard and Skogan (2021). Policing in France. London: Routledge (released 03 August 2020)

[i] IHESI became the Institut national des hautes études de la sécurité et de la justice in 2009, and then was disbanded in 2020, a sign of fragility of evaluative policy research.

What the Coronavirus has taught us about community policing

Dr Megan O’Neill

It is of course now well-trodden ground to observe that this is an unprecedented time for policing across the world. While there have been pandemics in the past, none have affected the global population in quite this way before and thus brought similar global policing challenges to bear all at once. In many countries police forces find themselves with a responsibility to enforce extreme restrictions on freedom of movement, often at short notice and with no direct prior learning on which to draw.

The exact nature of the policing challenge being addressed in the early stages of the pandemic has varied from one country and one legal and policing system to another. Some jurisdictions have used much more restrictive and enforcement-based responses, such as Singapore and China. Others have augmented policing with strict systems of documentation, often through technologically-based forms and certificates which indicate a person’s permission to leave the home or to attend work, such as in France. The response in the UK, which operates a system of ‘policing by consent’, has been less authoritarian than these. This is not to assume that the policing response in this country has been uniform, far from it. Some areas of the country have shown much higher rates of issuing fines or conducting arrests than others. In the main, we have not witnessed the extreme examples of violent clashes between the police and the public as seen in some other areas.

What is important about the experience of policing the current and future social restrictions in the UK is that while there was no existing blueprint for how exactly to do this, there was a very well established and familiar guide – community policing. I will explore below how the approach taken by the UK government towards the pandemic heightened the need for policing engagement and negotiation with the general public, key elements of community policing. And it is precisely community policing which has been hardest hit by the police funding reductions of the past 10 years.

UK government sets the stage

Throughout its response to the Coronavirus pandemic, the UK government has issued advice and guidance which does not match up with, and sometimes precedes, legislation. From early advice to ‘stay away’ from pubs and restaurants, even when they were still open legally, to telling people they could only go out to exercise once a day after ‘lockdown’ commenced despite the legislation not indicating the frequency with which a person could leave the house. In more recent weeks we have seen a situation where the government guidance in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is taking a different path to that of England, opening up the potential for further confusion among the public and among practitioners as to what is and is not allowed and where.

These, and other elements of the measures to restrict the movement of the public and thus reduce the rate of virus transmission, placed the police forces of the UK in very awkward positions. Do they insist on adherence to the guidance or enforce the law? If they opt for the former, on what grounds can they maintain this position in the face of challenge from a member of the public? If the opt for the latter, how do they respond to the numerous reports from eagle-eyed neighbours about frequent outings from the house next door? The College of Policing produced guidance to attempt to address this conflict, highlighting that only the law was enforceable, but which avoided suggesting that breaches of health guidance could be ignored. In fact, many police forces established online systems where suspected breaches of coronavirus restrictions can be reported, including the un-enforceable ones.

Even without conflicting and confusing government policy, guidance and legislation, policing the pandemic was always going to be a difficult task. These factors have meant that police forces across the country needed to find a way to gain the support of the public to being policed in a manner never seen before, and which contravened all previous understandings as to what ‘normal’ life is like and the extent of legitimate police control of that life. How best to do this?

The College of Policing, the four ‘Es’ and community policing by the back door

In order to avoid multiple interpretations of the new restrictions and how best to police the behaviour of the public, the College of Policing and the National Police Chiefs Council rapidly developed the ‘Four Es’ for policing the pandemic. These are:

  • Engage
  • Explain
  • Encourage
  • Enforce

That ‘enforce’ is the last ‘E’ is significant. Compelling people to comply with the restrictions, either through harsh warnings, the use of force, fines or arrest was to be an absolute last resort (although it is difficult to know the extent to which this was followed based on the data alone). The first three ‘Es’ build on the ethos of policing by consent, a hallmark of British policing: that as much as possible, the police will work with the public to keep them safe in a manner that they can accept as appropriate. The picture from the centre of policing was clear – do not attempt to insist on the letter of the law in all cases, but focus on the general spirit of the endeavour at hand.

