(from the Latin for “power of the county”)
Back to history lessons, we learn that the police system was community-based and implied collective responsibility. The story of policing, where, when, and how the police system is formed is way too big to summarize or unfold. I have done a little bit of research this month. Police cultures are a subject of criticism, but most of us (me, myself) might be too quick to judge. Is my criticism justified? I don’t know what constitutes police culture. Is what we read in novels and see on tv shows still a proper reflection of the same attitudes, behaviours and values that we witness in the police service today? Is this view burned into our collective memory so that it supersedes all (structural, political, social, technological and economic) changes to policing? Let me name some examples; the American TV series Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Law & Order, Criminal Minds, Psych, iZombie, Castle, 21 Jump Street to UK’s Broadchurch, Midsomer Murders, Lewis, Vera, Marcella, (the Dutch Amsterdam-based TV series) Baantjer and (Scandinavian) The Bridge and Forbrydelsen (better known as The Killing) just to name a few… other well-known stories are written by John Grisham, Karin Slaughter, Harlan Coben and those about Sherlock Holmes, and, not to forget the novels of Agatha Christie. She is, to some counts, the best-selling novelist of all time. …I wonder how ‘authentic’ these stories are.
These fictional stories, based on our perception of the policing society, are in abundance. I will only point out some non-fictional (historical) events but leave many more out. In the past, many transitional periods occurred, and the break between ‘old’ and ‘new’ has always been incomplete. “Crime, as an abstract concept, was rarely discussed and the criminal, though a problem, was seen as a naturally sinful figure but not one that posed a major threat to the stability of society,” wrote David Taylor, an English historian, in 1998. Crime and criminality are immense concepts and are submitted to religious, socioeconomic and political processes rooted in morality. It is not always clear that a criminal act is immoral, and not all immoral actions are prohibited. I acknowledge that crime is -far from absolute and moral- both a relative concept and a social and political construct, it varies with time and place. Thus, I start this brief history of medieval England.
All adult men, who had substantially more influence than other groups -women, and the poor- were bound together by mutual responsibility to keep the peace and protect their community. The system was called Frankpledge and can be traced back to the laws of King Canute II, the Great of Denmark and England (d. 1035). King Canute II declared that every man must be part of a hundred, that is a local government unit. In this system, grouped tithings were headed by a tithingman. Each tithing was grouped into a hundred, governed by a hundred-man who served as administrator and judge. Each hundred belonged to a shire. Each shire is supervised by a shire-reeve*. The role of county sheriff is established here; this name still exists in England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the United States.
After England’s conquest by the Normans, a constable was added to the policing system. The constable, an old French word, stood for a designated person holding a public office first and evolved to define a person exercising a higher form of authority (connétable). The meaning of this word and its function continued to change in England.
By the 13th century, however, only the unfree and landless men were bound to serve since a freeholder’s land was a sufficient pledge. This Frankpledge system was not imposed in every part of England and declined in the 14th century. A method called “watch-and-ward” came in place -the (night) watch- primarily guarded the city gates, and their duties later expanded to include lighting street lamps, calling time, watching for fires, and reporting other conditions. Despite the additional constables, the investigation and prosecution of crimes remained a private matter to handle the victims*. It was everyone’s duty to maintain the king’s peace, and any citizen could arrest an offender.
1361, The Justice of the Peace Act began centralizing the administration of justice in England. A magistrate is appointed on behalf of the crown to deal primarily with minor criminal matters. “Thieftakers” or “common informers” were bounty hunters that recovered stolen property and offered rewards for its return, as, at the time, constables and justices either were not paid at all or earned very little. This fee-based system was subject to abuse by *criminal networks ánd the system was corrupt, especially in the cities.
*Perhaps the most well-known story of the exploitation of this fee-based system is the story of Jonathan Wild (c. 1682–1725). He organized the London underworld and systematically arranged to have goods stolen to sell them back to the original owners. If a thief wished to remain independent of Wild’s crime ring, he/she was brought to the authorities and, sooner or later, hanged. Jonathan Wild’s reign as the “thief-taker general” lasted approximately seven-year. He, too, ended up at the end of a rope.
