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Community Policing: a Review of the Evidence


Part 4: Models of community policing: comparative perspectives and the Scottish experience

This section of the review will briefly introduce some comparative perspectives on CP before providing an account of CP in the Scottish context. Both discussions show that there is a substantial amount of police activity that is labelled as ' CP' but that such activity is often in need of greater focus, that developments in this area have tended to be quite piecemeal around the world, and that further research and evaluation is required to support the development of CP and its potential.

Comparative perspectives on CP

Listening to police executives in Western Europe, North America, Australia-New Zealand, and the Far East, one might conclude that community policing was already an established organising concept of police operations and that examples of it abound. The reality is that, while everyone talks about it, there is little agreement on meaning (Skolnick and Bayley 1988: 4).

CP is often portrayed as devoid of the kind of cultural impediments that characterise other policing models… CP is an emblematic international creed (Brogden and Nijhar 2005: 9).

The above quotes illustrate that CP has undoubtedly been successful in terms of its ability to stimulate discussion about policing around the world. CP is a concept that seems to 'travel' well and is something that police leaders and scholars in many different jurisdictions readily talk about as a key dimension of their work. However, the question is: to what extent are they talking about the same thing?

This short section will firstly aim to give a sense of the substantial comparative literature that now exists on CP in order to illustrate the extent to which the concept has travelled. It will then, focusing largely on Europe, demonstrate some of the difficulties inherent in making direct comparisons between models of CP in different nations - different legal and police structures, citizen-state relationships, and understandings of the very notion of 'community' mean that comparing CP in one country with that in another should be conducted with sensitivity and caution. The section will conclude by noting some of the lessons to be taken from comparative study of CP identified by Brogden and Nijhar (2005: 232-233). Their study draws on efforts to use CP in very demanding contexts (societies in transition such as Poland, and post-conflict societies such as South Africa and Northern Ireland) and so unsurprisingly gives some emphasis to the important moral and political choices that underpin policing - normative issues that may be viewed as less pressing in Scotland but which are nevertheless relevant.

The comparative literature: There is literature on CP in a remarkably diverse range of countries from around the world. It is far too rich and extensive a literature to be properly reviewed here. Brogden and Nijhar's recent book (2005) provides extensive coverage of the 'Anglo-American' model of CP, CP in the Pacific Rim (Japan, Singapore and China), CP in the EU, and CP in a variety of 'transitional' and post-conflict societies including South Africa, Poland and Northern Ireland. Friedmann's (1992) coverage is more limited ( US, Canada, Israel, England) but it remains of interest and grounds the comparative analysis within a well developed understanding of the concept of CP (1992: part 1). Haberfeld and Cerrah's recent (2008) collection is focused on comparative policing more generally but is of particular interest given its preoccupation with policing and democracy and virtually all of the contributions do make direct reference to CP within this context. Wakefield and Fleming's recent SAGE Dictionary of Policing also provides a very helpful starting point for comparative study of CP, including contributions relating to: Australia, Canada, China, Netherlands, New Zealand, the Nordic countries, South Africa, the USA and the UK (2008: 37-47). Finally, although its coverage is less broad, Easton et al's Reflections on Reassurance Policing in the Low Countries (2008) provides an excellent insight to the 'transfer' of the reassurance agenda to a European context.

The difficulty of making comparisons - a cautionary note: Comparative research always needs to be carried out with sensitivity to ensure that what might look to be superficially similar is not misunderstood because of local, cultural, political or legal difference (Nelken 2007). In relation to CP Brogden and Nijhar observe that 'core assumptions' about the role and function of policing, the relationship between the police and the community, and the community's sense of individual or communal responsibility can actually be quite different between different jurisdictions (2005: 104). This basic point can be illustrated close to home with reference to CP in Europe. There is undoubtedly considerable activity throughout Europe that could claim to be CP: proximity policing in France; community forums and 'reassurance' policing in Belgium; and Stadwacht, community beat officers and local policing in the Netherlands (Brogden and Nijhar 2005: chapter 5; Easton et al. 2008; Wakefield and Fleming 2009). However, Brogden and Nijhar warn that CP is understood quite differently throughout the EU because of variations in the 'primary - historically, politically and culturally informed - definitions of the police function' (2005: 107). They identify 3 models of policing in Western Europe: Napoleonic, national and decentralised (2005: 109). Although the distinctions should not necessarily be viewed as too hard and fast (for example, the UK is decentralised in the model but has nonetheless been described by scholars as being centralised to a substantial degree in practice - see Reiner 2000; Newburn 2008) they reflect quite different ways of structuring the police and understanding their relationship with the public. For example, in systems displaying Napoleonic characteristics (France, Belgium, Italy and Portugal) the function of the police has been to 'defend the social order of the central state' and this may have led to rather more limited emphasis being given to public and local accountability than would be expected in decentralised systems (Brogden and Nijhar 2005: 110). Such systems are often nationally - and militaristically - organised, and although this has certainly not precluded the development of CP within them, it does make the commitment to local participatory models of policing, of the style developed in Chicago, particularly difficult to envisage. In short, different understandings of the primary police function, and the different organisational structures of police that flow from that, pose distinctive challenges for the development of CP in different jurisdictions. This does not mean that comparisons cannot be extremely instructive but it does remind us that it is local traditions and structures that have to be understood for CP to be meaningful. It is to some lessons that can most certainly be drawn from comparative thinking that we now turn.

