The conference has, at its centre, themes that are amongst the most pressing for criminologists (and society): the harm/crime interface; gendered harms; reflecting on justice in light of Black Lives Matter; and decolonisation.
Looking ahead to the annual BSC conference at the Open University
As we hurtle towards the start of this year’s conference, we thought it would be a good idea to spend a little time introducing it and signalling what is to come.
We are confident that this will be an exciting, innovative, and timely exposition and exploration of many important and pressing issues. Naturally, our planning and thinking around the conference has been heavily influenced by events over the past eighteen months – in terms of its online delivery, and the areas of focus. The conference has, at its centre, themes that are amongst the most pressing for criminologists (and society): the harm/crime interface; gendered harms; reflecting on justice in light of Black Lives Matter; and decolonisation. These themes are also closely linked to much of the curriculum and research at The Open University, which has always been critical and pioneering, as well as the enduring social justice and equality mission at the heart of the institution.
Our initial expectations for the conference have already been surpassed through the fantastic response we have received from our plenary speakers, our presenters, and those just wanting to attend. We are grateful for the support and enthusiasm we have received for the conference. We are delighted to have a diverse set of plenary speakers, all of whom are internationally renowned in their respective fields of teaching and research. These speakers will be presenting from locations across the globe – from the UK, Australia, and the USA, to Hong Kong, Canada, and various countries in Europe.
It goes without saying that hosting the conference this year has come with a number of challenges, and the wider circumstances have required us to adapt in terms of moving to online delivery and dealing with the difficulties this has thrown up. This seems apt given the nature of The Open University and our focus on online delivery of programmes – albeit, within a blended model of teaching. Yet, it has still been a challenge in terms of how best to organise and run such a large and complicated conference online.
We hope the product of our efforts will prove to be a rich and stimulating three days. While much of the conference programme illustrates a tight connection with the conference themes, the diversity of topics and disciplinary backgrounds within these parameters remains remarkable. So too is the mix between some well-established names in the field, up and coming early career researchers, and those just beginning to dip their toes in conference waters.
We have five plenary sessions (one on each conference theme, plus a postgraduate one), seven sessions for papers (encompassing up to fourteen rooms per session), a postgraduate workshop, various publisher stands and activities, and many activities within the dedicated networks session. There will be a special edited edition of the CCJ in the run up to the conference and a special journal edition from the BSC published from papers presented at the event.
While the fully online nature of this year’s event may preclude the traditional face-to-face opportunities to meet, catch-up and network over food and drinks, we very much hope there will be plenty of spaces to establish new connections and relationships throughout the duration of the conference. Beyond the serious academic stuff, we have a range of fun social activities built into our programme, ranging from ‘Crim Dine With Me’, to live music, and a magic routine! Clearly, we cannot quite hope to match the fun and frolics that have characterised previous BSC conferences, but we have at least invested energy into making the social side of the conference just as memorable as the academic discussions.
We plan to post a more substantial follow-up piece following the event, to reflect upon the key messages and next steps, so please do look out for that.
For now, thank you in advance to everyone for taking part in this year’s conference — we very much look forward to welcoming you!
Tony Murphy and Keir Irwin-Rogers
(on behalf of the OU organising team)
For information about the conference please see the BSC website
A reflection on the Centre for Police Research and Learning annual conference about resilience in policing and publics.
Dillon Ashmore is a second-year student and research assistant at the Hague University of Applied Sciences studying Safety and Security Management Studies. Dillon’s research interests include policing, intelligence and criminalistics.
The Covid-19 Pandemic presented a new type of critical incident to police globally that included several unprecedented elements, namely its reach, its uncertainty, and the legal implications of the restrictions related to it. In addition to these elements, due to their close contact with members of the public, the police were at a heightened risk of exposure to Covid-19. This risk, due to the nature of police roles as maintainers of public order and servants to the local community was unavoidable and complicated policing. Moreover, the expansion of police responsibilities beyond the aforementioned traditional roles to include working with the government to contain the spread of the virus further sapped police resources and capabilities. This adversity, navigating a complex health crisis with additional responsibility, challenged the police’s capabilities to not only respond in the short term to the scenario but also rebound strengthened and more resourceful. In essence, policing during the Covid-19 Pandemic was characterised by a need for resilience.
The relationship between the police and resilience was the focal point of this year’s Centre for Policing Research and Learning’s annual conference, “Resilience in Policing and Public” hosted by the Open University. For three days, from April 26th to April 29th, a host of guest speakers explored and explained the multifaceted effects of the pandemic on the police and every dimension of this institution including its organisational structure, its workforce and operational policing. These speakers came from both policing and academia, a combination that enhanced the various talking points throughout the conference with experience and research. As a student of Safety and Security Management, the notion of resilience is of particular interest to me. Not only does it signify an emerging approach to risk management that contrasts mitigation, it also, as described by Gooren (2019) urges safety and security professionals to pay attention to their organisation’s core purpose and integrity. These values are often compromised by safety and security but in disturbances such as the current pandemic, they are revitalised which can lead to quality improvements of the system they belong to. Thus, in attending this conference I had an opportunity to greater understand resilience within the police system through observing collaboration between police and academics using critical challenge and the exploration of research ideas and evidence. In this article I will reflect on the conference, the talks it entailed and how it expanded my knowledge of policing and resiliency on a holistic level.
The first day of the conference focused on the challenges faced by the police force in the early days of the pandemic in England and Wales. To police it in a unified manner the police forces throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland adopted a ‘one UK policing approach’. To accommodate this, the multiple frameworks within the UK’s police were standardised to ensure a one-fold police response was maintained. Policing the pandemic, codenamed Operation TALLA was then characterised by the ‘4 E’s’ approach. This approach determined how the police interacted with the public through engaging, explaining, encouraging and as a last resort, enforcing Covid-19 restrictions. Theoretically the 4 E’s guided police on how to conduct Covid related activities however it was not without its issues. Primarily there was a lack of clarity provided to staff as to where the police stood with regards to legislation, regulation, and guidance. The failure to articulate the differences between the three to officers created confusion and consequently the enforcement of protocols that were guidance rather than legislation, for instance, the maintenance of a two-metre distance between those out in public. Consequently, the media coverage of those involved in policing the pandemic disproportionately focused on the mistakes and confusion of the police rather than their successes.
Additionally, the adoption of new legislation, regulation, and guidance by the government at an unprecedented rate meant that the police were operating in a sophisticated yet hectic political environment, one which they were inadequately prepared for. As described by Chair of the National Police Chief’s Council, Martin Hewitt, the chaos and confusion amidst the pandemic demanded the police to abandon, adapt, accelerate, and adopt new approaches to policing. This demand for the police to absorb and persist through the adversity it faced characterises resilience. The police illustrated resiliency through the maintenance of professional relationships on all levels, the collection and distribution of data, maintenance of public engagement and public confidence in addition to officers demonstrating proactivity through the rapid adaption of internet communication systems into their modus operandi. These adaptations undertaken by the police during the pandemic are consistent with what Bonnano and Diminich (2012) label as emergent resilience, where favourable adjustments emerge in the face of chronically aversive circumstances.
The second day of the conference progressed with the theme of resiliency but deviated from analysing it solely through the lens of the pandemic and approached it from the lens of climate change. The first speaker of the day DCC Julian Moss of the West Mercia Police Force discussed the lessons his force had learned from previous floods in his home county and those which surrounded it. These lessons he argued can be adapted to other crises including the current pandemic. Among those lessons, he emphasised the importance for the police to draw on their previous experiences for learning and training, after all, history is the greatest teacher. Moreover, playing to your strengths and refusing to accept poor performance are also important in responding to an unfolding crisis. However, above all else, DCC Moss stressed that the police must expect the unexpected, which is a tenet of resilience.
This talk was followed by a discussion with Neil Edwards on the criminogenic factors that are induced by climate change and how they impact policing in the UK. Edwards explained that climate change will increase the emergence of criminogenic factors including heat stress, insecurity, uncertainty, and fragmentation in years to come. This is an issue that has already been explored by academics including South and Brisman who predict that rising sea levels will trigger mass immigration into regions including Northern Europe which consequently intensifies the fear of crime and public disorder in these countries. Moreover, the increased focus on environmental crimes will change the repertoire of crimes, their structure and subsequently the corresponding legal framework. The consequences of this are predicted to be increased individual, group, corporate and state crime, which will all put pressure on existing police resources. In addition to these plenary presentations, several sessions ran parallel to each other on the topics of mental health and wellbeing of emergency responders in the UK, the consequences of organisational injustice, and social media resilience and policing. Each of these talks, despite tackling different topics, were connected through the emphasis of the conference’s focus on resilience in the police and policing scholarship.
The final day of the conference focused on organisational resilience within the police force. Several speakers approached the topic from a plethora of directions for instance Dame Stella Manzie explored it from the perspective of adaptability whereas Jean Heartley approached it in the context of the political interface between the police and formal governance. Both approaches highlighted the demand for resilience and adaptation within the police. In addition to these, Dame Manzie addressed the existing threats to resilience within the police: change without consultation, lack of resources and lack of visibility. However, what stood out to me the most was the discussion led by Paul Walley on how improvement science can be utilised to build resilience in the police. Improvement science as a concept focuses on the methods and theories which can be applied to create improvement consistently. This concept, Walley proposes, can be used within the police to contribute towards resilience by developing problem-solving and solution implementation capabilities. This would be achieved through the implementation of Plan-Do-Study-Act cycles which would offer practitioners a structured approach to understanding problems and locating solutions. What resonated with me about this topic is how it pushes an organisation to its extremes. How I understand this is that improvement science explores how to reduce the gap between what is actual and what is achievable. Additionally, the constant focus on exploring ‘what works’ was of interest to me as it coincides with the cliché “there’s always room for improvement”.
As the conference drew to a close, I reflected on it in its entirety. The keynotes, presentations and research projects not only illustrated the resiliency demonstrated by the police from both an academic and practical perspective but also the underlying issues the pandemic brought to the surface. The presentation of both academic and practical perspectives was a selling point for me in attending the conference as it made it very applied in nature. Moreover, the information conveyed at the conference contributed to enhancing my understanding of resilience and how it is relative to the fields of safety and security. Reflecting on the conference I would say that I understand resilience as something which can be defined as both a process and an outcome. In defining it as a process, the capabilities of resilience are dictated by the degree to which it is endorsed by the police. It is tied to the police’s mission and sense of purpose in addition to their sphere of control. The former is imperative as without them the resilience of frontline officers who rely on that sense of mission and purpose would be eroded. Similarly, there will be many things outside of an officer’s control and it is important to emphasise that the focus should be on that which they can control otherwise energy will be expended and the capacity of the police drained. Thus, in maintaining a sense of mission, purpose and establishing spheres of control, the police can foster agency-wide resilience. When interpreted as an outcome, the police force can be seen to have been resilient as it evidences good outcomes in the face of adversity. Keeping in line with this interpretation, the police ‘bouncing back’ to their former level of functioning in the face of the Covid-19 demonstrates resilience. Regardless of how resilience is interpreted, it is clear to me that during the Covid-19 pandemic it was demonstrated as both a process and an outcome that ensured the police force bent but did not break.
The University of Northampton is hosting a week of talks in conjunction with Northampton Town of Sanctuary.
This year’s refugee week begins today, 14th June 2021 with the theme ‘we cannot walk alone’. The aim is to encourage all of us to reach out and help someone new. This week is close to my heart as border criminology is one of my key research interests. I am strongly committed to impactful research, activism and contributing my time and resources to helping refugees and making those fleeing persecution feel welcome in the UK’s hostile environment. As the resident border criminologist, I want to introduce Refugee Week activities at the University of Northampton but also to suggest how we can help ensure nobody walks alone.
The University of Northampton is hosting a week of talks in conjunction with Northampton Town of Sanctuary. Beginning on Monday at 2pm we welcome Gulwali Passarlay who fled Afghanistan at the age of 12, travelling alone through 8 countries to the UK where he was eventually granted asylum. Having spent the last few years interviewing, supporting and advocating for refugees I have heard many stories of survival. No two have been the same but each shares such painful paths that I cannot imagine. Each time I hear a refugee speak about the situations they fled I feel humbled, and grateful that despite its array of flaws, the UK is safe. In our Outsiders module, students were recently asked to challenge assumptions of minority groups. Hearing the stories of refugees from the mouths of refugees is enough to shatter any assumptions, rhetoric and media narratives about those fleeing persecution so for those who have undertaken or will sit the module next year this is a must!
On Tuesday 15th June at 2pm there will be an introduction and update to the City of Sanctuary movement. Being a City (or Town) of Sanctuary means committing to becoming a place which welcomes those seeking safety. The movement extends to universities, many of which offer Sanctuary Scholarships to asylum seekers and refugees. The Northampton Town of Sanctuary movement wants the University of Northampton to become a University of Sanctuary. Dependents of asylum applicants who arrive in the UK as children, go to school and college here, make friends, speak English, and have GCSEs and A-levels, are then unable to continue in their education as they would be liable to pay international student fees. Asylum seekers currently receive £39.63 per week from the government and are prohibited from seeking employment. They are not entitled to student finance. They are at the end of the road, forced to sit quietly and wait for the letter to come through their door with a decision.
In my own research, many of the asylum seekers I interviewed had been in the asylum process for years. For those who arrived as children and attended school here, once they left college and all their friends were going to university, they were left behind with nothing to do. This had enormous impact on their mental health and their sense of identity. They hid their asylum-seeking identity from their friends in fear of judgement, creating false narratives about who they were. This was often due to past experience of xenophobic abuse after disclosing their immigration status at school. Upon leaving school they would further advance these false narratives, making up stories about why they were not working or going to university. Just one of the people I interviewed managed to secure a Sanctuary Scholarship, despite many of them submitting applications. Having seen the impacts of exclusion from higher education, I want to see every university being a University of Sanctuary, but let’s start with the University of Northampton.
The third talk of the week is delivered by Emma Harrison from IMIX, an organisation which delivers valuable work in changing the conversation around migration and refugees. We’ve all seen the headlines and media reports of ‘illegal immigrants’ (the term ‘illegal immigrant’ infuriates me but that’s another future blog). We’ve heard Priti Patel’s plans to overhaul the ‘broken’ immigration system. The plans include further criminalisation of people seeking safety, avoiding death, rape, persecution, war; and extreme sentencing rules for those who help them reach a place of safety. The media and political rhetoric are relentless and a change in the conversation is desperately needed. I often feel hopeless about my work, that the work of myself and other border criminologists falls on deaf ears. I was at a conference a few weeks ago where the keynote was discussing the abolition of immigration detention. Immigration detention is pointless and harmful and research outputs have been good at pointing out the harms but perhaps we need to tell them what they want to hear: immigration detention is a pointless waste of money. I am looking forward to listening and hope I can pick up some tips to alter the way I communicate findings to different audiences. This talk is on Wednesday 16th June at 2pm.
The final talk of the week is delivered by a representative from the British Red Cross on Friday 18th June at 11am. The British Red Cross do a range of invaluable work from practical support such as supplying clothing and food, to finding missing family members of people seeking sanctuary. The talk will be focussed on the work the organisation does in Northamptonshire and Leicestershire during the pandemic. One of the first things I intend to do when I move to Northampton is to familiarise myself with the local service provision for refugees and asylum seekers and get involved so for me this will be a good place to start.
I encourage all our students to attend at least one of these events. They are all virtual so you could even listen while you sunbathe in the park. To attend, please email Nick who will forward a link. For our students who are interested in supporting refugees, we have a Student Action for Refugees branch at the university who coordinate student efforts to help refugees. There are many other ways we can all contribute to making sure people do not ‘walk alone’. We can read books such as Behrouz Boochani’s No Friend but the Mountains or The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla, or watch one of the films free on the British Film Institute’s Refugee Week event. We can have conversations with others and try to think about what refugees might be going through. Next time you see a news report about a conflict talk about what you would do in that situation, what belongings you would take, which of your family would you leave behind? Having conversations such as these helps to build empathy and compassion. We can go further to challenge racist and xenophobic assumptions. I often ask, ‘what is your fear?’ to which I can invariably rationally explain why whatever they disclose will not materialise. Do one, all or some of these things. But I implore you to do SOMETHING to contribute not only to Refugee Week but to making the UK a more welcoming place.