1682, the Edinburgh Town Guard was formed to implement and enforce a curfew, to be abandoned in 1817. Glasgow followed roughly a hundred years later with its own policing force. I read somewhere (I don’t remember where) that earlier attempts to establish professional police bodies in other cities had been earlier but most faded soon after they were implemented.
1750, brothers Henry and John Fielding served as magistrates at Bow Street Court in London. Responding to the high level of crime in London, they decided to create a paid force. The organization was known as the Bow Street Runners. There was no popular or governmental support for creating a white-collar, professional police force throughout England.
1786, English politicians instituted a standing police force in Ireland in response to severe challenges to English rule, namely The Dublin Police Act. It consisted of 40 horse police and 400 constables. The creation of the force encountered resistance because it was perceived to be patterned after the French Gendarmerie Nationale, which it was. The Dublin police force was reformed in 1795 and 1808, but the English were held back to implement it on their own Island.
In 1796, the Scottish economist Patrick Colquhoun (who’s considered the architect of modern policing) wrote A Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis. He applied business principles to police administration and A Treatise on the Functions and Duties of a Constable.
1790, London’s Thames maritime traffic was massive at this time. Workers in manufacturing and production houses at the Isle of Dogs were lucky if they were paid any wages, which meant that they had to ‘steal’ small quantities of stock from their employers to keep going. Any approach like this was rather customary. Warehouse labourers drank the rum maturing in the storehouses, a printer retained a copy of every book he assembled, or shipbuilders took leftover timber for their own use.. the benefits were not unlike how a contemporary retail worker is given a discount on clothing to wear during her shift, or a café waiter given excess pastries at the end of the day. Or a few pints of beer, like I always got after working a shift in a bar. Perhaps some start-up employees get to own a share of the company as part of their salary. The merchants, on the other hand, mostly saw it as theft. [a lot of this paragraph is a summarization of Lizzie O’Shea, Future Histories, What Ada Lovelace, Tom Paine and the Paris Commune Can Teach Us about Digital Technology (London, New York: Verso, 2019) chapter 3: Digital Surveillance cannot make us safe: policing bodies and time on London’s docks] According to O’Shea, most merchants wanted wage workers that were paid for their time and nothing more. Until that point, London had no police force. There was no professional body of officers under state control. The constables and night watchmen that existed in various areas were unprofessional, underpaid and corrupt. John Harriott was a farmer, businessman and magistrate who developed a plan for a professional police force. Other police forces had never really worked out before.
1798, The Marine Police Office opened as a kind of pilot program, an experiment. Here, officers were paid and uniformed at the wet docks. Here they supervised the workers, kept an eye on ships and cargo, enforced working hours, paid wages and brought misbehaving workers to the magistrate. It was successful, and Westminster (a London Borough, casually used as a metonym for Parliament and the political community of the United Kingdom generally) was convinced to support the project. And the Marine Police Office came under state authority in 1800, now funded by the public. Colquhoun wrote a lot about this experiment on the River Thames. He wanted to spread his vision of policing, which was deeply bound to economics around the world. His surveillance model, the spectacle of force and social control offered an economical and effective way of maintaining order. This shift was achieved by a moral transformation that involved the criminalization of idleness. A revision of the sense of injustice made workers feel entitled to a decent share of the fruits of their labour. Defending the rich against the poor in the pursuit of order and faith in the state to protect people from the threat of disorder. Its role is to create crime (by defining its means) while also preventing it. The Marine Police Office was vital.
In 1829, Sir Robert Peel, a British Conservative statesman who served twice as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and twice as Home Secretary, established the Metropolitan Police. He’s seen as the father of modern British policing. His “Bobbies” patrolled the streets of London as he tried to preserve social order during his time in the colonial occupation of Ireland. This model was deemed helpful in the newly formed United States of America, where immigration and industrialization caused social and political disorder and confusion. American elites and their capitalism relied on slavery and needed clearance of the land by its (original) inhabitants. For more background on the American story, I’d like to refer to the text written by Alex Vitale’s 2017 book The End of Policing
(Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images) https://www.historyextra.com/period/modern/the-rise-of-the-great-british-bobby-a-brief-history-of-britains-police-service/
1835, The Municipal Corporations Act required establishing a police force under the control of a watch committee.