Lessons from comparative experiences of CP: Brogden and Nijhar pose 'three final conundrums' (2005: 232) that have faced scholars and policymakers wishing to use or export the concept of CP. They raise some provocative normative questions about the value judgements that inevitably underpin decisions about models of policing, whether these value judgements are explicit or not, and are for that reason reproduced in full here:

CP and the problem of inequality - who does CP serve? Police forces have invariably, sometimes directly, sometimes obliquely, been designed and utilised to maintain the existing social order - economic and social inequality. This is true as much for Peel's vaunted and mythologised first Metropolitan Police with its target of the 'dangerous classes' as it is of the paramilitary police forces of transitional and failed societies.

The functions of CP - are human rights concepts compatible with questions of police effectiveness? As the South African experience especially demonstrates, is a 'rights basis approach' appropriate as in South Africa where the majority population may regard those rights as an obstacle to the control of crime? Despite the views of those such as David Bayley, insecurity may only concretely be alleviated by emphasis on police structures and practices that might often ignore individual human rights concerns in favour of collective rights.

CP as autonomous from state policing institutions - can CP be conducted by citizen groups independent of the state police? The spirit of CP implies invoking community involvement, indeed locating policing as a community matter rather than as a state function, as part of a safety security continuum in which the state police are merely one actor in that process. The evidence from a variety of developing societies is that there are many community groups - some traditional in character, some reacting to the new circumstances of the modernization process, that have the commitment to and need to conduct policing functions. The energy of these informal policing structures is critical and is in direct response to local needs. But they are often subject to major problems of accountability (Brogden and Nijhar 2005: 232-233).

The Scottish experience of CP

Developments in CP in Scotland have, up until recently at least, been somewhat piecemeal and patchy and they have not, historically, received nearly the same amount of attention as developments south of the border. This does, however, appear to be changing, with significant interest in CP becoming apparent amongst both policymakers ( ACPOS 2007; HMIC 2004; Scottish Parliament Justice Committee 2008; Scottish Government 2009) and scholars (Donnelly 2008; Donnelly and Scott 2005; Fyfe 2005). As recently as 2004 HMIC found that there was no national CP strategy in Scotland with each of the eight forces adopting their own approach ( HMIC 2004). However, ACPOS then published a Public Reassurance Strategy (2007) that went some way to expressing a national commitment to an approach that bears some of the hallmarks of both CP and ILP. This was followed by a widespread review of CP in Scotland by The Scottish Parliament Justice Committee (published in 2008). The Committee noted that a 'one size fits all' definition of CP would not be workable given the diverse communities served by the police in Scotland, but nonetheless argued that there would be merit in having, in a broad sense, a 'commonly agreed definition of CP' (2008: 1). The Scottish Government responded to the Justice Committee's report in July 2009 by developing The Scottish Community Policing Engagement Principles (Scottish Government 2009). This document represents an important development in CP in Scotland because it sets out what CP ought to include, thus supporting the Justice Committee's call for definitional clarity in the Scottish context. The Principles identify CP as including:

  • visible police presence,
  • communication and consultation with the community,
  • responsiveness to community needs,
  • responsiveness to individual needs and to those who may be particularly vulnerable,
  • accountability to the community,
  • partnership working with public and private agencies, and
  • a commitment to local problem-solving.

The Principles also seem to recognise that Police Forces require the necessary discretion to implement these principles in ways that reflect, and are sensitive to, particular local contexts. It is likely that the Principles will generate a significant amount of CP activity around Scotland as they urge the police and the academic community to be clearer about what they articulate as CP.

This section will briefly sketch out some of the research that exists in relation to CP in Scotland. It should be emphasised that this research pre-dates the recent interest in CP by the Justice Committee and The Scottish Government. It is worth noting that, despite the historical ambiguity of CP, there is some evidence that the kinds of thing that tend to be required for CP strategies (community involvement, partnership working, generally close relations between police and community, local police services - all of which are noted in the Community Policing Engagement Principles) do have a history in Scotland. However, it will also be noted that some of the concerns about impediments to implementing CP in practice that will be developed in Part 5 have already been identified within this modest literature.