The first three ‘Es’ should be familiar to anyone who has ever undertaken any study, observation or execution of community policing. Engaging, explaining and encouraging are all core to working within a community policing framework. This method of policing sees the police as one of many partners in a community and who will undertake consultation and negotiation with residents and other service providers to find the best policing ‘fit’ within that community. While enforcement is of course necessary on occasion, community policing will work to prevent those situations and attempt to solve local problems before they escalate.

However, practitioners and scholars of policing in the UK will also be aware that the funding for policing has been subject to significant reductions over the past ten years, such that the size of the police officer workforce in England and Wales has dropped 14% since 2009. In this context, it is not surprising that many Police and Crime Commissioners as well as Chief Constables have chosen to focus their dwindling resources on the more reactive and emergency-oriented aspects of policing. This has led in some places to an almost complete abandonment of community policing, culminating in Norfolk Constabulary removing the role of Police Community Support Officer entirely.

We are thus in a position where the key policing skills, strategies and roles needed to ensure public compliance in a severe public health emergency are precisely those skills, strategies and roles deemed ‘expendable’ only a few short months ago. Community policing should now come into its own but, with 10 years of gradual neglect behind it, will this be possible? In the early stages of the lockdown in particular, stories abounded of over-zealous policing of the new restrictions. This could be due to a convergence of a number of factors, such as misunderstandings about the detail of the legislation, deficiencies in awareness of the public health guidance and lack of training due to the speed at which the measures came into effect. However, considering the fracturing and de-funding of community policing since 2010, an additional explanation could be a significant lack of skill and experience in using engagement-oriented policing methods in front-line operational roles. This kind of policing must be learned and refined over time through both training and first-hand experience, and is especially important when faced with a confused and anxious public. As we have seen from the examples of other countries, enforcement-based methods are counter-productive and could even risk further transmission of the virus due the close personal contact involved in the use of force.

Many anticipate that life in the UK will never return to ‘normal’, or the exact normal that we knew before. For me, while some aspects of the ‘new normal’ are indeed daunting, a renewed investment and focus on community policing in the UK would be a very welcome and long overdue addition to new normal. What the current crisis has demonstrated quite clearly is that community policing and the engagement-focused methods on which it is based are far from ‘expendable’ in policing.

Dr Megan O’Neill is an Associate Director (Police Community Relations Network) of the Scottish Institute for Policing Research and a Reader in the School of Social Sciences, University of Dundee. Email: Twitter: @drmeganoneill

The National Intelligence Model

Paige Keningale, PhD Researcher


Understanding the job of intelligence officers is comparable to a jigsaw puzzle; they begin with a few pieces, over time more pieces are gathered.  As analysts their job is to make sense of the information and form a report that others can act on. However, analysts can never be certain that all the pieces are necessary, or if all the pieces have been collected or perhaps come from a different puzzle. During the 1990s, serious and organised crime became a top priority internationally, which saw the development of Intelligence-led Policing (ILP). ILP reinforces problem solving ways of dealing with increasingly sophisticated offenders and to reinforce this, in the UK, the National Criminal Intelligence Service created the National Intelligence Model (NIM) in 2000 (Ratcliff, 2008).

Drawing on my master’s research, during which I interviewed intelligence practitioners about the NIM, this blog discusses the limits of the National Intelligence Model identified by my interviewees- culture, dynamic decision making and information sharing- and how these can lead to intelligence failures.

The National Intelligence Model

The NIM is a business framework which provides structure in a police investigation to process information and turn this into actionable intelligence. Innes and Sheptycki (2004, p.6) explain the distinction between information and intelligence thus:

Information consists of bits of data that, when combined and viewed together with relevant background knowledge, may be used to produce intelligence, which informs the actions and decisions of policing organisations.

The NIM allows information to be processed through different points of the decision-making cycle, generating intelligence to act on (Police ICT, 2019):

  1. Setting strategic direction
  2. Making decisions through the gathering of information
  3. Allocating resources
  4. Developing tactical plans
  5. Tasking and co ordinating activity

The collection, development and dissemination of intelligence allows decisions to be made about priorities and tactical options. The NIM works at three levels: level one- Local/Basic Command Unit could include low value thefts and criminal damage. Level two- force and or regional which involves more than one local command unit, advice from national experts and bordering forces. Finally, level three- serious and organised crime which is on a national and international scale.