In 1856, Parliament officially passed the County and Borough Police Act. The uniformed new police force was dressed first in black jackets and tall wool hats with shiny badges and later in blue rather than the military red, but still a centralised, quasi-military hierarchy. The authority of the police shouldn’t derive from politicians. Still, from the crown, the law, and the citizenry’s consent—Sir Robert Peel aimed to distinguish the English police from the military to get the foundation of policing with respect. And should not be armed with firearms. In London, the policemen were identified with the politician who created them that they were referred to as “Peelers” or—as I did earlier—“Bobbies,” after the popular nickname for Robert. Elizabeth Nix’s article, Why are British police officers called “Bobbies”? was really helpful here.
Every person in a county shall be ready and apparelled at the command of the sheriff and at the cry of the country to arrest a felon whether within a franchise or without, and in default shall on conviction be liable to a fine, and if default be found in the lord of the franchise he shall forfeit the franchise to the Queen, and if in the bailiff he shall be liable besides the fine to imprisonment for not more than one year, or if he have not whereof to pay the fine, than two years.
This law called posse comitatus, which translates from Latin to English as “power to the country”, originated in the ninth century in England. It is generally obsolete throughout the world. It remains somehow part of the United States’ legal system. Posse comitatus permits the sheriff of a county to call every civilian to his assistance to catch a person who had committed a felony—that is, a severe crime. Fining those who did not comply. The provisions for posse comitatus were repealed by the Criminal Law Act 1967, states Wikipedia. It provided for the sheriff to take “the power of the county” if he faced any resistance while executing a writ or warrant and provided for the arrest of resistors as well. This part is still in force. It allows a sheriff to call upon the police while seizing the property.
The so-called new police force was completed, and detectives and inspectors were added. “Problems begin with definition. Paid policing did not begin in 1829.” explains Taylor on page 72. Intention does not always guarantee an outcome. “the new police were only responsible to the community in the most generalised and vague manner.” The newness of the new police settled, and they endured, ineffectively acting as agents of the ruling elite, re-acting on their behalf. As stand-ins or proxies, they enforce their codes of behaviour and responsibilities on them. According to Taylor, Peel was most certainly aware of the function of police as both bringer of “order and decorum to the streets of London as well as to fight crime.” And I’d not prefer private- over publicly paid forces, so I agree with the establishment as a public service.
“Position of the law through the police in the 19th century wasn’t about the protection of property in person but about the regulation of efficient order and the protection from radical change,” says Lewis Waller in his video called The Fist of Modernity. The term ‘move along’ became the most common thing an officer would say. According to Taylor, in the second quarter of the 19th century, “the middle classes soon appreciated the benefits of the new police. They were the most direct beneficiaries of police actions that curtailed political disturbances and reduced the level of street crime. Working-class attitudes were less clear-cut. For the politically active, admittedly a small number, there were obvious grounds for concern. Meetings of working-class radicals were kept under surveillance and infiltrated by police spies who posed a real threat to constitutional liberties.”
There were continuing attempts to transform the streets of London, while hostility to the police was a part of both urban and rural life. Policemen saw the control of public space as fundamental. Anti-police riots and fights between police and soldiers were not that uncommon. The second quarter of the 19th century constructed the start of ‘new’ policing, but it was only in the second half of this century that a ‘professional’ force was created.