Recent work by Donnelly gives emphasis to the municipal character of policing that has evolved in Scotland since the 19 th century (2008; Donnelly and Scott 2005). By this he refers to the close connections between developments in the public police service and developments in local government and governance throughout this period. Although Scottish police, like their counterparts in England and Wales, have felt the pull of professionalising and centralising pressures (Walker 1999) they remain, formally at least, based upon a local, decentralised structure.

As far as specific developments in CP (as we would now understand it) are concerned there are a number of well documented examples. The work of Chief Constable David Gray in Greenock in the 1950s and 1960s is identified by a number of commentators (Schaffer 1980; Monaghan 1997; Fyfe 2005) as being forward-thinking and influential. Gray developed and promoted the Greenock juvenile liaison scheme that involved the police working closely with teachers, social workers and other responsible adults in order to work with young people deemed to be 'at risk' of becoming involved in delinquency (Monaghan 1997: 25). Contemporary studies suggest that this early version of partnership working (Monaghan 1997) met with some degree of success (Mack 1963). Schaffer also describes Gray's efforts in relation to community involvement, which he seems to have interpreted quite boldly as a means to become involved in environmental improvements in impoverished neighbourhoods throughout Greenock (1980: 69-71) - something of a precursor to the Urban Regeneration movement that would later become an influence on partnership working, and on developments in crime prevention and community safety, in Scotland (Monaghan 1997; Henry 2009). Community involvement branches were established in all Scottish forces by the mid-1970s following The Scottish Office recommendation to that effect in circular 4/71 (1971). Schaffer indicates that some forces appeared to take the idea of community involvement seriously (Strathclyde police established a working group on community involvement - 1980: 48) but there was simultaneously evidence that community involvement, and issues like 'crime prevention' in general, continued to be viewed as marginal activities within the police (Schaffer 1980: 26). Nonetheless there continued to be drives towards preventative and partnership working throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, recommended by the Scottish Office's 1984 circular and nurtured through the New Life for Urban Scotland and Safer Cities programmes, both of which were designed to foster partnership working (see Carnie 1995; Henry 2009). What evidence there was indicated that this emerging 'crime prevention' work was developing upon rather ad hoc lines - but it was developing (see Valentin's Directory of Crime Prevention in Scotland 1995). By the late 1990s there were community safety partnerships in all 32 local authorities in Scotland, although some were more active than others, and following the Local Government (Scotland) Act 2003 there were also more formally established Community Planning Partnerships as well as a plethora of other partnership structures that had evolved throughout the 1990s onwards (see Henry 2009).

There are other developments in Scotland that are similar to those now implicated in CP elsewhere. Recent iterations of CP such as the NPP in England and Wales in particular have actively tried to draw the 'extended policing family' (agencies that engage in 'policing' but which are not the public police - which might include wardens, concierge schemes, neighbourhood watch, community groups, private security etc.) into CP (Crawford 2007; Home Office 2005; Johnston 2005). There is certainly evidence of an active 'extended policing family' in Scotland (Fyfe 2005; Donnelly 2008) and its existence might prove important to the development of CP strategies and/or their evaluation. However, even taken together these developments do not show that CP has been flourishing in Scotland. What they do show is that some of the crucial ingredients of CP have taken root in Scotland, such as community involvement, proactive and partnership-based approaches to police work, and the development of the extended policing family (see Henry 2009).

Despite such developments, practice has continued to be patchy; it will be interesting to see whether the engagement principles set out this year by The Scottish Government will indeed provide some impetus toward harmonisation in approach. There is evidence of wider resistance to CP in Scotland similar to that which exists elsewhere (and is documented in Part 4). As noted earlier, the HMIC and the Scottish Parliament Justice Inquiry reports did document current CP strategies around Scotland - such as work carried out by Community Liaison Officers in Dundee, Local Integration Officers in G Division of Lothian and Borders, and the South Lanarkshire Problem Orientated Policing Model (Scottish Parliament Justice Inquiry 2008: 173 and 177; HMIC 2004: 37) - but although much of it looked promising it was also clear that there was no common approach; exemplified by the different designations used to describe community officers ( HMIC 2004: 31). The variety of approaches taken in Scotland, and the lack of proper documentation and evaluation of these approaches, has lent an ambiguity to attempts to describe CP in Scotland and might be suggestive of its relatively low status. The Scottish Government's new Community Policing Engagement Principles signal an attempt to take on this challenge, but there is no room for complacency. Donnelly found, only a few years ago, that 'although supportive of the concept and philosophy [of CP] … officers do not see a role for themselves in this style of policing and indeed for many officers community style policing is not the main attraction of a career in the police service' (Donnelly 2005: 148). If CP is to work in Scotland it will have to be properly sold to the people who will make it work and give it life - the police.