When Police Racism is Denied, Does it Go Away?

The Macpherson Report remains a touchstone in and a flashpoint for debates on institutional racism within the London Metropolitan Police. Twenty years after its publication, how well does the capital’s police force fare today in the face of accusations and denials of racism? This article casts a critical look at the evidence to expose how institutional racism within the “Met” remains an uncomfortable reality that cannot be denied without denying the facts, ignoring the truth, or remaining willfully blind to it.

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Dr. Lambros Fatsis is currently Lecturer in Sociology and Criminology at the University of Southampton and the winner of the British Society of Criminology’s ‘Blogger of the Year Award’. In September 2019, he will join the University of Brighton as a Lecturer in Criminology.

 

Amid a plethora of Home Affairs Committees, events, debates, and impassioned commentaries that interrogate the legacy of the Macpherson report and muse on the current state of the London Metropolitan Police, as far as institutional racism is concerned, recent statements by the Met Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, do much to spark further interest in and controversies around the issue. During a Home Affairs Committee session on the Met’s progress in implementing the recommendations of the Macpherson Report, including steps taken to address that report’s findings on institutional racism in the police, Cressida Dick reportedly said that the Metropolitan Police is no longer ‘institutionally racist’ and stressed that the label itself is ‘toxic’ and ‘unhelpful’. Insisting that the force has been ‘utterly transformed’ since Macpherson’s time, the Met Police chief added that: ‘The label now does more harm than good, it is something that is immediately interpreted by anyone who hears it as not institutional but racist – full of racists full stop, which we are not. It is a label that puts people off from engaging with the police. It stops people wanting to give us intelligence, evidence, come and join us, work with us’.

The Met Police Commissioner, therefore, seems confident that: (a) institutional racism in today’s Met is a thing of the past, (b) that it harms the reputation of the force, and that (c) when the term is used we hear the word “racist” louder than the word “institutional”; thereby thinking that the police is populated by racists. She then reassuringly claims that not only is the Met not ‘full of racists’ but that this misperception damages the relationship between the public and the police and undermines citizens’ confidence and trust in the force, while also discouraging potential recruits to join. As a result, institutional racism is suddenly pronounced dead, the definition and meaning of the term becomes misunderstood, and we are left to consider the reputational damage of institutional racism on the Met, instead of worrying about its impact on those who suffer from its consequences. On all three counts, this is a deeply unsettling statement which denies the facts, distorts what words mean, and prioritises the public image of a civil force of the state over its accountability to the public that it ostensibly serves and protects.

Starting with the premature obituary of institutional racism within the Met, it should be read against the latest evidence which clearly points to its existence today. Relevant research findings unambiguously demonstrate racial disparities and disproportionality in the use of stop-and-search, the Gangs Matrix, or the policing tactics used to tackle knife crime and clamp down Black music genres like grime and drill. Last year alone, an influential report for Stopwatch and Release by LSE academic Michael Shiner and his colleagues did much to demonstrate the discriminatory effects of stop and search, echoing earlier evidence from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, a Criminal Justice Alliance briefing, and other oft-quoted academic research (here, here, and here). The Met’s gang database (the Gangs Matrix) fares just as badly with two damming reports by Amnesty International and Stopwatch exposing its racist logic, as did the Information Commissioner’s Office which noted ‘the potential to cause damage and distress to the disproportionate number of young, black men on the Matrix’. Buttressing claims of the effectiveness of stop-and-search as a vital tool for fighting knife crime, a report by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies condemned the overall approach as ineffective, unjust and damaging to the people that it (cl)aims to protect, as did the Youth Violence Commission which advocates for a public health alternative. As for the policing of UK grime and drill music, my own research demonstrates how the discriminatory policing of both genres serves as a unique case study of institutional racism within the Met today.

Were this not enough, on her visit to the UK last year the UN Special Rapporteur on racism, appeared ‘shocked by the criminalisation of young people from ethnic minorities, especially young black men. They are over-represented in police stop and searches, more likely to face prosecution under the country’s joint enterprise provisions, and are over-represented in the prison system’. None of this is secret knowledge and even a cursory glance at the government’s Race Disparity Unit ‘ethnicity facts and figures’ on stop-and-search and arrests would suffice to convince anyone of the discriminatory treatment of Black people by the police and other UK criminal justice system institutions.

Factual evidence aside, the Met Police Commissioner’s comments are also striking for the way they misrepresent what institutional racism actually means. In Macpherson’s famous formulation, institutional racism ‘consists of the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness, and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people’. The institutional origins of racist behaviour and discriminatory outcomes are not separated in Macpherson’s definition, as they are in Cressida Dick’s interpretation of the term. Yet, she argues that people somehow mentally uncouple the two when the term is used, while also claiming that the term implies that the Met is ‘full of racists’ instead of pointing to a collective failure of an organisation whose processes and attitudes are to blame. The difference between Macpherson and Cressida Dick is that the former points to racism as a feature of the institutional structure and collective mentality of the Met, whereas the latter misunderstands racism as individual prejudice alone. In so doing, a structural characteristic of an entire organisation is denied, and attributed instead to a few individuals who independently act out their own prejudicial attitudes as individuals. Individual officers therefore appear unaffected by their socialisation into an institutionally racist mindset, nor do they act as a team in line with that institution’s logic and unwritten rules. Since racism, according to the Met Commissioner, is an individual trait it has nothing to do with the institutional make-up of the organisation, and since it does not characterise the entire force it cannot exist. The term institutional racism, however, refers to racist attitudes that are built into organisations by design, with the assumption being that individuals take on the prejudices of an organisation and do not act independently of it, especially when they work in groups.