The Limits of the NIM

In practice, investigators are able to leap back and forth between each stage of the process outlined above which could affect the analysis and investigators cognitive processes when making decisions. Gill and Phythian (2012) note, that police forces are at varying stages of development with the NIM, which means it is interpreted differently in different places, with police investigators having a varied approach, thereby contradicting consistency the model promotes.

So, is the NIM a hinderance to investigations or is it a framework that is instrumental in today’s policing? I interviewed six intelligence practitioners, five were from police forces in the UK. This included a Sergeant and a Chief Inspector; one individual based at the Ministry of Defence, one individual had twenty-five years of intelligence analysis, one managed a team which investigated cybercrime and the final individual was based in the RAF. They described problems with the NIM in three themes bases on the applicability and effectiveness of the model: culture, dynamic decision making and sharing information.


When referring to culture one means how police culture has changed since the forces adopted ILP for the better but also, how culture is a key factor in the causation of intelligence failures. When discussing intelligence failures (e.g 9/11, 7/7 bombings) two respondents suggested that errors can occur from managers being overconfident. Two experienced police officers expressed:

When discussing cultures, many emphasise a lot of time serve, so someone who has served thirty years despite their competence their views will be considered over a junior who also knows how to use the information, but they are not valued enough.

Within the police there is very much a focus on police officers that they have the voice and analysts are staff members whose voices are probably less powerful.

This sentiment is also supported by a senior police professional

Senior police officers on the outside world show they are changing and they want to share things, however privately they are still very much I am the boss and we will do as I say.

This is a concern as analysts play a vital part in every investigation as they are the main source of information. Thus, culture must change to a more open-minded setting where top ranked police officers listen to analysts and take on board the suggestions which the individuals pose in terms of how to act on the available intelligence.

Sharing Information

Practitioners described sharing information as a problem within their workplaces. This is supported by one respondent who provided the following answer:

Different organisations do not work together as it is classed as a hindrance to an effective investigation.

 Senior officers are guilty of receiving information but then do not know what to do with it and don’t share it appropriately to those who know what to do with it.

This is of a concern due to there being a strong emphasis on the importance for organisations to understand other professionals and agencies and knowledge of the tasks performed by others (Alison and Crego, 2008).

However, one Sergeant in a police force spoke highly of analysts

 My experience with police analysts, is that they are good at what they do, they won’t try to mask or embellish and they will say it how it is. I trust them very much in the products they produce are balanced.

From this, we could learn that analysts are valuable, and their voices must be heard. Instead of police forces just simply obtaining the reports produced by these experts, analysts must be seen as a key player during investigations, whom are able to make decisions and guide intelligence practitioners throughout for positive outcomes.

Dynamic decision making

Dynamic decision making discusses the pressures of the environment which the practitioners work in and how that can negatively impact decision making. One interviewee stated:

It is down to the analysts to take that step back, understand you are not going to have all the information all the time. The analogy of 80% of information on time is better than 100% information late.

Indeed, analysts want to improve their performance especially under such pressure however, to do this, analysts must remember their past decisions, knowing what they knew at the time and how the decision was made, this can be achieved by having a decision log. The effectiveness of the evaluation process and of the learning process to which it gives depends on the accuracy of the decisions under the pressures of the environment which the practitioners work under.

The NIM which information is generated through still has gaps and those gaps can cause intelligence failures. Many articles, books and journals focus on the analysts needing to be more blue skied thinking about the possibilities or too poorly focused (Richards, 2010; Gill and Phythian, 2012; Reiner, 2010. However, as one respondent noted, there are concerns with police training:

I oversaw analysts in the second biggest police force in the country and some of those analysts never received training in eighteen months.

Thus, the above comment might suggest that intelligence failures exist, not due to failing of individuals, but due to a lack of training or because the training provided is not of an appropriate standard.