In 1869, the introduction -and later the improvement- of the criminal record system using photography and fingerprinting in 1902.10 By 1903, the English police had two police cars. Six years later, they began using bicycles. The number of policemen increased from about 20 500 in 1861 to 54 300 by 1911.11 But “[b]ecoming a policeman was one way of effecting a move to a town, a temporary phase, a bridge to a better job.” and almost always taken by unmarried men in their mid-twenties. For quite some time, “unlike other working-class groups, a policeman’s wife was not allowed to take employment on her own behalf, which permanently limited the couple’s income. The fear was that a policeman’s working wife might be tempted to use influence or be put under pressure because of her husband’s job. Police officers were meant to appear as members of the ‘respectable working class’ (even if their pay was so much lower), and the wives of such men did not work. The first women police officers were recruited during the First World War.” wrote Clive Emsley, the author of The Great British Bobby: A History of British Policing from the 18th century to the Present (Quercus, 2009). But “in 1922 the Home Secretary, Sir Edward Shortt, proposed the complete abolition of the women’s section of the Metropolitan Police. His insistence that the work of the women police was ‘welfare work … not police work proper’, and that they only kept down crime ‘with the sense in which the schoolmaster keeps down crime, and the clergyman and the Sunday-school teacher’” 12 he wrote 18 years earlier (Routledge, 1991, 1996).
Honestly, the most essential duty of the police officer was (intensive) patrolling. Civilians had to know that there were always police nearby. Always someone on the watch. In the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, as far as I’m aware, (London’s East End’s)Jewish population were not seen as much as ‘criminal’ as the Irish. My sources are a bit jiffy here, though. However, I can write, without hesitation, that anti-semitism and racism have always played a part in the police force. It possibly originates from a feeling of superiority in white Britons as creators of an empire, read colonisers. But overall, the police were close to its community, and they had become the beloved ‘bobby’. Constables in uniform would walk down the street, observing and being observed by the general public. This changed when they ceased to be part of society and became part of traffic. Police arrived after the fact. This change correlates directly with the rise of crime around that time. The number of police officers increased again and again, they were lavished with cash, and their tools improved. The number of separate forces went down instead in the name of rationalisation to increase efficiency.
“In addition to the Metropolitan Police Training School at Peel House, eight district training schools were established in the aftermath of the war to provide a uniform instructional grounding for all recruits.” 13 But in the two decades following the Second World War finding recruits was hard. Thus, a fictional English Bobby character was created that went by the name of PC George Dixon. “Dixon first appeared in a feature film, The Blue Lamp, made with the co-operation of Scotland Yard and premiered in 1950.” 14 They try to be more convincing with their shiny toys like; (advanced) computers, high-tech equipment, better uniforms, helicopters, expensive vehicles and CCTV, etc. If the bobbies were respected citizens in uniform watching out over other citizens just as the character of Dixon -and other TV characters which are used as a benchmark against which the behaviour of police is to be measured- why did this need to change if it was so good at preventing crime and anti-social behaviour? Why has there been no backlash to this ‘new’ style of policing? ~complete faith in technology, perhaps? The result was that everything took more time and more people power. Yes, you read it right. Technology made policing less efficient, even though it promised more order and less idleness.
Some other events in British police culture:
1915, Edith Smith was appointed the first woman police constable in England with the full power of arrest. Her duties were to deal with cases where women were involved, mostly in prostitution. She was paid 28 shillings (£1.40 a week), raised to £2 10 shillings (£2.50 a week). 26 June 1923, she overdosed on morphia, taking her own life five years after leaving the force. 1937, the 999 emergency number was created. [source]
1946, Police Act 1946 was passed. This abolished nearly all non-county borough police forces in England and Wales. This left 117 police forces. [source]
1967, Norwell Roberts became the first black police officer in modern Britain.
1978–1982, at a total cost of £3 million, Operation Countryman investigated police corruption in London. Eight police officers were prosecuted, though none were convicted.
1984, the time spent at a police station increased after the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE). The 1981 Brixton riots and the Scarman report led to the passage of this Act. [see: Protest!] Its purpose was to unify police powers under one code of practice and balance the individual’s rights against the powers of the police carefully. -I am not necessarily saying this is bad, but it is some bureaucratic shit placed on top of old-fashioned policing. Waiting for (other) police units after making an arrest, booking in, waiting, more waiting, papers, more papers, logging, waiting, searching, evaluating, monitoring… but still, the prison population only grows. There are currently 150 prisons in the UK if I counted correctly. England and Wales count a prison population of 83,329 people in 2020. [source] Her Majesty’s Prison Service (HMPS) manages the public prisons. At the same time, private companies (including G4S and Serco) run several prisons on the day to day basis since the 1990s too.