What makes all the above so difficult to stomach is not a logical fallacy, which mistakes something structural and systemic for something individual or (co)incidental, but a dangerous argument which shows little regard for the casualties of such structural arrangements. To perceive institutional, structural, systemic racism merely as a ‘toxic label’ is to deny how toxic the reality of it is for the people and communities that are disproportionately affected by it. Worse still, it reveals a denialist logic which refuses to admit the existence of institutional racism, thereby discounting the relevant evidence. Such a stubborn stance contradicts the Met’s self-understanding as a professional police force which acts on the basis of evidence in order to oversee public safety. On the contrary, such statements give the impression that the Met chooses to defend itself instead of protecting the public to whom it is accountable, and that it chooses to tackle crime by strangling the facts that should guide its mission, its ethos, and its conduct.

Pretending that institutional racism is a thing of the past, is to fail to see how and why it is present today. Yet, the Met chief seems either unable to see all this or willfully blind to it all. If it is the former, she could be dismissed as inadequate. If it is the latter, she might be suspected of being dangerous. Either way, she seems disconcertingly vulnerable to the siren call of hawkish policing and deaf to the evidence that renders it illegitimate. Her pledge to ‘relentlessly’ pursue gangs through increased stop and search doesn’t simply clash with evidence that this police power is ineffective, discriminatory and unjust, but also jars with the lack of concrete evidence to link knife crime and gang membership. Such a stance does chime well, however, with the government’s recent promise to increase stop and search powers and relax rules of conduct to make criminals ‘literally feel terror’. Similarly, the Met chief’s refusal to acknowledge institutional racism as a reality within the force that she leads, eerily echoes statements by the new head of No. 10’s Policy Unit, who famously dismissed institutional racism as a ‘myth’ and decried the establishment of the Race Disparity Audit as serving a ‘phoney race war’ that is ‘dangerous and divisive’.

Twenty years after Macpherson diagnosed the Met with institutional racism steadfast refusals to see it, point to a reluctance to see what is evident through facts. We should, therefore, be reminded that when ‘racism is how the world is seen’, as Sara Ahmed brilliantly put it, ‘it remains possible for racism not to be seen’.

This article gives the views of the author, not the position of the institution he works for.

 

Contact

Lambros Fatsis, University of Southampton

Twitter: @lfatsis

Copyright free image courtesy of Pexels

 

 

 

Academic Integrity and making a difference

The Police Education Framework and academic delivery

EmmaWilliams

 

Emma Williams is the Director of the Centre for Police Research at CCCU. Her interests are police professionalism, rape investigation, gender and policing and police legitimacy. Previously Emma worked as a principle researcher in the Metropolitan Police Service.

 

 

The Police Education Qualification Framework (PEQF) has fundamentally changed the approach to police recruitment and the conversation about how new officers embark on a ‘professional’ career. Three entry routes dictate that ALL joiners must now have a degree (a College of Policing approved degree no less); or they will undertake a conversion programme through the higher education diploma in policing (DHEP); or the police constable degree apprenticeship (PCDA) which ultimately gives them a degree at the end of three-year probationary period.

I use the term conversation above in the context of the recruitment issues. However, there have been an abundance of conversations about this huge change to policing which have been difficult, controversial, challenging and personal. There have been disputes between police and academics, academics and academics, police and police and policy makers and all of us. Whatever the longer term outcome of this reform, there continues to be a binary conversation about what should and should not be considered as credible and useful knowledge in the practical policing world.

In academia what counts as ‘credible’ knowledge and research in the police service has been debated extensively (Chan, 2003; Charman, 2017; Fleming and Wingrove, 2017; Williams and Cockcroft, 2019). Indeed, the drive to professionalise the police through academic qualifications is certainly not new. Some universities have been delivering police education for many years both within the UK and internationally. However, this is the first time that an organisation overseeing a wider professionalisation agenda in policing has provided a platform to formalise this, standardise it and roll it out nationally for all officers.

There are so many issues that feature within the debates about this decision. They range from the curriculum content being too prescriptive and not academically independent, academic work not being practically relevant, too many cops being involved in programmes and therefore the PEQF being a recreation of police training, de-professionalising serving cops through this process, not encouraging diversity and limiting accessibility to the service: these are just a few of them. This article covers some of my own concerns about a number of these issues.

Essentially the aim of both education and research, in a policing context, is about enhancing reflective practice and informing decision making. It is not about replacing the learnt, tacit knowledge held by officers, it is about incorporating something different to better understand wider context and the complex environment within which they operate. Unfortunately, many have conflated the PEQF with the evidence based policing mantra and the notion of introducing a pure scientific and prescriptive approach to encourage compliance in police officers. The top down curriculum requirements that universities have to sign up to in order to gain COP approval doesn’t help this perception and therefore universities involved in this new era of police education need to ensure that there is integrity in the delivery of the programmes and reflection of where academic theory meets police practice.

Central to all our research and teaching at Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU) is the practitioner. We use their experiences to enhance and develop what needs to be a flexible curriculum that meets the fast changing nature of the policing world. Yes, part of the curriculum will be focused on imparting knowledge of ‘what works’, originally seen in the application of new public management to policing in the 1980s. However, universities have a responsibility to additionally impart to police students the invaluable work of police sociologists such as Punch, Holdaway, Heidensohn, Muir and Bittner whose insights remain imperative to the constitution of police knowledge and understanding. The topics of their work remain prominent in policing today: Discretion, mental health, community policing, race and gender. Indeed, as Jock Young (2004) argued, the role of criminological research as an administrative method to consider ‘what works’ in crime prevention and reduction reinvented and narrowed the discourse of criminology. We have an obligation to make sure the same thing does not happen in teaching and researching policing studies.

Myself, Jennifer Norman and Mike Rowe (2019) recently wrote an article addressing these issues and one concern we raised was that the PEQF has been perceived by many as a method of de-professionalising the personal identity of police officers by teaching a curriculum that is about compliance, risk aversion and prohibiting innovation. There are police officers who firmly believe that the PEQF is trying to drive a future of cloned police officers who will all leave university with exactly the same blueprint of police knowledge ready to deliver a certain ‘type’ of policing when they enter the working sphere. It is vital that higher education institutions offering the PCDA, DHEP and preservice degree maintain some independence in the design of their courses. It is the WAY they are delivered that is key. It is our role as academics to give officers the tools to think critically, problem solve and be reflective – it is not to give them information about what they should do and when, or, as some commentators believe, turn them into managers by Mcdonaldising police knowledge (Heslop, 2011).