In summary, taking all the above limitations of the NIM highlighted by my past research into consideration, for the NIM to be as effective as hoped, analysts need training around the model. But most importantly, police culture needs to change and listen to those who are vital to investigations- the analysts. However, from the findings it seems that improvement is far in the distance, thus my PhD research continues to understand the operation of intelligence processes, critically examining  how information is generated, recognising forward communication processes and understanding whether the NIM is appropriate for all levels of policing, all of which will be answered in my PhD research.

Paige Keningale is a PhD researcher in Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Surrey. Email: Twitter: @PKeningale LinkedIn: Paige Keningale

The rise of technologically-mediated police contact: the potential consequences of ‘socially-distanced policing’

By Dr Helen Wells, Dr Liz Aston, Dr Megan O’Neill and Professor Ben Bradford

Social distancing and other measures put in place to deal with COVID-19 mean that police have had to rapidly change the ways they think about ‘contact’ with the public. Technology has been at the forefront of these developments, providing multiple channels for police-public interaction without the need for physical co-presence. Some forces have launched new, or promoted existing, portals for the online reporting of ‘traditional’ crimes (e.g. West Midlands Police, where the public can interact with the force via a ‘chatbot’ called Bob-E) or launched bespoke forms for reporting non-compliance with lockdown restrictions. Forces have increasingly been resolving enquiries over the telephone instead of in person, and there has been extensive use of social media to enable the police to stay in touch with the public, and vice versa. At least one force (Derbyshire) has used drone technology to capture examples of noncompliant behaviour, shame those involved, and send a message to the wider population. Not all of these developments have been well-received. References to ‘snooper forms’ and a ‘snoopers charter’ for example, have implied something unfair or untoward about reporting on your neighbours, whilst drone use has been deemed ‘sinister’ and ‘badly misjudged’ .

Increasing technological mediation of police-public contact was a significant trend in UK policing and criminal justice before COVID-19, but it has been hastened by the need for society to function when people cannot be in physical proximity to each other. This is also a trend we can safely assume will persist once we emerge from the current restrictions – but it remains under-explored in some important ways.

The legitimacy of the police has been a theme of several academic contributions since the start of lockdown. The term is explored in different ways by Stephen Reicher and Cliff Stott, Ian Loader and Emma Williams, and by Sara Grace elsewhere in this series. At a time when public health outcomes are reliant on people complying with the restrictions, the legitimacy of those enforcing them is of central importance. We know that a sense of procedural justice, and of police legitimacy, is shaped in the encounters that people have with the police, but what happens when the police move a significant number of those encounters online, or when the police try to be ‘present’ in communities via social media? Drawing on our recent work together, we reflect here on the implications of the use of technology in public-police contact both in the present circumstances and for the future.

Compatible trends?

Over recent years, but particularly in recent weeks, the ways in which members of the public can contact the police have undergone significant changes. Whilst much contact pre-COVID-19 was still face-to-face, or at least person-to-person, many police organisations have introduced different types of communication technology, such as online crime reporting and answering queries, and the use of social media. Technology may also be present in face-to-face interactions, for example with body worn video cameras and mobile data terminals. As a result, the public is increasingly likely to encounter policing in ways that are ‘technologically-mediated’. Whilst some of these developments have expanded due to the particular challenges of the COVID-19 crisis, it seems likely that all will remain with us in some form once mobility and socialising restrictions are lifted.

Pre-crisis, the National Police Chiefs’ Council already supported this shift to technologically-mediated forms of contact, asserting that the public expect a significant online presence from police (NPCC, n.d.). In some forces, efforts to move to more ‘digital ways of working’ have been explicitly linked to increasing ‘public confidence, participation and satisfaction’ (Accenture, n.d.). However, much of this appears to be unevidenced, and relatively little is known about what the public actually wants and needs – a characteristic of ‘technology-push’ rather than ‘user-pull’ approaches to digital solutions (SOCITM, 2018).