HMP Cardiff – 4.1 stars, 16 reviews
HMP Birmingham – 2.1 stars, 14 reviews
(https://www.gosocial.co/the-top-15-prisons-in-the-uk-as-voted-for-by-ex-inmates/) back when Google allowed reviews of prisons 😂
“We can’t fight racism while embracing homophobia, any more than we can fight mass incarceration by embracing a politics of punishment”Alex S. Vitale, The End of Policing 2017
1999, Metropolitan Police are described as “institutionally racist” by Sir William Macpherson, after his public inquiry into the Stephen Lawrence murder case; an investigation into the black teenager’s racially motivated murder had failed to lead to a conviction. [source]
“The foundations of modern policing are based not on justice, but on the punishing of poverty, the imposition of the status quo, the disciplining of the public, the constriction of liberty, and justified as the protection against an ugly, sinful, idle, greedy, and organised criminal class that has no basis in reality.” Lewis Waller explains it so well. I recommend you watch it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LC-mD0MCBDs
1999, Four years after Stephen Lawrence’s murder (1993 black 18-year-old Stephen Lawrence was stabbed to death in south-east London in a racist attack. His killers remained unconvicted and weren’t locked up until loooooong after) The Macpherson report was published, saying “institutional racism” in London’s Metropolitan Police.
In 2001, The National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU) was created. It investigated crimes committed over the Internet, such as hacking, card fraud and other hi-tech crimes involving the use of computers and telecommunications equipment. It ceased to exist on the 1st of April 2006, when it transferred to the e-crime unit of the UK’s new Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA). Which reformed and merged again in 2013, becoming the National Cyber Crime Unit (NCCU).
2002, introduction of Police Reform Act 2002. Introduced Community Support Officers (or police community support officers (PCSO)) in England and Wales only. They are uniformed members of police staff, but not Police Constables. Although they have certain specific powers of a constable, e.g. concerning lawful detention, those powers vary between forces. In Scotland, PCSO stands for police custody and security officers, also known by the slang nickname “turnkeys”. Their job is very different from the community support officers in England and Wales (and I don’t quite understand what it entails). Unlike police constables, there is no set training procedure for PCSOs, but it is at least six weeks. Their function is somewhat similar to the BOA in The Netherlands.
2014, Brittan counted 3,000 allegations of police corruption, and only half of them were adequately investigated. [source]
2015, have you heard the theory of the ‘total policeman’? Allow me to explain Met chief Bernard Hogan-Howe’s theory which he calls ‘total policing’. Think about sports, football in particular. It’s the theory of coppers having to play in all positions. It seems harmless at first, but it contains a highly sinister subtext. Hogan-Howe explained this philosophy saying that ‘no legal tactic is out of bounds in investigating crime. “Reasonable enough, one might think at first glance, but the problem with this catchy little mantra is that it takes no account of proportionality.” wrote Neil Darbshire in 2015. It discards the police from being a service and back towards being a coercive, violent force. And what value has the integrity of the police within this philosophy? If the police top is stretching the law and using their power to bully and intimidate, it encourages other officers to -think they can- do the same. There are plenty of stories out there of whistleblowers being treated not as honourable but as traitors. The total policeman is a culture of power abuse and semi-criminal behaviour that becomes normal.
2016, forces across England and Wales received 436 allegations of abuse of power for sexual gain, i.e. sexual misconduct against 306 police officers, 20 police community support officers and eight staff this year.[source]
Between 10 and 12 April 1981, the Brixton riots, or Brixton uprising, were the first large-scale racial confrontations between the Metropolitan Police and protesters in Brixton, situated in the borough of Lambeth, South London, England. There was a high unemployment rate, and bad housing conditions, and in many places in the country, there was racial tension and poor relationships with the police. Sixty-five per cent of those unemployed people were black people. During the five days in early April leading up to the riots, there were 943 stop and searches in Brixton, infuriating the local population and creating tensions between white police officers and black youths.
Friday, 10 April 1981, two police officers attempted to help an injured young black man in their car. A group of young black men misinterpreted the police officers’ actions as harassment and attacking the vehicle. The crowd of youths grew more prominent and more hostile, police reinforcements arrived, and they basically didn’t stop patrolling Brixton that night.
