Abstract Police and Police 'Professionalism': Contemporary Contradictions in British Policing

Cockcroft, Tom orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-7249-7285 and De Maillard, Jacques (2022) Abstract Police and Police 'Professionalism': Contemporary Contradictions in British Policing. In: The Abstract Police. Eleven, The Hague, pp. 35-55. ISBN 978 94 6236 264 2

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To understand contemporary changes to the context, processes and cultures of policing one needs to comprehend the extent to which these are all bound up within wider questions of how control is exerted on police organisations. Furthermore, such elements of control are not linear, explicit and necessarily transparent, but applied through broader elements of the firmament within which policing operates. Accordingly, political and fiscal considerations emanate from the public sector’s relationship with the state to create a situation where control (and the rhetoric of control) is applied both covertly and overtly. Furthermore, control is applied less directly through the concerns and expectations of the public, not least in respect of how police legitimacy is constructed through their experiences and expectations. At the same time, the pushes and pulls of late modernity, in turn, not only create new opportunities for policing to extend its sphere of operations but also leads to the imposition of some restrictions to what the police can do. In short, the already complex occupation/profession of policing finds itself at the centre of a number of competing and shifting dynamics, driven by an array of policies and social changes against a backdrop of organisational, political and financial precariousness. While the interplay of such diverse challenges provides a fertile backdrop within which to derive academic insight, this chapter will focus on one, admittedly broad, dynamic – that of the emergence of organisational, as opposed to occupational, dynamics and their relationship to contemporary policing contexts. By this we refer to the waning influence of informal occupational (or role-based) values (often equated with police occupational culture) and the ascendancy of values that reinforce and support more formal organisational aspirations such as those aligned to thresholds of quality of service and stakeholder participation and engagement. These trends are very much in line with what the concept of Abstract Police (Terpstra et al., 2019) has emphasised, i.e. a logic combining centralisation (based on the ramping up of central directives at the expense of local knowledge), complexification (fragmentation and specialisation, making access to police organisations more difficult) and dehumanisation of police organisations (prioritising procedures and technology and recasting the user as a technologised consumer). This chapter begins by providing some contextual background to the processes being explored, before reporting on the findings of research conducted in two English police forces. Finally, the themes that emerge in the literature and the findings are discussed in a context that explores the synergies with the concept of Abstract Police. In particular, we focus on those areas where we believe the concept of the Abstract Police can expand our knowledge of policing.

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