As Brown et al (2018) argue policing is a social institution that deals with both developing legitimacy and public trust and with processes such as deployment, operational practice and workforce planning. The latter and its association with accountability, targets and rational process is just one part of what officers do. Innes (2010) described police research as either being focused on the ‘motors’ that drive change and reform or on the ‘mirrors’ which deepen contextual understanding of ‘real’ police work through reflection. Those who perceive the PEQF as offering only a tightly defined curriculum with the research components being focused on efficiency and understanding ‘what works’ argue that the importance of richer ‘mirror’ research is diluted down. Arguably, it is this contextual knowledge that will aid officer reflections when they make decisions about their behaviour and actions: this is what is ethical and moral here for police legitimacy.

I am not suggesting that these concerns will play out in the delivery of all programmes nor am I suggesting that it is simply the content of the programmes that need debating in this conversation. Indeed, our own research at CCCU with our police students found many organisational factors that inhibit officers even being able to apply their new knowledge in practice (Williams et al, 2019). However, the fact that these structural issues are reported to relate to factors such as hierarchy, risk aversion, performance measures and prescriptive tool kits does leave me asking: Is the critique of the curriculum actually right and does it actually reinforce or justify current police processes? Our respondents saw these organisational factors as obstructing discretion and limiting the use of the reflective methods we encourage in our classrooms. If we as academics delivering these programmes want to change this, we need to be creative in the way we deliver the content, and diverse in the approach we take to covering notions of ‘good’ police research. Indeed, we need to not recreate the status quo but influence officers’ ability to challenge it, be different and furthermore, work with organisations to develop environments where they staff feel safe to do so.

Finally, and I guess this is the most controversial part for us all, is my hope that universities don’t become driven by the commoditisation of police knowledge. We need to ensure universities do not deliver prescriptive courses which do not make translatable the important theoretical criminological and sociological perspectives that are so critical to understanding police business today. This also relates to how the PEQF may impact on current officers’ sense of professionalism and the value placed on their own experience. Reinforcing the application of top down processes within the police organisation through top down learning and tightly defined notions of knowledge may constrain the use of new ideas and personal expertise. We must not deliver ‘off the shelf’ teaching which restricts understanding and the application of the type of situated knowledge that is so pertinent in the police environment. We do need to capitalise on the ‘diffused and seminal intelligence of the rank and file’ (Sklansky, 2008:11), allow for their reflections and the wider use of various forms of academic knowledge.

I very strongly support the drive to encourage further collaborations between the worlds of academia and policing but I hope we can remain objective and independent. That is our role. Universities are about learning, thinking differently and testing new ideas. They are not about delivering teaching methods that promote a equals b – in fact we should be problematising those notions. If we really want to recognise and support the role of the professional here we need impart rich knowledge that allows them to apply their own professional knowledge to a wide range of situations alongside the reflection of academic learning.

The PEQF has a real opportunity to instil new knowledge in the police organisation. Qualifications are not in place to deliver an army of ‘narrow minded experts or scientific freaks’ (Jaschke and Neidhart, 2007: 306). If the content is not delivered ethically and in diverse ways, it might be that the PEQF becomes viewed as yet another prescriptive tool to govern officers’ behaviour and confirm the status quo.

 

Brown, J., Belur, J., Tompson, L., McDowall, A., Hunter, G., and May, T. (2018). Extending the remit of evidence-based policing. International Journal of Police Science & Management Volume 20 (1), 38-51.

Chan, J. (2003) Fair Cop: Learning the Art of Policing. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Charman, S. (2017) Police Socialisation Identity and Culture: Becoming Blue London: Palrgrave

Fleming, J. and Wingrove, J (2017) ‘We Would If We Could … but Not Sure If We Can’: Implementing Evidence-Based Practice: The Evidence-Based Practice Agenda in the UK.  Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice, Vol 11 (2): 202–213.  https://doi.org/10.1093/police/pax006

Heslop, R., (2011). The British police service: professionalization or ‘McDonaldization’? International Journal of Police Science & Management, 13 (4), 312–321.

Innes, M. (2010) A ‘Mirror’ and a ‘Motor’: Researching and Reforming Policing in an Age of Austerity, Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice, Vol 4 (2): 127–134, https://doi.org/10.1093/police/pap058

Jaschke, H.G. & Neidharte, K. (2009). A Modern Police Science as an Integrated Academic Discipline: A Contribution to the Debate on its Fundamentals. Policing & Society, 17 (4), 303-320.

 

Contact

Dr Emma Williams, Canterbury Christ Church University

Email: emma.williams@canterbury,ac,uk

Twitter: @emwilliamscccu

Website: https://cccupolicingandcj.wordpress.com

 

Images: courtesy of the author and Unsplash

A closing space for civil society?

Francesca Kilpatrick reports from a roundtable discussion on the criminalisation of dissent held at the University of Brighton

Francesca Kilpatrick

Francesca Kilpatrick reports from a roundtable discussion on the criminalisation of dissent held at the University of Brighton.

 

 

 

On 1 March 2019, the Centre for Spatial, Environmental, and Cultural Politics (SECP) at the University of Brighton, financially supported by the British Society of Criminology, hosted a seminar and roundtable discussion entitled Criminalising Dissent: A Closing Space for Civil Society. The event was organised by BSC members Roxana Cavalcanti and Raphael Schlembach, as well as Deanna Dadusc and myself.

The conference gathered lawyers specialising in protest law, activists and academics to consider the growing trend of the criminalisation of protest and activism, and the relationship between protest and criminal justice. This trend has been researched extensively in North America and Europe, but the research capacity in the UK is more limited. This area is particularly deserving of renewed attention since the past decade saw the UN Special Rapporteur for the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association identify a ‘closing space for civil society’ in the UK, with specific concerns raised about counter-extremism strategies, surveillance of political activists, policing of protests and the Trade Union Act.

Event attendees heard about the ongoing undercover policing inquiry, the police role in defining acceptable dissent in the anti-fracking protests, and the legislation battles surrounding the Stansted 15 trial.

Lydia Dagostino, Director of Kellys Solicitors in Brighton and an experienced civil liberties lawyer, led the first discussion. Her talk on the undercover policing inquiry set out the current status of the almost 10-year investigation into police spying activities on over 1,000 groups, some of which are still unknown, including grieving families for justice, trade unions and activist collectives. She detailed the public dissatisfaction with the legal proceedings, and the resistance of the police to public scrutiny. This transitioned into a discussion on the constructed narratives of the inquiry; ‘good’ core participants (grieving families) versus ‘bad’ core participants (direct action protestors), and the police as victims of the inquiry suffering more than those spied upon.

Valerie Aston (University of East Anglia) and Will Jackson (Liverpool John Moores University) led a spirited second discussion on police responses to anti-fracking protests. Their research, some of it in collaboration with the Network for Police Monitoring, to track anti-fracking policing revealed that academic work suggesting an increase in human-rights based policing behaviour does not universally reflect protestors’ experiences. They discussed how anti-fracking protest is constructed as violent and criminal, with large arrest numbers being cited as proof of police necessity, when closer examination reveals most arrests were for non-violent behaviour. They also outlined various police methods of defining and punishing ‘unacceptable’ protest, including involving counterterrorist forces, as well as restraining orders on acquittal even for not-guilty verdicts.

Following and building upon discussion of these concerning developments, Graeme Hayes (Aston University) led a third session on the Stansted 15 trial and the new ways legislation is being used against activists. He explained how the Aviation and Maritime Security Act (AMSA) 1990 introduced after the Lockerbie bombing was used to construct airports as sites of democratic exception, as being airside without authorisation was argued to be inherently risky and endangering life by taking up police resources. He also discussed attempted use of a ‘necessity defence’ by the Stansted 15 as a depoliticised defence, and raised the question of how to critique wider practices and structures.

This provoked a wider discussion on the implications of certain legal defences, for example the ‘frack-free three’ successful use of a ‘good character defence’. Issues over Extinction Rebellion’s use of the ‘necessity’ guilty plea were also raised in relation to the youth climate strikes, as the child legal system is designed to be escaped via a not-guilty plea.

The afternoon sessions began with a workshop, with small groups of 2-4 identifying emergent themes and questions, which were then collated into displays that informed a wider group discussion. Emergent themes included:

  • Legitimacy in protest and policing
  • Constructing the activist as ‘good’ or ‘bad’
  • Surveillance/monitoring and data collection on protestors
  • The legal process as a disruption or punishment
  • Construction of protest as inherently violent
  • Use of counterterrorist forces
  • New use/abuse/misuse of existing laws and defences
  • Case law designed for crime being used for activism

These themes provoked discussion surrounding the political roles of the police and the diffusion and hybridisation of police functions throughout the state; disabled activists referred to the DWP, youth activists and mothers with children referred to social services, the NHS as a border force in data collection and so on. Finally, it was concluded that police-academic partnerships make it difficult to write and teach critically about police behaviour. These partnerships are common in the field of policing studies and provide increased data access, but this collaboration can be restrictive as any critique by the researcher risks damaging the relationship and preventing further study.

The last session of the conference addressed outcomes and potential for further collaboration between attendees.

Finally, the event’s collection of abstracts and short articles was highlighted as particularly useful.

All of the discussions throughout the day highlighted the need for combined expertise in addressing this important trend in contemporary criminal justice and protest behaviour. We hope all attendees found the promise of further collaboration to answer these questions as exciting as we did.

 

Also published on the SECP blog.

Contact

Francesca Kilpatrick is a PhD student at Brighton University, looking at the securitisation trend in UK climate change policy and how this impacts climate activism and protests.

Email: F.Kilpatrick1@uni.brighton.ac.uk

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ecofrancesca

Images: courtesy of the author and Flickr

Crime at the Car Wash? Serious Organised Crime and a View from Inside the NCA

A report on a lively discussion about the nature of modern slavery

LWestmarland

Louise Westmarland, Professor of Criminology and Steve Conway, Lecturer, PuLSE at the Open University, organised a conference in November 2018 bringing together police practitioners and academics working in the field of organised crime. This was held with thanks to funding from HERC and the BSC.

HERC  BSClogo

What is the National Crime Agency (NCA) and how does it deal with organised crime?

On 2 November 2018, the BSC’s Policing Network, in collaboration with the Open University’s Harm and Evidence Research Collaborative (HERC) held a conference on Serious Organised Crime and a View from Inside the NCA at the Open University in Milton Keynes. Details of the event and the speakers are available on the HERC website.

The event gathered a mix of academics and practitioners to consider recent developments in organised crime, its impact and responses.  In recent years, there has been an increasing recognition from both researchers and CJS professionals that a range of organised crimes and social harms can occur in the most mundane of contexts.  Attendees heard about illegal deer hunting in sparsely populated rural areas; exploitation of young people by drug dealers in residential housing estates; and the use of modern slave labour at the local car wash.  The very banality of these settings can further hide and obscure these issues.

Mr Rob Jones, Director at the National Crime Agency (NCA), provided the keynote speech Serious Organised Crime: A view from inside the NCA in which he set out the challenges facing his organisation in relation to cybercrime and county lines. His paper explained the national and international challenges of organised crime. These themes were expanded on by DCI Darran Hill of Thames Valley Police in his paper on The Stronghold Campaign: Fighting Organised Crime in Partnership. Providing a local context, DCI Hill explained the importance of partnership working in combating organised crime, illustrated by the case studies of county lines drug trafficking and successful efforts to close illegal carwashes in Thames Valley.

These papers gave way to a lively discussion about the nature of modern slavery and contributors from the audience included senior officers from the local area. Is it unethical to use a hand car wash as it is possible that the workers are being exploited? If you have used a hand car wash were the workers wearing wellingtons and proper waterproof gloves? After Rob and Darran had given us the police ‘inside view’ on these issues, we enjoyed papers by Dr Anna Sergi from Essex University called From mafia to Organised Crime: A comparative analysis of policing models and then a paper by recent Open University PhD graduate, Dr Sarah Hutton Disrupting Organised Crime?

One of the surprising aspects of the morning conference was the frankness and candour of the talks. Rob Jones’ paper on the NCA was definitely an insider’s view, and the talk about Thames Valley’s efforts related to turning young people away from drug crime certainly raised eyebrows. One of the most unexpected contributions was that Darran contradicted a conventional police view – that all drug crime can be solved and that the war on drugs is being ‘won’.

It was good to obtain the current police and NCA view on organised crime and the response to it from Rob Jones and DCI Darran Hill. It became apparent that their organisations are looking to academia to answer a number of questions in respect of debriefing, evaluating operations and securing expertise to deal with organised crime i.e.

  • What difference police organised crime operations have made (what is the legacy)?
  • How organised is modern slavery and human trafficking?
  • What are the offender pathways into organised crime?
  • How to retain the expertise needed to deal with cybercrime?
  • How to re-balance proactive/reactive policing (especially in respect of policing organised crime) after the balance has been tipped firmly towards reactive policing by government cuts?

From Milton Keynes to mafia?

After a coffee break, Anna Sergi treated us all to an entertaining high-speed ride around the organisation of mafia-type organisations; followed by Sarah Hutton’s ‘insider out’ view (as a cop turned academic), detailing her work with organised criminals, whom, she argued, are actually pretty disorganised. Dr Adam Edwards offered some sage observations, including organised crime policy trends and their analytical focus. As he pointed out in his paper:

The way organised crime is addressed in the UK has undergone a major overhaul in the last few years with the creation of the National Crime Agency. The first strategic assessment provides a good snapshot of the current state of organised crime. However, it points to a lack of knowledge about organised crime and its drivers–some of which could be addressed through research and deeper analysis. If the NCA is going to have a better record than its predecessors, it must work on getting the basics right. Knowing your enemy would be a good start.  (RUSI 2014, cited in Edwards, 2016: 987, emphasis added)

These papers all ended up asking a fairly basic question for a conference on organised crime, namely:

So, what exactly is organised crime?

In fact, Dr Sarah Hutton and Dr Anna Sergi highlighted the difficulties and differences that still exist in establishing a definition of organised crime. This is the starting point for any research into the subject. A good solution was put forward by Dr Adam Edwards, Orlando Goodall and Mark Berry in their explanation of the way that organised specific crimes are being analysed using crime script analysis. Orlando and Mark followed a thought provoking talk by Adam Edwards, who gave us the benefit of his experience and unparalleled knowledge of the field. He talked about Sayer’s (2000) realist social relations approach, from threat indication…and its related problems such as privileging enforcement over prevention, to (realist) causal explanation.

Then the afternoon kicked off into a lively no holds barred discussion, with nearly everyone in the audience taking part. This numbered around 30 by now, having reduced from 50 in the morning (well, it was a Friday). All of the papers throughout the day, whilst from contrasting standpoints, had highlighted an interesting range of largely unexplored areas of organised crime. Until recently who would have thought that the local car wash was a site of organised crime? Or a nail bar?  By providing a detailed analysis of the organisation of different crime types, as diverse as the illegal taking of deer, the speakers stimulated so many questions that the session overran, we went straight to tea break and home.

Louise Westmarland and Steve Conway with thanks to Dick Severns and all the conference speakers, convenors and helpers.

Also published on the HERC blog

Contact

Email: louise.westmarland@open.ac.uk

 

Copyright free images courtsey of the authors

 

Research on police issues in Latin America

In Latin America, despite more than two decades of public and political concern about crime, government responses are far from effective and the police is still part of the problem.

LDammertLucía Dammert is Associate Professor at Universidad de Santiago de Chile, with more than 15 years of experience on crime and violence research in Latin America.  She has published books and papers in academic journals and is an International Ambassador to the British Society of Criminology.

 

Crime and violence in Latin America are problems with serious consequences. Not only are the highest homicide rates in the world located in this region, but also street crime affects most Latin Americans on a daily basis. Despite more than two decades of public and political concern about this situation, government responses are far from effective.

The police is still part of the problem. In most countries, police institutions are slowly acquiring information systems that allow them to better understand the problem they are facing. While some promising cases of hot spot patrol programs have been implemented, their results are localized. Moreover, criminological research on police is recent and focus mostly on specific issues such as the use of violence, corruption, and institutional reform initiatives.

Contrary to the broad development of research on police issues, for instance at the BSC, in Latin America police information is still opaque limiting the possibility of conducting studies. Lack of trust between researchers and governments have narrowed research possibilities and the importance of security issues in electoral processes have built a “Chinese wall” for any project that could portray challenges or difficulties of police work.

In this context, and to further contribute to the field, I have conducted two research projects related to police actions in Peru during 2018. Results are currently under review for publication. The first project analyzes the processes of policy diffusion, specifically community policing. Through a participant observation process in 20 police precincts in Lima and more than 80 interviews with members of the police and experts in the field, I was able to analyze Peruvian community policing. Although the police declare that community policing is implemented because it has been proven to be a “best practice” in most northern police institutions, there are important discrepancies in the field. In that sense the research not only broadens knowledge on policy diffusion processes but also sheds light on police adoption and adaptation of internationally approved initiatives. Diffusion brings confusion when there is little opportunity to monitor and evaluate how policing strategies are developed in the field.

The second research project focuses on the concept of street-level bureaucracy and analyzes the gap between the regulatory frameworks of the Peruvian government on gender violence and police action when women report situations of violence or abuse. The fieldwork was done in the city of Lima and shows that discretionary powers of street-level police officers redefine public policy and, far from protecting the victim, confronts it with limited budget for infrastructural investments, modernization of training capabilities and old fashioned management practices. Furthermore, police personnel generally face short term education programs that are not enhanced with regular training programs. Based on qualitative data gathered during two months of participant observation in special offices dedicated to “family issues” at police precincts, the results showed that discretionary power of police officers could erode national legal frameworks and public policy initiatives. Also, the research showed that there is limited social protection networks available to protect women (and their children) and that police response is important to avoid the revictimization of women.

The importance of the academic literature and the debates that take place in the BSC are an opportunity to advance the knowledge of multiple issues that have been explored insufficiently in Latin America. This is not only fundamental to confirm theoretical proposals that have been developed in the north, but also to propose new perspectives that will shape southern criminology.

Contact

Lucía Dammert, University of Santiago, Chile

Email: lucia.dammert@usach.cl

Twitter: @lucia.dammert

Linkedin: Lucia Dammert

 

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Criminology and Policing – meeting in the middle

It was a great experience, and I would recommend that people apply for the bursary next year if they can.

GarethStubbs

Gareth Stubbs is a PhD student at Canterbury Christ Church Police Research Centre and has an MSc in Leadership and Mgmt in Policing from Warwick Business School, and an MRes in PoIicing (also from Canterbury). He has also collected a Law degree and English Language Degree on his travels, and has now been a serving Police Officer for over 16 years at the time of writing. Gareth is passionate about using good research in Policing and believes that better partnerships between police and academia represents a good proportion of the future.

I’m writing this blog after being lucky enough to attend the British Society of Criminology (BSC) annual conference at Birmingham City University. Before the usual eye rolls about conference attendance, I shall hopefully address some of what they actually ‘do’ later, so please save your scepticism until after reading 🙂 I also need to clarify that I received a bursary (the Post-grad Bursary from the BSC itself) to attend the conference and apart from Conference food and drink, I paid for all my own and won’t be claiming any of it back – why is this important? Because for some reason, we shout ‘tax payers money‘ at officers who want to learn and develop. It’s a bit like members of the public shouting at officers who eat during their shift. Clearly it’s very positive that serving officers are trying to keep their blood sugar levels up whilst on duty, just as it’s positive that officers are trying to learn more about their job, so that they can make better decisions when actually doing it.

That aside, I’m hoping that this blog may create some debate – as they often do. Whilst the Academic Illuminati© seek to overthrow the police Resistance, I am reminded that in many, many cases, police officers have had no contact with what academia does, or how it does it, and subsequently what it may mean for practice. Policing is easy to criticise when you have no knowledge of doing it, as many police officers will be aware as they receive public complaints about how they do their jobs. It is therefore incredibly disappointing to see police officers decrying results of surveys/studies by attacking the survey questions or the method of investigation – all of which has been heavily considered by people who often have many years of experience compiling them. It’s totally fine to raise questions, of course, that’s part of what academia is all about. But as with many things, it’s not just what you do, it’s how you do it.

Bearing this in mind, let’s discuss some of what an academic conference ‘does‘ and ‘is‘.

Broadly speaking, groups of people involved in study within a particular area, come together to present ‘papers’ on what they are studying, or questions that they feel are important. This means that you can see presentations on many topics, that are often investigated in many different ways. There tends to be a main lecture theatre for what are called ‘Keynote’ speakers, and several break out rooms that then present in more niche areas. You get the program in advance, and are able to choose which break outs you attend, in addition to the main speakers that form what could be called the backbone of the conference. There are usually several speakers that speak in the area that you are interested in, so you get to tailor who you meet and learn from.

Warning: Long words ahead (sorry, not sorry :-D)

In the BSC, I got sample a really broad selection of what Criminology is/does/represents. It’s quite a strange discipline because it encompasses lots of different methods. What do I mean by this? To give an example, Psychology is dominated by statistical analysis of experimental outcomes. This means that there is a ‘way’ of conducting and learning about psychology that is broadly accepted as the norm. In criminology, this ‘way’ is disparate and some may say, fractured. There are functionalist approaches – these look at broad effects using statistical methods – think census data or similar, but equally there are symbolic interactional approaches (bear with me, please) that look at face-to-face communication and the meaning that we convey in inter-personal encounters. Similarly, there are action research projects ongoing within forces/prisons – these tend to involve practitioners and academics working together to design and conduct research, that would clash spectacularly with the experimental, randomised control trial led research championed by Prof. Larry Sherman at Cambridge. This last strata was largely absent at the BSC, but can be found going great guns at the Society of Evidence Based Policing (SEBP) conferences.

Above all of these, there is a strand of theoretical, philosophical research that looks at what we consider to be knowledge, and tracks/develops trends in thinking over time. This is the big stuff and I get lost in it. It’s nice to do the mental gymnastics around it if you are into that stuff, but from my perspective, the application to practice is remote. I appreciate this may be from a point of ignorance (mine of course), but for the bobby on the beat, or the investigator in the office, it is just too far removed to mean anything.

So what does this tell us about Criminology and how it can help us police? It actually tells us a lot. There are pockets of researchers and methods that we can take advantage of and use for every area of policing, we just have to be able to know how to use them, where to use them, and what they will give us at the end. Criminology presents us with a smorgasbord of options to choose from, we as a profession have to be careful not to limit them or shut them down.

So what does the products look like? What do the outcomes of using academia actually do?

