The New Policing

Yuning Wu (Department of Sociology & Criminal Justice, University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware, USA)

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 30 May 2008



Wu, Y. (2008), "The New Policing", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 31 No. 2, pp. 347-349.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Writing in the British context, Eugene McLaughlin's book The New Policing discusses eight topics of universal importance in policing. They include popular cultural history, sociological origins of police studies, traditional and new perspectives on police studies, policing crime, and disorder, culture, governance, and policing new terrorism.

Chapter 1 is a historical analysis of the cultural construction of English police. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, police were seen as an “un‐English” invention that not only wasted money but also threatened individual freedom. In order to survive public hostility, the new institution managed to guarantee political support and judicial protection, compromise with various social groups, and normalize itself by merging into the popular culture. Detective novels, magazines, news publications, and popular films all contributed to the portrayal of “the bobby” as good natured, humanized, and responsible. The post‐war social disturbance and national identity crisis gave birth to influential films like The Blue Lamp, which established the iconic police constable George Dixon, who fearlessly hunts down criminals, protects public safety, and defends the traditional values of English society. McLaughlin notes that, the impact of the Dixonian policing model lasts into today and the debates about whether this model can meet the challenges in twenty‐first century British policing continues.

Chapter 2 analyzes how British sociological studies had enhanced the process of normalizing the police. McLaughlin thoroughly reviewed Michael Banton's comparative study of the UK and the US police. He explores the intellectual influences of, and the research methods used in Banton's seminal book The Policeman in the Community. He stresses Banton's argument that compared to the US police, because the British society was more homogeneous and integrated, the pre‐modern British police had salient features of being sacred and benign, and policing according to social consensus. Banton was concerned that when Britain transitioned into modernity and witnessed a more heterogeneous, uncertain and unstable social order, British policing might not be able to adapt with its traditional self‐policing mechanism.

Chapters 3 and 4 provide a good overview of major perspectives on police studies. McLaughlin summarizes four traditional perspectives in Chapter 3 and discusses their theoretical assumptions, research methods, corresponding policing strategies, and weaknesses. Ethnographic perspectives emphasize the importance of observing the working life of frontline officers closely and seeing how they bring laws into existence. This line of studies reveal the multi‐faceted nature of the police work and explains a police culture characterized by sensitivity, suspicion, cynicism, social isolation, and so on. Marxist perspectives adopt a broader analytical approach and focus not just on “the police.” They stress the relationship between the police and the state and examine how police function to maintain and reinforce social inequalities, to overcome the crisis of hegemony, and to insidiously allow pervasive government control of the community. Administrative perspectives are interested in more practical issues about how to improve the effectiveness of police management. McLaughlin reviews two main administrative reforms, problem‐oriented policing and order‐maintenance policing. He suggests that for right realists, a combination of the two would be an ideal crime control model for policing disadvantaged neighborhoods. Finally, left realist's perspectives argue that the Marxist definition of police is too simplistic. Instead, they believe in the existence of conflicts within the police and the relative autonomy of the police. In Chapter 4, McLaughlin pulls together a wide range of perspectives and organizes them into two themes. Firstly, the hyper‐differentiation of social relationships in postmodern society brings the trend of a fast‐developing private security industry and pluralization of policing. Secondly, the de‐differentiation of traditional boundaries between institutional and cultural spheres causes the “broken spectacle” popular image of policing. The old distinction between what is real and what is unreal in policing is heavily blurred, and we observe more and more distorted police‐entertainment dramas in which police conquer all.

Based on case analysis of the Metropolitan (London) Police, Chapters 5‐7 examine three specific topics in policing. Chapter 5 introduces New York's high‐definition sovereign policing model and shows how intensified insecurity in contemporary society led to this initiative. McLaughlin also discusses how London policing originally resisted the New York model due to factors such as the inertia of London's own community safety and crime prevention strategies, but then followed more closely as concerns with law and order escalated after 2000. Chapter 6 delves into the issue of the racialized nature of police culture and its negative consequences on policing in a multiracial, multicultural society. Since the high‐profile Macpherson case in 1993, cultural wars were launched to fight against racism and efforts from politicians, news media and the public have been made to eradicate racism. McLaughlin argues that continuous attention should be paid to police culture and officer identity formation. Chapter 7 discusses recent British reforms to enhance police accountability. McLaughlin explains police accountability from both the officer‐level and the force‐level, and explores the relationship between “new localism” and police accountability. New localism argues that beat officers are the most important agents to fight crime and maintain order, thus requires officers to be more responsive, customer‐friendly, and active in cooperation with the community. McLaughlin also discusses the promises and challenges of maintaining the localized form of police accountability.

Finally, Chapter 8 features a discussion of how the new terrorism, exemplified by the high‐profile London suicide bomb attacks in 2005, would heighten public security consciousness and change policing patterns. McLaughlin cites the question that Sir Ian Blair asked in his 2005 BBC Dimbleby lecture: “What kind of police service do we want?” The answer to this question is related to all those key issues he discussed in previous chapters.

Overall, The New Policing is an excellent book rich with information. McLaughlin has done a great job in exploring the various contemporary British police reforms within their broader socio‐cultural, historical, and political context. He clearly reveals the inseparable relationship between policing and the community, the society, and the state, and shows how these relationships change over time and across different social environments. The only possible weakness of the book is that McLaughlin does not inform his readers much about his own research methods and on what kinds of information sources he relies. As a comment, and not a criticism, it would also be interesting if he would have tried to apply certain theoretical perspectives that he discusses earlier in the book to the specific topics that he discussed later in Chapters 5‐8, thus providing more integration and coherency in his work. The post‐modern perspectives, as an example, would provide good framework to analyze why policing disorder became popular in contemporary societies when informal social control breaks down and sense of insecurity increases. This book would be appropriate for a graduate‐level policing course, especially a course that emphasizes a comparative approach of studying policing. It will also be of interest to any police scholar and administrator who wants to know more of the core subject matter of policing.

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