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Part of the #newworld series: a contribution to a new world of policing (Summary of the Loader Paper for the Police Foundation)


This summary contributes to the repository of knowledge that we think has the potential to create a #newworld after we leave this period of ‘lockdown’.  See What if a #newworld could be created as a result of Covid-19? for more information.

Author: Ian Loader, Oxford.  This is Insight Paper 2 for The Police Foundation and forms part of the Strategic Review of Policing in England and wales.  For full paper click here

Title: Revisiting the Police Mission

Summary:  I read this paper a few days ago and it stayed with me.  I had been mulling over some philosophical and practical ideas and wondering why we just go round and round and never seem to go forward, especially when we are in ‘crisis’ and all we hear is that really annoying phrase of ‘we will learn the lessons from this’, which of course we never do!   I think this paper brings much of that frustration within policing to life and will no doubt be quoted in many essays on policing to come.

Here are the key points that I took from it which I think will enable us to create a #newworld where policing is just one part of a newly negotiated social contract between those who are served and those who serve.

  • He articulately summarises that ‘policing is a multifaceted activity not easily reduced to a simple formula’. I think this is true of our NHS and of our Local Government and am increasingly frustrated by those out there who seem to think it is simple, promoting their own perspective on policing (or other public services) as the only one
  • He gets the blah di blah of Peelian principles out on the table early arguing “They operate mainly as a self-legitimation or branding device, not as a critical yardstick for public legitimacy”
  • He notes that the Police are only one provider of policing in a world of much change socially, technologically, politically and economically all of which will place demand on the Police: “The most salient of these presently include climate change, global migration, the resurgence of nativist populism, identity politics, generational and regional inequalities, and the uncertain economic and social ramifications of Brexit” to which there is no policing solution
  • He argues there are four ways of approaching policing:
    1. Historical: The police function is generally focused on the economically or politically marginalised and when society is divided “…along axes class and race, the police order management function inescapably brings them into contact and tension with society’s excluded groups”, so “The more structural inequality and exclusion a society produces, the harder and more conflictual the police task becomes” and that makes it difficult to police by consent.
    2. Empirical: This approach looks at patterns of demand – who calls for service and how the police are able to respond to that demand. This approach doesn’t help much with the purpose of policing but can be appealing to those having to manage the police function, but “it neglects what we know about differential reporting….We know that some victims – for example, young people – may not call the police, or report their victimisation, because they don’t trust the police or believe they can or will do nothing about it, or because doing so risks amplifying the impact of the event on their lives” .  He goes on to say this approach has “…an inherent status quo bias to this way of thinking about the police mission of which we are wise to be wary”
    3. Normative: “What one thinks about crucial policing questions varies according to the place one occupies on the ideological map”. “…it is better to face up to this fact, rather than behind the fiction that policing is non-political”. He goes on to state that Evidence Based Policing and Procedural Justice are two ways of thinking about policing that claim to be ‘true’ and ‘fair’ but “they are a normative framing of the police purpose”.  He warns as that a purely normative approach “…can become ungrounded and fanciful’.
    4. Interpretive: This approach doesn’t prescribe – “The aim is to clarify why the debate matters and what matters in that debate” and puts three stances on policing to work in this section:
      • Police as Crime Fighters: Is their mission to fight crime as many argue? He says this has persisted to still be seen as a position when it has ‘fatal weaknesses’ because of two possible responses: 1. They do detect crime, investigate crime, and they do bring people to justice; 2. “it is an institution onto and through which people project various hopes and aspirations, fears and fantasies, about the social world” – a ‘social imaginary”.  He asks that we keep calling the police as crime fighters out as a myth.
      • Order Management: or ‘situational conflict resolution” grounded in Bittner’s claim that police deal with “something-that-ought-not-to-be-happening-and-about-which-someone-had-better-do-something-now” which could therefore cover any social issue. This he argues is the parent approach to the variety of approaches we see now re community policing, public health, problem orientated policing, ACEs, reassurance etc. but acknowledges these all have differences between them.  What he is saying is whilst this may be attractive and be regarded as a better form of policing than the crime fighter, it usually has implicitly within it a claim for more resources and a more expensive version of policing.  These approaches talk of prevention and protection, but he argues that protection usually relates to a form of ‘security’ which is both shallow and wide.  “The worry is that the police frame starts to intrude upon and re-shape areas of public life and policy(housing, education, public health) where it has no legitimate business”.  “These related efforts to take police activity upstream are an attempt to deny, paint over, or escape what one might call the tragic quality of policing”.  Police are ‘reactive symptom handlers’ and so we could perhaps focus on how they do this well.
      • Tackling Hidden and High Harm: grooming, county lines, sexual exploitation etc as priorities for policing. “This shift to high-harm has given rise to new police units, specialisms and practices” . He goes on to describe this type of policing and says we need to ask: “How does one secure public support for forms of policing that prioritise harm suffered by often marginal individuals and group over meeting demands for local order expressed by ‘law abiding’ majorities”?  When policing is invisible and targeted in this way we will need to secure some support for the reconfiguration of services, and that will need to be “…folded into inclusive arrangements for democratically negotiating policing priorities” and acknowledge the need for it to be subjected to “robust oversight and democratic steering”.

So with all that in mind, he goes on to position the approach to policing firmly within our democracy, with close attention to the relationship between state and individual and ensuring equal voice is heard when providing ‘security’ – it must not be shallow and wide, it must be deep’ and ‘narrow’: security and democracy are firmly connected stating the pay off is: “…the importance of ongoing efforts to facilitate, organise and sustain inclusive public deliberation and contestation over policing – and thereby mediate democratically the tension between the competing conceptions of the police mission” .  “Police and Crime Commissioners today are required to make public engagement happen” This deliberative function should be seen as essential and “not as a distraction from core tasks “

He ends with this:

“Democratic mediation of demands for order and protection is a practice we should be looking not to scale down or maginalise, but to deepen and extend.  This is what follows from interpreting the police-security-belonging relation in this way.  It reminds us that engaging people in an ongoing and serious conversation about their security is already to have made a contribution to that security”