This is a good question, and to properly understand it, we have to understand what science and the application of the scientific method actually is. Unfortunately it isn’t quite as simple as a single sentence, but I like to try and wrap it up as ‘a particular way of thinking about the world.’ This way encompasses lots of questions, tests, observations, reports and then usually re-testing to check that what you did the first time around actually works. People who don’t see this as valuable will denigrate it in the usual ways, by saying it takes too long, or that it’s biased, or that academia isn’t the ‘real world.’ Quite weird really, as all academia does is examine the ‘real world…’ using more rigorous thinking than would usually be the case?

Back to products. What does a conference actually produce? It’s quite weird for me as an officer to see researchers from different universities watch a ‘paper’ (presentation) and then say, ‘Your research is really interesting and I think we can work together‘ during the questions part, only to see them deep in conversation over coffee in the next ten minutes with contact details exchanged. You don’t see this in cop conferences really, they can get a bit ‘peacock-ey‘ where forces appear to be more in competition with each other than they do collaboration. The College has developed some Peer Review functions and started to gather a uniformed set of ‘evidence’ that seeks to combat the peacock stuff, but it’s refreshing to hear people at the conference speak about forging connections with people both inside and outside their area as a major motivator for attending. I get the impression that these groups of researchers working together to advance their understanding in their area is really rare in policing – I think forces tend to forge ahead with projects in isolation and only come together after everything has been delivered (and it’s always delivered – of course!).

Practical stuff? Well, I saw a whole bunch of presentations that would help me if I worked in Neighbourhood Policing (legitimacy research and community engagement), Response Policing (mainly body worn video and technology but also missing from homes), and Policing in general (diversity, Senior Women in Policing and others). I also attended one paper (really trying to use this word as it feels weird to me) where they discussed the legal frameworks around implementing decision making models based on algorithms in policing. These are landing in forces now, and I found the presentation fascinating. It was delivered by a Law Senior Lecturer (Dr. Jamie Grace), and discussed the real risks around bringing these models into the policing environment. I passed that straight back to senior officers in force who are discussing some of these models, and it may mean that we make far better decisions down the line. Ultimately, seeing that one presentation, may save tens of thousands of pounds of tax payer’s cash…

So, more generally, I think I was the only attending officer at the conference, although there were several that were retired or had left the service prior. I was welcomed by everyone (and this was a big conference). I felt a bit swamped by the theory stuff (and I do actually enjoy that stuff), and got lost in the odd question about particular scientific methods. I did take some tangible things away that will help with my job, and managed to spend the vast majority of it learning about research ongoing around the country in criminology that directly affects policing. It was a great experience, and I would recommend that people apply for the bursary next year if they can. To apply, you have to be a member of the BSC, and there’s an annual fee that is manageable if you are studying (yes, I pay for it myself).

Aside from the conference, the title of this blog professes to discuss how criminology and policing interacts. Although I haven’t addressed this directly, I think I have covered some of it, but will put it into more practical terms now: Applying science to policing changes the way that we think. This change is threatening. If I’ve spent my entire career gathering experience, and then someone with none of it comes along and tells me some of my fundamental beliefs are actually incorrect, how am I likely to react? We have seen it happen with ‘fake news,’ politics over the last few years, and more recently seen it analysed after the Brexit and Trump vote. The natural reaction is to double down into our established identity, and denigrate the ‘other’, no matter how much evidence is presented. This is happening now in policing, and it’s happening as the two identities of policing and academia become closer than just touching distance.

These conferences are a place of ‘between.’ What does this mean? It means that practitioners will never be truly comfortable in the academic environment, just as I suspect academics may not be comfortable at wholly practitioner based events. This merging will take many, many years, because you can’t just knock down a pillar of a profession overnight. In this case, the way that police idolise and fetishise experience as the only way of learning anything remains steadfast, and baulks at the encroachment of book learning or research. Mixed areas where experience ‘clashes’ with this different way of learning are places of friction, and anyone navigating this relationship has a challenge on their hands. Remaining ‘police’, whilst developing to think differently means treading a tightrope of identity, and falling off is a real possibility. These events are a way to practise, see both sides, and see those opportunities that allow both to be pulled together for the greater good. If you are one of these practitioners, be prepared to make sacrifices on both sides, as you lose your balance occasionally. At some point in the future, the tightrope will become a beam, and then finally a path, but the journey from here to there won’t be easy.

When we are seeking to place the academic ‘conference’ as thing into the realm of policing, we have to have a serious think about what it can ‘do.’ From this experience, making sure that people have an opportunity to network outside of their immediate police environment is very important – it drags their perceptions wider and can change decision making in their jobs on a daily basis. Gaining contacts in a specific field of research means that you can throw out questions that may be very difficult to answer in the police environment, to people who know the answer very quickly. The ability to do this can not be undervalued – it’s very important for operational policing. And finally, as a practitioner attempting to forge a path between the two – rather than skipping from one to the other – it’s important that academia acknowledges that the police aren’t just listening and conversing with research, they are doing it too. It’s an opportunity for both to learn from each other.

A final note for practitioners. If you are lucky enough to be asked to attend one of these events, or persistent enough to forge your own path into one, have a hard think about how the conference may create real difference in your work and design your program to get the best connections and learning that you can. Learning for learning’s sake is always a good thing, but it’s better when you are able to take real, tangible benefit in your day job from that learning.

Many thanks to the BSC for the opportunity to attend, and to all the awesome people who made me feel comfortable there.

Originally posted on thinkingblueline.com

Contact:

Gareth Stubbs

Email: Gareth.Stubbs@lancashire.pnn.police.uk

 

Image: courtesy of the author

Policing Black Culture One Beat at a Time

As debates on youth violence in London soar, emotions run high over a problem that is often blamed on Black music subcultures rather than on social and racial injustice, often perpetrated by the police. This article argues that Black British music genres are unfairly targeted as the prime suspects of youth violence, and discusses the role of the police in contributing to the violence it seeks to eradicate.

AWARDED THE BSC BLOG OF THE YEAR 2018

Dr. Lambros Fatsis is Lecturer in Sociology and Criminology at the University of Southampton and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. He previously taught at the University of Sussex and has received several awards and nominations for teaching excellence and academic support.

In an atmosphere of widespread alarm about the rise of youth violence in London, UK drill music has been identified as the prime suspect by the media and the police with the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick and the Met’s gang-crime chief, Commander Jim Stokley ordering a clampdown on this new Black British music genre. Despite entirely legitimate concerns with public safety, however, is it at all reasonable to suggest that UK drill causes the violence it is accused of inspiring, or are drill artists cursed by forms of violence that are only scantily acknowledged, if at all, when the issue is discussed? Unsurprisingly, this question divides opinion and stirs up strong feelings on both sides of this never-ending chicken-and-egg conundrum, which also urges for an understanding of the problem as a political rather than a (purely) criminological one. Policing our way out of it, therefore, seems utterly misplaced when policing is part of the problem rather than its solution. Such a controversial claim invites skepticism, as it should, yet a cursory glance at the Met’s response to UK drill music reveals a host of hostile, unfair, illegitimate, and discriminatory tactics that have informed the policing of Black Britons and Black British music and culture in the post-war years.  For what it’s worth my own research illustrates this fairly clearly, but this blog posting will hopefully inspire more nuanced and considered responses than the ones to which we are currently exposed.

Denounced as ‘demonic’ and ‘nihilistic’, UK drill music came into the orbit of the London Metropolitan police after a series of violent incidents were linked to the content of drill music videos that circulated online: provoking rival drill collectives by describing the harm that awaits them, and keeping a tally of stabbings in YouTube “scoreboards”. In response to such fatalities, the Met took action by removing 30 YouTube videos and used a Criminal Behaviour Order (CBO) against the drill collective 1011,  building on the government’s Serious Violence Strategy whose aim is to target those who ‘glamorise gang or drug-selling life, taunt rivals and normalise weapons carrying’. In addition to such action against “gang-related” videos, the Terrorism Act 2000 has been revisited to bring convictions against individuals that are identified in those videos, without any proof that the targeted music videos were linked to specific acts of violence. The pursuit of drill artists as terror suspects has the potential to prevent targeted individuals from ‘associating with certain people, entering designated areas, wearing hoods, or using social media and unregistered mobile phones’. Given the seriousness of the offences with which drill artists are being charged, such responses might seem justifiable, albeit controversial, but only if they are divorced from the context in which (youth) violence emerges in the first place. Put simply, the reactive responses adopted by the government and the Met could be described as attempts to end an infection by simply arresting the virus, rather than treating the environment in which the disease is being hatched in the first place.

This might sound like a hopelessly radical assertion were it not defended by mainstream official bodies such as The Youth Violence Commission whose Interim Report confidently states that ‘debates around the potential impact of drill music on youth violence are, in the main, a populist distraction from understanding and tackling the real root causes’. Despite or rather because of the gravity of the problem, however, context and perspective are not a luxury but a necessity. Drill music is not made in a vacuum but in specific places (deprived social housing estates in London) informed by conditions of life where violence is a fact of life rather than a lifestyle. Blaming UK drill music for broadcasting violence, therefore, is to blame rappers for living a life where inequality, poverty, and social exclusion are not abstractions but a daily experience. Add to this the persistence of police racism as a crucial factor in the hostility, marginalisation and criminalisation that young Black Britons grow up with, and the policing of drill music can be seen as legitimating the very practices it hopes to eliminate. Increased support for stop and search operations, and other anti-gang initiatives such as Operation Trident and the Metropolitan Police Gang Matrix may seem rhetorically effective as “crime-fighting tools” to law enforcement agencies and political parties alike, but they are only marginally successful overall, while also leading to discriminatory outcomes that were described as ‘shocking’ by the UN Special Rapporteur on racism, E. Tendayi Achiume.

This of course is nothing new in the history of policing against Black Britons, as my work demonstrates, punctuated as it has been by a host of discriminatory practices that include: the ‘sus laws’ of the 1970s, the saturation policing tactics of Operation Swamp ‘81, or the Special Patrol Groups (SPGs) in the 1970s and the 1980s; only to be succeeded by Operation Trident in the 1990s, and Operation Shield, the Metropolitan Police Gang Matrix, and Operation Domain in the early to mid-noughties. What unites such policing initiatives is the suspicion of Black British forms of culture, mostly music, as seen in the police overstaffing of Black cultural events (e.g. Notting Hill Carnival) and the harassment of Black people in meeting places such as youth clubs, music venues and other semi-public venues; gradually paving the way for the only recent withdrawal of the Promotion Event Risk Assessment Form 696 which targeted grime music as a criminal subculture, in ways that are hardly dissimilar to the banning of drill music as grime MC Lethal Bizzle rightly tweeted.

Pronouncing such practices dead, when they recur so frequently, is to piously deny facts in favour of an uninformed, uncritical and misplaced view of the police as allies rather than as perpetrators of the burning injustices that “drillers” so fiercely express in their lyrics. This is not to deny or condone the violence that UK drill music broadcasts and even celebrates, but to accept it as a reality that is forged in the crucible of social and racial injustice for which we are all responsible if we do not hold Criminal Justice System professionals to account for the harm they inflict in our name. Discussing UK drill as criminogenic while excusing the harm that discriminatory policing inflicts on our fellow citizens amounts to little more than a cop out. As does the tendency to treat the issue as a public health emergency alone, rather than a racial and social justice priority. The challenge for (critical) criminologists, therefore, is clear leaving us no choice but to tackle violent crime boldly, making it difficult for our colleagues, our elected representatives or our law enforcement officials to dodge a bullet as far as London’s knife crime is concerned.

This article gives the views of the author, not the position of the institution he works for.

 

Contact

Lambros Fatsis, University of Southampton

Twitter: @lfatsis

 

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