So, whilst attention is paid to what technology can do for the police, the public side of this encounter has barely been considered. Online reporting (for example) may be particularly useful for some people or some crime types, but we do not know enough about how people experience these types of interactions to be confident that they will be of benefit to everyone, in all circumstances. We also do not know if and how these developments might affect the way people feel about, and interact with, the police.

Procedural justice and its assumptions

Popular legitimacy is central to the functioning of the police. Yet, recent technological developments have been initiated in response to technological advances at a societal level, the demands of austerity, and most recently the consequences of the global pandemic, with little regard to how they will be received by the public or what differences in reception there may be between particular ‘publics’. Can we be confident that our theories of police legitimacy are future-proof when that future is heavily reliant on technologically-mediated encounters? The extent to which procedural justice is the central antecedent of legitimacy in many contexts makes this a particularly pressing question.

At the core of procedural justice theory lies the idea that people attend closely to the quality of interactions with authority figures such as police, particularly across dimensions of respect, neutrality, transparency, and ‘voice’. An unexplored assumption persists within procedural justice theory is that police-public contact is face-to-face and between two humans. Technology is, however, increasingly an additional ‘party’ (Rabinovich-Einy and Katsh, 2014) in such encounters, and it is essential that any disruptive effects on both those interactions and the theories used to understand them are explored. We do not know whether procedural justice ‘works’ in the same way when police-public interaction is mediated by technology, or indeed which qualities of face-to-face interaction, if any, are necessary to maintain public confidence in the face of technological change. This is of fundamental importance to understanding whether new forms of contact, and the police actions they herald, will be viewed as legitimate by various publics.

Lessons from other contexts

Whilst one of the strengths of the procedural justice approach is its applicability across a range of contexts and demographics (Wolfe et al. 2016), the use of technology is not experienced, viewed, or accessible in the same way by all. Older service users for example may ‘read off’ different signals from technologically-mediated encounters than younger people (Radzinovich-Einy and Katsh, 2014). Technology may facilitate access for groups with varying requirements, e.g. the deaf community, if it is appropriately designed, but access may also be a challenge such as in remote rural areas which lack high speed internet access, or mobile phone coverage. Individuals are unlikely to share information through an online tool if they do not have confidence in the security of the system and the police (Aston et al. under review): and trust is strongly related to face-to-face engagement and relationship building (Hail, Aston and O’Neill, 2018).

The non-discriminatory potential of new technologies has been stressed (Joh 2007). Yet, we know that consistency and impartiality are only two of the significant antecedents of a procedurally just experience: more human qualities, such as politeness, respect and voice are also important. As Terpstra et al. point out, new processes and systems often do not ‘take into account that many citizens have the emotional need to tell their story in person’ (2019: 9), while Bowling and Iyer (2019: 152) describe the ‘craft’ skills of ‘human judgement and adaptability … attentiveness, sympathy and kindness’ that are required of police. Some technologies, particularly those that allow tracking and monitoring, may shift the focus to ‘what you do’ and away from ‘how you do it’ – the precise opposite of the central claim of procedural justice theory, that process is as or more important than outcome.

The Coronavirus pandemic has hastened an existing trend in UK policing towards technological mediation of police-public interaction, and it seems inevitable that this will continue even after the present crisis has receded. However, democratic societies need their publics to see the police as legitimate. We have focused exclusively on the practical (and, in recent weeks, pragmatic) benefits of introducing technology into police-public contact, but the current crisis and the need for collective, normative compliance with regulations means that – now more than ever – we need to ensure that we do not overlook the emotional, psychological and relational effects of socially-distanced policing.

Dr Helen Wells (@roadspolicing) is Director of the Roads Policing Academic Network and a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Keele University. Email:

Dr Liz Aston (@AstonLiz) is Director of the Scottish Institute for Policing Research and an Associate Professor of Criminology at Edinburgh Napier University. Email:

Dr Megan O’Neill (@drmeganoneill) is Associate Director (Police Community Relations Network) of the Scottish Institute for Policing Research and a Reader at the University of Dundee. Email:

Professor Ben Bradford (@ben1971b) is Director of the JDI Institute for Global City Policing and Professor of Global City Policing at UCL. Email: