‘Still’ Police officers? Insights into the culture of police officers working within the setting of integrated offender management

Dr Frederick Cram

This post draws on data from an ethnographic study of Integrated Offender Management (IOM) in an effort to shine a light on the cultural practices of a specialist group of plain-clothed police officers operating within this setting. The empirical enquiry began in September 2012 and ended over 12 months later, in October 2013. I carried out four hundred hours of observations in five research sites across one urban English police area. IOM police officers work alongside staff from other criminal justice agencies in a bid to reduce offending by prolific offenders. The job involves traditional policing methods of enforcement and intelligence gathering, but the novelty for some police officers lies in a requirement that they adopt the role of ‘offender manager’ (OM). This means attempting to draw prolific offenders away from crime and improving their life chances through ‘pathway support’, such as helping them into employment and supporting them into stable housing arrangements. In theory, this changes the nature of the policing task considerably. Given the emphasis in the existing literature on how ‘cop culture’ (an assortment of recurring informal norms, values, beliefs and craft rules which inform police conduct (Reiner, 2010: 119-32)) derives from the nature of the job police officers perform (e.g. Skolnick (1966)), we might expect OMs to exhibit different cultural traits from their mainstream colleagues.

Research suggests that some OMs, working within IOM units around the UK, are moving away from traditional police cultural practices, and are instead adopting values and methods more akin to probation (e.g. Senior et al. (2011); Williams and Ariel (2013); Annison et al.,(2015); and Sleath and Brown, (2017)). My own empirical enquiry into one English IOM unit uncovered evidence of a blurring of culture and practice between agencies, with a minority of OMs moving beyond a pure ‘catch and convict’ policing mentality towards a more welfare-orientated approach to offender management. In the main, however, I found that many of the core constituents of cop-culture (e.g. an exaggerated sense of mission; a desire for action and excitement; the glorification of violence; an Us/Them divide of the social world; solidarity; social isolation; prejudice; authoritarian conservatism; suspicion and cynicism; and, hyper-hetero-masculinity (Loftus, 2010; Cockcroft, 2013) continued to structure the discretion OMs exercised during interactions with IOM offenders. Below, I provide some powerful examples of the endurance of cop-culture, as expressed through talk and action of OMs, working within the setting of IOM.

Suspicion, cynicism and pessimism

Observations and interviews highlighted a pervading sense of suspicion, cynicism and pessimism throughout the ranks of OMs. Offenders, for example, were often viewed with distaste and described by OMs in derogatory terms (e.g. as ‘vile’, ‘smackheads’, ‘walking abortion cases’, ‘dirty scrotes’ and ‘wastes of space’). At the same time, the majority of OMs I encountered seemed sceptical about the likelihood of IOM offender change. ‘Most have been offending like it’s going out of fashion. I don’t see any reason why they’re suddenly going to change now’, one OM complained. Another suggested that “putting them all down” would “do society a favour” and “save us all a lot of money”. OMs were also found to retain a deeply cynical view, both of the justice system and the broader social world. Her Majesty’s courts were accused of “continuously letting offenders off’ (apparently, because magistrates/judges lacked “proper training”), whilst society itself was deemed to have “lost its moral compass”.

Waddington (1998) would likely describe this kind of talk as a reflection of the ‘oral tradition’ of frontline policing – nothing more than ‘canteen culture’, which does not directly translate into action. However, this exaggerated cynicism, pessimism and scepticism seemed to cement further the crime control-orientated approach of most OMs to offender management. Consequently, most OMs spent most of their time engaged in enforcement activities (mostly surveillance, but also the occasional arrest).This practice is at odds with formal IOM policy (equal attention should be given to intelligence gathering and support (Police Operations Guide 2010; Home Office, 2010), and more closely connected to the cultural desire for action and excitement.

Action and an exaggerated sense of mission

Action orientated crime fighting was not a core constituent of everyday IOM policing. Rather than unpredictable and dangerous physical interactions with offenders, OMs spent considerable time in front of police computers and/or knocking on the (often unanswered) doors of IOM offenders. This is not to say that OMs did not desire the thrill of the ‘search, chase and arrest’ (Waddington, 1998: 99). In fact, most were resistant to the idea that the job was not action orientated and redefined ‘action’ to fit the OM role. Action was now meeting with offenders, generating information from them by building up trust and rapport so that “they tell you stuff without even realizing and then you put in an intelligence report”. As one OM explained:

It’s a bit dry, but a different way of looking at things. As much as I’d like to roll around on the floor with some of them, we’re not doing that. I get a buzz from going to someone’s house talking to them and looking around without having just kicked the door in.

The ‘buzz’ therefore comes from using inter-personal skills to out-smart offenders, gaining their trust whilst acting against their interests. Although this sort of work is not as action-orientated as “rolling around with offenders”, the police cultural desire for action is sated by the exciting combination of out-smarting and spying on IOM offenders. Furthermore, visiting (mostly unannounced) the homes of IOM offenders and ‘dropping in on’ routine probation appointments is also a subtle way of imposing social discipline on an offender given that regular contact between police and IOM offenders will serve to communicate control and remind them that the police are watching.

For some OMs, however, this reconfiguration of ‘action’ was insufficient. Instead they pursued thrills, whilst attempting to steer clear of work typically  characterised as  ‘bullshit’ and ‘rubbish’ (Reiner, 2000; Loftus, 2009). For example, on one occasion two OMs encountered a man, known to be disqualified from driving, sitting in the driving seat of a car – a rare opportunity of gaining direct evidence of what they suspected was offending behaviour. They parked up, observing the man in order to gather useful intelligence. Whilst this endeavour falls within the OM mandate and in this sense is unproblematic, these particular OMs confronted the suspect – activity conventionally carried out by the enforcement arm of IOM. Evidently, the chance of catching a misbehaving IOM offender ‘red- handed’ was impossible to resist and in any case viewed as ‘real police work’. “We’re police officers, it’s what we’re supposed to be doing really”, one OM later explained. The words and actions of these OMs resonate deeply with the police preoccupation with crime fighting and moral (and cultural) commitment to the separation of social order from chaos (Reiner 2000: 89, Loftus 2009: 90). Attempting to get this particular offender locked up provided the OMs with an opportunity to engage in a challenging and exciting game of wits and skill. Business as usual, from a police cultural perspective.

Conclusion

The IOM scheme, I examined, was well-established having operated for five years, time enough for traditional police attitudes and values to evolve. Although some OMs did engage in meaningful rehabilitative activity (e.g. developing working relationships, providing logistical support, and encouraging offenders to engage with services), a majority reworked the role of OM to fit the reality of policing as they saw it: penetrate, survey and control a ‘dangerous’ community of known prolific offenders. This is a departure from the stated aims of IOM, which seeks to break the cycle of offending via welfare-orientated policing (albeit carried out against the backdrop of law enforcement), but it does conform to police culture. It seems, old habits die hard.

Dr Frederick Cram is Lecturer in Law at the Cardiff University. Email: cramf@cardiff.ac.uk

The Police on Social Media: The Challenge of Being Engaging Gatekeepers

Dr Heather Horsburgh

Ralph (2016), in an earlier blog post for the Policing Network, highlighted a need for more research into police use of social media. My research – 11 interviews with senior communications staff, 9 interviews with police officers, an analysis of the national and regional Police Scotland Facebook and Twitter accounts, and analysis of local and national (broadsheet and tabloid) Scottish newspapers – examined police media use in Scotland. Specifically, I was interested in the impact that social media is having on how the police view/approach the traditional media, and on how social media can impact police accountability. Consistent with previous research, I found that although the police were positive about the utility of social media in enhancing community engagement, they found engaging on social media a challenge. This blog will detail some of the challenges the police have when trying to engage on social media.

One of the recommendations to come out of my research was that the police should invest less (but not no) time and resources into maintaining a relationship with the traditional news media and more resources into utilising social media. The reasons for these recommendations are discussed elsewhere (Horsburgh, 2015). The suggestion that the police should dial back their level of interaction with the traditional media may set off warning bells for some. Certainly, the traditional news media like to proclaim that they hold the powerful to account (Aitken, 2016)). However, the extent to which the public get to know about the police and crime issues that affect them most, though the news media, is questionable. The media rarely provide enough information to enable a fair judgement of police effectiveness (Lawrence, 2000; Surette, 2011; Horsburgh, 2015). Of course, I am not arguing that the news media don’t play an important role in bringing fundamental issues to our attention, which is why the recommendations included to invest less time and resources in the news media, but not to close the door completely.

One of the potential benefits of social media is that social media platforms are an avenue for the police and the communities they serve to have meaningful, two-way conversations, where the police can communicate information that is in the public interest, and the public can communicate with the police – and each other – about the policing issues that are important to them. This arguably leads to greater accountability and legitimacy for the police; the public can (and do) use social media to discuss specific incidents of police performance (good and bad), which is something the traditional media can then follow up on. However, as mentioned, despite the capacity for social media to have a positive impact on the police-public relationship, there is a steadily growing and consistent body of research that suggests the police are not using social media channels to their full potential (Crump, 2011; Kudla & Parnaby, 2018). Specifically, they are using it as if it is just another means to push information out to the public, without trying to engage in a two-way conversation. Indeed, my research suggests that although the police are good at communicating information that is relevant and local to the communities they serve (as opposed to the statistically rare and sensational crime that gets news media attention), their level of engagement with the public online is lacking.

I argue that one reason for the lack of interaction on the part of the police is due to the competing demands of being engaging gatekeepers, where the police find it difficult to be both engaging and social media monitors. Indeed, when conducting interviews with police officers and communications staff, it was immediately apparent that they viewed social media as just one more thing that had to be policed. Reasons for monitoring social media included to protect police investigations from the spread of sensitive information, to prevent the use of offensive or inappropriate language, and to ensure the police message was getting out without being changed or diluted by the public response that followed. Further, interviewee responses indicated that it can be difficult knowing what to say and how to say it. Police officers and communications staff without a communications background found this particularly challenging. Interviewees were very aware that just because they could share information, doesn’t mean that they should; among other things (e.g. reputation), they need to communicate information that 1) will be interesting to the public, and 2) not contribute to fear of crime in particular areas or groups of people. Once they decide which information to communicate, they also need to decide how to say it, which can be tricky, as the following excerpt shows:

it’s like you’re now starting to write in 2 or 3 different languages cause…our Facebook site is dumbed right down…as there’s no point in talking in traditional police speak on Facebook because… people just switch right off, so you’ve got to adjust your style of communicating. And then it’s different again for the media and it’s different for our website so we’re all over the place. You’ve got to remember what hat you’re wearing when you’re putting something out because you’re always trying to maximise your feedback and maximise that engagement from the public (Communications Officer D 2012).

As much as interviewees liked to talk about how important social media is for engagement and so on, most interviewees displayed sentiments that made it apparent that they viewed most public input as something of a nuisance that needed to be handled or ignored. For example, one interviewee states:

…a lot of people use Facebook, particularly as a sort of… virtual rubber necking thing. So, you know, they’d ask questions about why, why are the police at 22 High Street. Well, you wouldn’t phone up the police and ask that. You possibly wouldn’t stop a police officer in the street and [ask that]? You wouldn’t walk into a police station and ask that, so why are you asking it on Facebook? We’re not going to tell you if you’re just a member of the public (Communications Officer F, 2012).

The ‘just a member of the public’ comment is particularly telling. If the police are to utilise social media to its full engagement potential, they need to take public input seriously. Of course, they cannot reply to all comments for practical as well as procedural reasons, but they need to start viewing public input/questions as opportunities to engage or as providing intelligence on issues the public need to be informed about. If they perceive comments from the public as a nuisance, this will likely show in their interactions (or lack thereof).

The challenges outlined above, make it difficult for the police to fully engage with the public on social media; which might go some way to explaining the lack of engagement that is evident in the extant research. In order to enhance community engagement and to improve accountability, these issues need to be addressed. The police are already doing a good job of sharing relevant information with the public (though this, too, could be enhanced), they act as effective gatekeepers to sensitive information, but they now need find ways to improve their level of engagement with the public. They need to find a way of being ‘engaging gatekeepers’. If they can do this, social media can be an invaluable tool for police engagement and accountability.

Dr Heather Horsburgh is a Lecturer in Criminal Justice and Criminology at the University of the West of Scotland. Email: Heather.Horsburgh@uws.ac.uk. Twitter: @HeatherHorsbur1

 

 

Police vs. Desire? Police Brutalities in Italy

Dr Vincenzo Scalia

Since 2001, when the brutalities committed by the Italian police during the G8 in Genoa became internationally known, awareness of police brutalities has also spread among the Italian public. Italian NGOs active in the defense of civil liberties, in particular Antigone and A Buon Diritto, developed a monitoring network which relies on voluntary activists and lawyers, so as to encourage both the victims and their family to make the cases known. Moreover, associations of police brutality victims, such as Associazione Contro gli Abusi in Divisa (ACAD, Association against police brutalities) became active in the creation of a monitoring network about police brutalities. .

Cases were provided by Italian lawyers belonging to the network to the researchers which concern episodes of police brutalities which occurred across the country. By accessing to some of the most serious 37 cases provided by lawyers, related to brutalities occurring between 2010 and 2015, it was possible to analyse in depth the more recent police brutalities occurring in Italy. We add to these 37 cases also the tragic case of Federico Aldrovandi, the 17 year old youth from Ferrara who died from police brutalities, in September 2005. This latter case is added because it marks a watershed in the perception of police brutalities by the public. The death of an Italian, middle class youth from police brutalities, was indeed a shock for a public opinion which has been relatively tolerant to police  brutalities against immigrants and political activists.

In our research we were able to detect that cases resulting in police brutality involved conflict between policing (and the activity aimed at maintaining public order) and desire. The latter term  refers to those leisure activities of the cities related to the lifestyle of young people, immigrants and working class youth, who attend disco clubs and use drugs, as well as to football supporters who express sub-cultural identities by their belonging to ultras group or football supporters firms. We identified two different categories of dynamics underpinning police brutalities. The first one could be defined as on call. We are referring to the cases when the police intervene after the call of some resident. Such calls usually follow the hearing of noise by the residents of those districts without leisure venues, who associate the noise in the street with fights, drug-related matters and illegal behaviours in general. The second category is defined patrol, it refers to the brutalities Italian police forces commit while patrolling working class areas and enacting stop and search activities. These cases demonstrate more class and race bias, as the victims of brutalities are more common among the ranks of working class and, underclass’ (such as precarious workers and immigrants) than among middle-class Italians. This typology of brutalities on call/patrol follow the securitarian mood which has molded the action of Italian governments of different political majorities since 1990s.  On call cases answer the request of help by intervention by citizens, and often end up with the police dealing with mainstream Italians, who behave “eccentrically”. On patrol brutalities cases concern interventions in marginal areas, where police officers expect to find some unusual behaviour.

The outcome of police brutalities is death in the majority of cases reviewed (20 out of 38). In recent years, the mobilization of civil society has encouraged the families of the victims in their claims for justice, both by raising public awareness, and by providing them with legal and financial support, as well as with helping in gathering evidence. It was in this way possible to achieve a conviction of the police forces who killed Federico Aldrovandi, and to carry forward the case of Stefano Cucchi who died from injuries sustained following  his arrest and a period in custody. Despite these positive changes, there still is a long way to go to in order to prevent such brutalities from occuring and to reverse the mood of that part of the Italian public who deems such behaviour necessary for the police to enact a law and order oriented behaviour.

Firstly, the anti-torture law that the Italian parliament passed in 2017 is quite weak, as it punishes torture only in cases where it was done by more than one person or, if there is only one aggressor, in cases where there are repeated instances of torture, and does not see torture as a crime committed by institutional actors, but, rather, by individuals. The reason for such a belated approval is due both to the fact that the foundations of the Italian penal law date back to Fascism (Rocco Act, 1930) and to the resistance to pass an act which could result into a limitation of the action of police. This latter aspect draws its consent from the idea, quite popular among the Italian public, that an unrestrained police force will be fighting corruption and organized crime more efficiently. Secondly, in Italy, there does not exist such a thing as an Independent Office for Police Conduct, making it difficult to investigate and ascertain the responsibilities of police forces. All the enquiry commissions are internal, and are quite reluctant to pass documents to the magistrates, or to the lawyers, in order to protect police forces. As a consequence of this, it is hard to prosecute police officers who committed brutalities (Della Porta, 1998). Thirdly, there is a dominating securitarian mood in Italian public opinion, whose main standpoint is that police forces always protect the public from major dangers, such that questioning their modus operandi means to undermine public order. This attitude is strongly supported by many political forces but has its strongest advocates among the right wing forces, in particular among the Northern League who were ruling the country until August 2019 in a securitarian coalition with the populist Five Star Movement. Finally, there is a class and race division with regards to the ascertaining of police brutalities. The case which were brought to the knowledge of public opinion concern Italian, middle class victims, whereas there is a “dark number” of migrants, roma and ‘underclass’ victims who die from police brutalities, whose identity is uncertain and who hardly have any justice, even a post-mortem. The awareness of police brutalities among the Italian public is still at its first stage. On the one hand, it has massively increased in these late years. On the other hand, it has to deal with both legislative limits and with a widespread populist mood.

Dr Vincenzo Scalia is a Reader in Criminology at the University of Winchester. Email: Vincenzo.Scalia@winchester.ac.uk Twitter: @scaliavincenzo

Revisiting the ‘Blue Code of Silence’ in Policing

Dr Sarah Charman

In May 2014, the then Home Secretary Theresa May demanded a “fundamental change in police culture” in response to a critical HMIC report on the police response to domestic violence and abuse. We can perhaps therefore add ‘changing police culture’ to a ‘Top 10’ list of things that Theresa May has not managed to personally influence in recent years.  However, whilst it is true that politicians can arguably do very little to influence cultural change within organisational and occupational cultures, that is not to say that cultural change isn’t happening.  Cultural memories might shift slowly but they do shift. I interviewed a sample of new police recruits to ‘Evermord Constabulary’ [fictional name] on four occasions during the first four years of their careers and considered how, and in which ways, they adapted to their new identity as police officers (Charman, 2017).  One feature of that identity which will be the focus of this blog, is the extent to which changes to both the formal and informal workings of policing have potentially altered officers’ relationship with colleagues and the extent of the bonds of solidarity between them.

Much of the early research on policing referred to the culture as all-encompassing. Skolnick (2008, p.35) has argued that “being a police officer is a defining identity”. Police culture was characterised in terms of high levels of solidarity and suspiciousness, isolation and a distinctive ‘us versus them’ mindset. The military-style rank structure, the promotion of discipline and obedience, the uniform and the 24-hour nature of the job, all fed into an institutionalised ideology of a unique organisation set apart from the public. By being ‘set apart’, the inevitable impact of that isolation was a promotion of the imagery of solidarity and communality amongst its members and an expectation of remaining a member of that organisation for life. That solidarity was considered to be a powerful bond which united police officers in their work, both in terms of the public and from external oversight via the ‘blue code of silence’ (see: Westmarland 2005; Westmarland and Rowe 2016; Chan 2003; Goldsmith 1990)

So are those bonds of solidarity between officers still as strong and is their isolation from the public still as pronounced?  The new police recruits in my research did not refer to the narrative of policing being ‘a job for life’, and indeed, some spoke of it rather more in terms of a ‘job for now’, framed in the language of policing being a ‘job’ rather than a ‘lifestyle’. Although the research found that comradeship is strong, it is importantly not unqualified, and there are limits to this solidarity (Charman, 2017). These limits appear to be especially related to the perceptions of a ‘blue code of silence’.

One of the questions asked of the new recruits was how far they agreed with the following statement:

Police Officers must Observe a Code of Secrecy amongst Themselves to Protect Fellow Officers (%)

  Time A Time B Time C Time D
Strongly Agree

Agree

Disagree

Strongly Disagree

17.4

52.2

30.4

9.1

50.0

40.9

4.5

54.5

40.9

41.2

58.8

The majority of respondents disagreed with this statement at each time point. However, it is the strength of this disagreement which changes over time. At TIME A (4 weeks in), 30.4% of respondents strongly disagreed but by TIME D (4 years in), this number had almost doubled to 58.8%, becoming the most common answer.

There are two opposing explanations for why this might be the case. On the one hand, it could be argued that police officers become more sophisticated in their self-reported behaviours and their ‘storytelling’ to ‘outsiders’; that they become more politically aware of the dangers of betraying the more negative aspects of policing cultures. This could be coupled with a growing alignment with other attitudes such as the importance of suspiciousness, the tendency of police officers to ‘lay low’ and ‘not to make waves’, and the advice given to the new recruits in terms of ‘covering themselves’. This is in addition to the high levels of cynicism that police officers believe are part of the nature of being a police officer.

However, there is an alternative explanation which also needs consideration. The discussions that took place between the new recruits and the interviewer revealed a very nuanced account of the intricacies of the notion of a ‘blue code of silence’. It is my argument that the changing ‘field’ and the changing ‘habitus’ of policing have both impacted in different ways upon this issue. The changing field of policing in relation to accountability means that there is now a heavy focus upon professional standards, the routine escalation of complaints, a fear of ‘doing the wrong thing’ and a fear of little to no management support when things do go wrong. This is exemplified by the following comments from respondents:

“if you succeed as a team, you fail on your own” (W10)

“you don’t really have any support from anyone if it goes wrong, it’s all like you’re totally accountable yourself if something goes wrong” (Z7)

“If I got into a fight right now and I hit my emergency button, I know that … everybody would come running to help me out … they’d have my back, which is great.  Conversely … if I went into the office over there and said something that was questionable, maybe quite seriously politically incorrect, a racist term or anything like that, then I would be very surprised if pretty much most of the people didn’t write a report” (D5)

“I think that’s the public’s perception that we all, kind of, group together and we’re all, you know, we’ve got each other’s back. But actually, this last two years I’ve realised that a lot of what you go through you go through on your own” (D8)

There is also the changing habitus of police officers to be considered – the attitudes, values and beliefs that shape officers’ behaviours. From my research, this was characterised by a lack of tolerance for unacceptable policing behaviours and a belief in integrity, which was mentioned frequently by the new recruits as a feature of a ‘good’ police officer, after communication, empathy and compassion. These views were expressed by the majority of research participants and this small selection of quotes are used by way of examples:

“There were quite a few officers I knew, both in [name of other force] and here, who have, sort of, retired or been pushed.  The view these days is very much more, we can’t afford to have anyone like that working for the police.  And again, the more accountable, the more transparent we are, the more those people stand out” (D6)

“they have this thing at [name of training school], you’re told, if you hear something that’s not PC, you’re supposed to stand there and challenge and you think that will never happen but it does. You go into the workplace and people do because they know they have a responsibility themselves to pick up on things like that … so it does happen … we are a different breed totally, definitely” (C8)

“we can’t like slap people’s heads off a desk and you can’t put stuff in their boot and then say they had it on them already and you can’t shine a light in people’s eyes and get answers out of them, but at the same time, you do a better job and people get…and if you do convict people then you’ve done it the right way and it’s not fudged and it’s not unlawful” (X10).

What this might suggest that the traditional ‘blue code of silence’ could be in the process of being superseded by what I have called ‘the blue code of self-protection’. According to Waddington (1999), the prime motivating factor for police officers when undertaking their duties on the street is not the enactment of the more expressive ‘backstage’ talk but the concern of ‘staying out of trouble’, or as I have termed it, the ‘blue code of self-protection’. Perhaps as Chan (2007, p. 343) has argued, the “old ‘stand by your mates’ framework is no longer sustainable”. Myhill and Bradford (2013) have argued for a more fluid understanding of the ‘code of silence’. That more fluid understanding can be seen through this suggestion of movement from silence towards self-protection. These are important and interesting changes to the perceptions of the occupational habitus of police officers. What we might need to consider therefore is that we are witnessing a subtle shift away from the ‘blue code of silence’ as a dominant paradigm and a movement towards a ‘blue code of self-protection’ which has been influenced by a more individualist, risk-averse but publicly accountable policing organisation.

Dr Sarah Charman is a Reader in Criminology at the University of Portsmouth. Email: sarah.charman@port.ac.uk Twitter: @sarahc2612

 

Perpetual Suspects

Dr Lisa Long

I continue to live my body in Black within a culture where Blackness is still over determined by myths and presuppositions that fix my body as a site of danger (Yancy, 2008:59).

In December 2018, twenty years on from the publication of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report (Macpherson, 1999), the Home Affairs Committee launched an inquiry to examine the progress made against Macpherson’s 70 recommendations over the last two decades. However, it is evident from a cursory glance at the statistics that race continues to shape policing outcomes. Black people are over nine times more likely to be stopped and searched than their white peers (nationally with some regional variation) (Home Office, 2018a), are almost four times more likely to be subject to use of force and are more likely to be subjects of taser use (Home Office, 2018b). It follows, that Black people, especially men, disproportionately die in police custody or during or after police contact (Athwal and Bourne, 2015). In this context, my research sought to understand the experiences that Black and Black mixed-race men and women have when they come into contact with the police. I interviewed twenty participants about their experiences of police contact over the life course. Utilising a Critical Race Theory (CRT) framework, the research prioritised racialised voices and, through an intersectional analysis, presented a counter-narrative to the dominant police narratives which engage in denial of racism as an explanation for the police focus on Black bodies. I submitted to the recent inquiry, in brief, the findings of my PhD research which has been recently published as a monograph (Long, 2018) Perpetual Suspects: A Critical Race Theory of Black and Mixed-Race Experiences of Policing with Palgrave Macmillan. Some of the key findings are outlined here.

Suspects

The research finds that both Black men and women have their first encounter with the police at a young age. This may be through an awareness of surveillance in the place where they grew up, through observing treatment of family members or direct contact by being asked to account for their presence or behaviour. This is particularly apparent in ‘racially Othered spaces’; those spaces which are occupied by the Black (and ethnic minority) Other and resultantly are imagined as dangerous, criminogenic spaces. Further, several participants experienced ‘unjustified’ arrest in their early teenage years, often resulting in no further action. Black bodies are perpetually suspect, even in childhood. These negative experiences in the formative years cement their understanding of the relationship with the police as ‘Us vs Them’. So normalised is its occurrence in the lives of Black men, stop and search was broadly unremarked upon in the interviews without prompting. Whilst these forms of contact lessen with advancing age and lifestyle changes such as having children, no longer working shifts and not socialising outside at night, other forms of contact, including car stops, serve as reminder to them that they are the perpetual suspect. Several participants recalled being the subject of use of force, in the context of restraint, in ways which were perceived as being to excessive in order to contain the threat of the ‘big, Black, man’.  The experiences recalled by Black mixed-race men (and some women) are undifferentiated from those of Black men. Through the ‘white [police] gaze’ they are seen as ‘monstrous blacks’ and are policed as such (Long and Joseph -Salisbury, 2019).  For (some) women, race can be negotiated, to varying extents, through acceptable versions of femininity; however, for men their Blackness poses the ultimate threat.

(Un) Victims

One of the significant findings of this research is that, for Black and Black mixed-race people, negative experiences of reporting victimisation to the police, particularly in the case of non-hate crime related incidents, can have significant consequences for their trust and confidence in the police. This is an area that has hitherto been overlooked in research. The process of becoming a victim is an ‘emergent process of signification’ (Rock, 2002:17), the police are significant actors in this process and racialised ideas about ‘suspect’ bodies are negotiated within the police encounter with the victim. This negates the ‘ideal victim’ status (Christie, 1986) constructing them as the (Un) Victim (Long, 2018).  This is evident in the themes emerging from this study; Black and Black mixed-race victims of crime are not taken seriously and they are treated as suspect when they report victimisation. This is more significant for men; the women who took part in the study reported more satisfactory experiences of reporting victimisation. This is with the exception of one participant, Alice. Alice had a history of police contact due to petty offending linked to drug addiction. She is an offender in the victim/offender dichotomy and is therefore unworthy of victim status. For the women who were not ‘known’ to the police, a display of appropriate and acceptable forms of femininity can negotiate race and enhance their experience in comparison to that of men. This can be displayed through compliance and/or professional status. However, despite more satisfactory experiences of reporting crime, the women were aware of the need to prove their worthiness within these encounters. These experiences, often in the context of minor/petty crime, have significant and long-lasting consequences for trust and confidence in the police and expressed willingness to report future victimisation.

The majority of the participants in this study said that they would contact the police if they needed help or to report a crime, dependent on severity; however, all participants expressed low expectations of the police response to them. Further, they rationalised reporting crime through their citizenship or payment of taxes, which they felt ‘entitled’ them to a service.  For a minority of the participants, the police were completely disregarded as a source of help, regardless of the nature or severity of the incident (also, see Yarrow, 2005).  The participants who professed to a complete avoidance of the police had in common that they had experienced extended and cumulative negative contact with police over several years and in various contexts or, alternatively, had one significant and defining experience which altered their perception of the police. When racialised relations force the (Un)Victim to view themselves through the ‘white gaze’ (Yancy, 2008), and consider that race may be the reason that they do not have access to justice, this has brutalising racist affects which trump the impact of victimisation resulting in ‘racial re-victimisation’ (Long, 2018).

Summary

In summary, the research finds that institutional racism continues to shape Black and Black mixed-race people’s experiences of policing, facilitated by a culture of denial. The analysis shows that there is not one Black experience or perception of policing, but several. These experiences are produced differently through identity and identification as Black on a continuum, which relies upon subordinate masculinities and femininities for the reproduction of White power (See, Mills, 1997) a system upheld (knowingly or unknowingly), by the state police.

The full implications of this research are explored in Long (2018). Perpetual Suspects: A Critical Race Theory of Black and Mixed-Race Experiences of Policing. London:Palgrave.

The experiences of victims will be analysed through a re-conceptualisation of Christie’s (1981) ‘Ideal Victim’ thesis in a paper to be presented at this year’s BSC Conference in July.

Dr Lisa Long is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Leeds Beckett University,

Email: lisa.long@leedsbeckett.ac.uk. Twitter: @therealljlong

 

Dignity, decency, legality: Making police custody ‘good’?

Dr Layla Skinns

Across England and Wales, upwards of 900,000 citizens are arrested and detained in police custody each year, making it an important site for everyday interactions between the public and the police. Police custody is where a suspect is taken on arrest after an allegation of law-breaking, whilst an investigation is mounted and a decision is reached about what to do next, for example, whether to charge them or bail them. It is also a place in which the police and civilian detention officers who work in police custody must keep a highly vulnerable suspect population safe, as a result of a range of needs including mental and physical health conditions, addiction and intoxication, learning disabilities and gender-specific needs, all of which may be exacerbated by their detention. Drawing on my experiences of a recent ESRC-funded study, I critically reflect here on why making police custody ‘good’ was and continues to be an important objective for the research.

My interest in this formally began in 2011, during what I called ‘Phase 0’ of the research, in which I had initial conversations with key stakeholders and colleagues about the possibilities of making police custody ‘good’. This was my first foray into thinking appreciatively about the possibilities and not just the pitfalls of police custody for those who are detained or work therein. These were not always easy conversations to have and some did not lead to the desired outcomes (Greene and Skinns, 2018). I nonetheless persevered. This appreciative framing of the ‘good’ police custody study – which was subsequently granted funding by the ESRC in 2012 and commenced in 2013 – was not based on a set of naïve and over-optimistic assumptions about the nature of police custody. I had by this point already spent a number of years researching in police custody settings in England and in other jurisdictions and was fully cognisant of how grim, brutalising, dehumanising, demoralising and stigmatising police detention can be, at its worst, with these effects often being felt by the most vulnerable members of society and also to some extent by staff (Skinns, 2019).

However, I was also conscious that it was time to change tack. Yes, there is a lot at stake. For suspects, their safety, well-being, fair treatment and access to justice are at stake and, for the police, their legitimacy and the integrity of the criminal justice process. There is also therefore much that can go seriously wrong, whether a death or a serious injury or a miscarriage of justice or a sense of exclusion from society. Nonetheless, my overarching research question in the ‘good’ police custody study, was concerned with the circumstances in which police custody might be ‘good’ and ‘good’ for whom, particularly in light of the growing role for civilian detention officers and for the private sector (Skinns et al., 2017). This question reflected a theoretical set of interests in conceptualising the meaning of good police custody and, by implication, good police work, but it was also about trying to make a difference, through the impact of the research on the lived realities of those who are detained and who work in police custody.

After five years, three research phases and the collection of a range of qualitative and quantitative data, the research is now reaching its concluding phases. My colleagues and I are also now starting to articulate the meaning of ‘good’ police custody. Based largely on the data collected in Phase 3 in which the research team surveyed nearly 800 staff and detainees in 27 custody suites in 13 forces, three main sets of findings stand out, linked to dignity, decency and legality, with the first two of these concepts also being deeply affected by material conditions, that is, whether police detention facilities are seen as bright, light, spacious and as if someone cares about these surroundings. This suggests that police custody can be made ‘good’ when dignity – linked to equality and decency – is prioritised by police custody practitioners, managers, national leads and policy makers in relation to the operation and strategic direction of police custody, alongside the existing focus on abiding by the legal rules such as of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and the associated Codes of Practice.

These ideas are central to the well-received good practice benchmarks which police stakeholders from across England and Wales were consulted on in November 2018 (see here for the draft version). These are due to be finalised in May 2019 and then implemented and evaluated in four police force areas from the autumn onwards. The appreciative framing of the research has helped to provide traction for the ideas it has generated, at a time when large numbers of police forces are under pressure and constrained by limited resources. The research has also enabled the identification of a set of aspirations and practices that we should expect to see in order to make police custody ‘good’. I am hopeful therefore that the research is poised to make a difference, including to the treatment of and material conditions in which some of the most marginalised groups in society are held. This provides reason enough for wanting to make police custody ‘good’.

Layla Skinns is a Reader in Criminology at the Centre for Criminological Research, School of Law, University of Sheffield. Email: l.skinns@sheffield.ac.uk

This piece is based on data analysis completed with Dr Angela Sorsby, with additional research support from Dr Lindsey Rice, Amy Sprawson, Dr Andrew Wooff and Rivka Smith, as well as from Amal Ali, Dermot Barr and Claire Kershaw.

The ‘good’ police custody study was generously funded by the ESRC (research grant no. ES/J023434/)

Progress on policing domestic violence, seen through a human rights lens

Jamie Grace

There is an increasingly urgent need to reform (and thus improve) the approach of the police to the prevention of domestic abuse and the safeguarding of victims. Not least because, of late, there has been a shift in the UK courts’ position on the duties of police forces in this regard. Thanks to case law from the UK Supreme Court in 2018, forces are now placed under stricter duties to uphold the human rights of victims of domestic and sexual violence (Grace, 2018: 2 &4). Now,  should they commit ‘egregious’ errors during investigations, which in turn fail the victims of violent and sexual crimes (Flinn, 2018), the police can no longer (as easily) escape liability under the European Convention on Human Rights. As part of efforts to move public policy forwards along these lines, HM Government (2019) published a draft Domestic Abuse Bill and an accompanying series of policy positions. The government’s aim is to partially, yet considerably, reform the landscape of the policing of domestic abuse – embedding work done to change domestic abuse risk assessment processes for example (see HM Government, 2019: 51), but also introducing more structural changes. This short piece offers a few thoughts about some of the more high-profile proposals that would affect policing practices.

The four most prominent proposals are establishing:

  1. “…a statutory definition of domestic abuse”
  2. “…the office of Domestic Abuse Commissioner”
  3. “…a new Domestic Abuse Protection Notice and Domestic Abuse Protection Order” for the UK
  4. a ministerial duty to “…place the guidance supporting the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme [also known as ‘Clare’s Law’] on a statutory footing.”

Other reforms will focus on protecting victims of domestic abuse through special measures in the criminal courts or by protecting them from cross examination in the family courts by their abusers, and so forth (Burrows, 2019). But a lot of the preventive focus of the draft Bill comes from the newly-imagined Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Orders and possible reforms to the basis of ‘Clare’s Law’. It is those proposals that I shall focus on here.

The new preventive orders would seem to me to be a positive, potential policy step for the prevention of domestic abuse in the UK. They have a greater focus on offender treatment and management than the current Domestic Violence Protection Notices and Orders, which are centred on the idea of a short-term exclusion of an offender or perpetrator from the property where their victim lives, and a prohibition on an offender contacting their victim (HM Government, 2016: 1). The proposed statutory reforms would add some important new dimensions to the range of conditions that are imposed on individuals upon their receipt of a Domestic Abuse Order from the courts, combining rehabilitative and restrictive approaches. Firstly, the new orders could be used to require recipients to attend drug or alcohol treatment, or parenting programmes. Secondly, the newer orders would allow for a condition of electronic monitoring of different types to be placed on offenders (HM Government, 2019a: 30), as well as the imposition of offender notification requirements at police stations, to give regular updates on their address and potentially other details, including details of any new relationships, to allow for more accurate risk assessments (HM Government, 2019a: 28). A criminal offence or contempt of court would be committed if these new orders were to be breached (HM Government, 2019a: 30)..

It seems that reforms to Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Orders may serve to better control and even help to rehabilitate domestic violence perpetrators – and, as such, would be a boost to the legal framework the UK must maintain in order to fulfil its human rights obligations to victims of violent and sexual crimes – but these mooted changes to policing practice should not, and (it seems) will not, be free from further scrutiny to explore their effectiveness. The Government consultation response notes that these reforms are as yet untested, but that a pilot and an evaluation would take place in due course. In a separate scrutiny process, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights is already undertaking a short evidence-gathering inquiry on the fitness for purpose of the draft Bill. One would hope that the forthcoming pilot evaluation by the Home Office, as well as the Inquiry, will explore the extent to which these measures are effective in addressing domestic abuse and take a balanced approach to protecting the human rights of victims and affording an appropriate level of respect toward the due process rights of offenders.

The draft Bill will place a new statutory duty on the police to have regard to Home Office guidance on the operation of information disclosure policies such as ‘Clare’s Law’ – the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS) in England and Wales. The DVDS operates on the policy premise that well-timed disclosures of past offending histories of violent partners will make potential victims realise that ending a relationship may keep them safer. Police and public protection professionals such as social workers can refer a disclosure application to the police on behalf of a potential victim under the Scheme (in a strand of its operation known as the ‘Right to Know’), and victims and potential victims can apply to the police for a disclosure themselves (the ‘Right to Ask’).

Currently, DVDS guidance is published by the Home Office (2016). A new statutory duty to consult bodies such as the National Police Chiefs’ Council in revising that guidance, HM Government hopes, will lead to a more effective Disclosure Scheme that should include not just reasonable and proportionate disclosures upon which victims can judge risks to themselves, but also more ‘robust risk assessment and safety planning in order to safeguard the individual or individuals potentially at risk of domestic abuse’ (see: HM Government (Explanatory Notes), 2019: 36).

New data from the ONS (2018) shows that the uptake of the DVDS by potential victims and concerned police officers and other public protection professionals has resulted in an increase from 3,410 disclosures in the year to March 2017 to 8,368  in the year to March 2018. There is however a distinct ‘postcode lottery’ in the way the Scheme is operated, for both the ‘Right to Know’ or ‘Right to Ask’ strands, with regard to the rate of disclosures made (Grace, 2018). The rate of disclosures as a proportion of Right to Know applications, in the year ending March 2017, varied from 97.8% in Cumbria down to 3.2% in Kent (Grace, 2018). The variety in the manner in which individual forces operate the DVDS has been acknowledged and criticised by HMICFRS (2017: 8) in the recent past, yet the ‘postcode lottery’ continues. The rate of disclosures as a proportion of Right to Know applications, in the year ending March 2018, varied between 100% in Wiltshire down to 9.6% for Thames Valley Police (ONS, 2018). An increase in regulation of the use of Clare’s Law is to be welcomed. However, there will still exist concerns about ‘victim responsibilisation’ through the Scheme (Duggan and Grace, 2018; Duggan, 2018), issues of procedural fairness for offenders (Grace, 2015), and, potentially, a continuing lack of a proper review of its effectiveness (FitzGibbon and Walklate, 2016).

There is an issue of costs intensification, incurred through some of these proposals, on over-stretched criminal justice budgets – not least those of the police service, hammered by austerity as they are (Home Affairs Select Committee, 2018). I would concur with Marian Duggan (2019), who has already noted of the draft Bill that:

“The changes outlined…indicate that the government is listening to domestic abuse victims, advocates and experts. The key will be whether or not these proposals can be sufficiently implemented, as they require a significant amount of ongoing funding and investment across public services and the voluntary sector.”

Yet these mooted reforms in the draft Bill, it can be hoped, would be of benefit to protecting the rights and safety of victims of domestic abuse under this government, or a future government committed to increasing levels of policing funding.

Jamie Grace is a Senior Lecturer in Law at Sheffield Hallam University and PhD candidate in the School of Law at the University of Sheffield. Email: j.grace@shu.ac.uk