Saturday, 11 April 1981, was the worst day of the riots. The young black men were now joined by young whites, and looting began; several attacks on shops and bars, police vans were overturned, and bricks, bottles, and petrol bombs were thrown, setting fire to police and private cars. It kept going on but finally died down on Sunday the 12th. Overall, 7,000 police officers had been involved in those three days. They arrested a total of 282 people, most of whom were black. [source]
Many more protests were to come, as protesting has been an important way for people to let their voices be heard throughout history. Only four years earlier, the Battle of Lewisham took place on 13 August 1977. 500 Members of the far-right National Front (NF) marched from New Cross to Lewisham in southeast London. There were various counter-demonstrations, and it led to violent clashes between those groups and between the anti-NF demonstrators and police. The Miners’ Strike happened a few years later (1984‒1985). It turned violent and involved frequent clashes between miners and the police. The Poll Tax Riots (1990) with an estimated crowd of 200,000 counted on mounted riot police that was brought in fueled anger in Trafalgar Square to escalate the rioting; shop windows being broken, goods looted, and cars being overturned in Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Street, Regent Street, Charing Cross Road, and Covent Garden. Police ordered pubs to close. I’m not even listing The Troubles in Northern Ireland (yet). “Kill the Bill” (1994) demonstrations in London, against The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 introduced several changes to the law, most notably in the restriction and reduction of existing rights, clamping down on unlicensed rave parties, and more significant penalties for certain “anti-social” behaviours. Prior to and following multiple LGBTQA+ rights protests, anti-war protests and the United Kingdom student protests (2010), concerns over climate change, Black Lives Matter… just to name a few where police use their tactics for controlling large crowds.
Kettling (also known as containment or corralling) is a tactic whereby protesters either leave through an exit controlled by the police or are contained, prevented from leaving, and arrested. This was ruled unlawful by the European Court of Human Rights in 2012 but is -still!- often used. Deploying the Territorial Support Group (TSG) -formally known as Special Patrol Group 1961 to 1987-is a Met Operations unit of London’s Metropolitan Police Service (MPS). They are identified as TSG from the distinctive “U” in their shoulder numbers. Their vans are equipped with mesh window shields, and officers are equipped with acrylic glass riot shields, visored ‘NATO’ helmets, shin and elbow guards, along fireproof coveralls. TSG does their special training every five weeks as a routine at a specialist training centre in Kent. TSG officers are equipped with cuffs, batons and tear gas, like all English officers. Some officers (AFOs) carry a semi-automatic carbine, a Baton Gun (riot gun) and a taser. And the question is if the presence of the TSG caused (more) violence in those protests.
You, a copper?
When I write about the police, I write about the organisation and the identity and culture of the specific organisation. It should not be confused with personal identity (how individual police officers define themselves). Even though this is not always disconnected.
“As budgets for these agencies continuously grow, out of all proportion to the risk to public safety they supposedly guard against, this history helps explain the phenomenon.” writes O’Shea in Future Histories. The government proposes a total settlement for the policing system of up to £15.2 billion in 2020/21, increasing up to £1,121 million compared to 2019/20. [source] This includes £700m for recruiting 6,000 additional officers by the end of March 2021. In most cases, you don’t need a degree to join the police force. A minimum Level 3 qualification such as an A-Level or equivalent is enough. This varies between different forces. With a Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship (PCDA), you earn and learn on the job. You’ll end up with a degree in Professional Policing Practice at the end of the programme. Still, multiple entry routes are possible (like the Traditional (IPLDP) route or college/ university courses).26 After two years as a student officer before becoming police, constable officers can specialise in a particular type of policing. The average starting salary is £21,000 a year, and £41,500 when an officer is more experienced. If aged 13 to 18, you could become a police cadet, the fastest-growing volunteering uniformed youth group. [source] They volunteer in their community and will not directly make them future police officers.
But there are enough coppers already, I’d argue. England and Wales counted 124,784 police officers in 2019, which means 211 per 100,000 citizens police officers.28 This is not the only way of over-policing. The government (i.e. we, the taxpaying citizens) provides £516 million for police technology (including £18m of capital funding) this year. [source] Investing in “sobriety tags” and 24-hour GPS tagging… “Keeping our streets safe is one of the people’s priorities- we are already delivering on this by hiring 20,000 new police officers and building 10,000 new prison places.” said Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor.
And with the leftover money, the government wants to provide extra (online) resources for rape and sexual abuse victims, including a single digital hub. Sounds good, you say? After reading and hearing about so many experiences from other people that experienced (a.o. intimate partner) violence, I too was afraid to be treated as a criminal suspect instead of questioned as a rape victim. I was scared of going to the police, mainly because it was the police. Money won’t fix this, and neither would intensifying their use of/ faith in technology. In other cases, digital technology is creating new ways to criminalise people, specifically those who are already oppressed. How they decide what is “criminal” is much like the eighteenth-century Marine Police Office created its ideas of criminality through its work to prevent crime (by protecting the people with money). By generating technical solutions regarding crime -the state as a fictional safety provider-, people are classified as criminals. The police or poling power in place trains us to fear them. Can you, for yourself, redefine what it means to be safe? That would be a great alternative to the police.
Abolish the police
The history of policing helps us understand critical aspects of the state’s management and their reasoning behind conducting state affairs in the digital age. We are taught about public safety through law enforcement and intelligence agencies. They tell us what is safe, and how to understand and define it, and thus we allow them to use technology in increasingly oppressive ways. We cannot reform our way out of systematic problems. Reforms have been attempted before; implicit bias training, body cameras, and the ban on chokeholds, amongst others. These reforms do not work. They are simply surface bandages on a deep-rooted issue.
I want you to envision a world without police, just for a moment. Now imagine you are experiencing a mental health crisis, and you are afraid. What do you do? You call +331, and a first responder trained in mental health comes to your door. One hour later, you are in a safe place with your consent, with follow-up care plans.
Now imagine yourself walking in Victoria park, and you see a homeless person sleeping on a bench. A city employee comes by and checks if they need a place to sleep, food, water, or healthcare. One hour later, those who want another place to sleep have one.
Now imagine you don’t feel safe in your neighbourhood where incidents of gun violence are rising. A trauma-informed crisis intervention team works with community activists to disarm and de-escalate conflicts. People doing harm are connected to services that address the underlying problem.
New scenario: imagine someone is behaving erratically and is in harm’s way. You text a number, and an unarmed urgent responder trained in behaviour and mental health comes within 5 minutes. An hour later, that person is safe and getting the support they need.
Or, someone seems to be snooping in car windows on your block. You call your neighbours who are trained in self-defence and de-escalation and help you approach the person. An hour later, the conflict is resolved & the person responsible is getting the support they need.
And imagine you are experiencing intimate partner violence, and you can text a number & a trauma-informed crisis intervention specialist meets you in a safe space. An hour later, you are working together to make a plan that will keep you safe in the long term.
Now you are driving in your car, and you don’t realize, that your brake lights aren’t working. A city employee signals for you to pull over, and says “Hey-how about I replace those lights for you right here so no one gets hurt?”. An hour later, both lights work & you’re at home.
Isn’t this public safety?
I took these scenarios from @melegirma/’s Instagram, text by @conflicttransformation from her Alternatives to Policing flyers. Thank you for sharing these, I hope it’s okay for me to use them in my blog. Please look and listen to BIPOC leaders building alternatives to policing in your communities. Let’s imagine how another world is possible.
We can all agree that culture is more than its history and plain facts, especially when we speak of an organisation. The approach of corporate analysts might be that an organisation has a culture, however malleable, manipulable and open for change. Within academia, the idea that culture is what an organisation is is a common approach. Here, culture -as a root metaphor- is not easily changed. I’m interested in the form and function of this culture. A culture of policing is formed through collective memory, zombie stats, (zombie) collectives and zombie ideas (or brain virus); mental programming. I wonder how these constructs play out in our on- and offline realities. To properly unfold these constructs, we’d have to look at both micro-and macro-levels that ground our perception.