Introduction: understanding policing

Authored by: Tim Newburn

Handbook of Policing

Print publication date:  August  2008
Online publication date:  August  2012

Print ISBN: 9781843925002
eBook ISBN: 9780203118238
Adobe ISBN: 9781136308529


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Social scientific literature is now dominated by discussions of globalisation, risk, new forms of modernity and cognate terms. Though varied in focus, what this literature shares is a concern with understanding what is perceived to be the very significant and rapid changes affecting our society and those around us. These changes – however described – permeate all aspects of public life, including policing. What is in little doubt is that we live in complex times. That the police play a central role in the maintenance of order is rarely questioned. Most opinion polls asking questions about security return the finding that the public appetite for ‘more bobbies on the beat’ remains undimmed. Yet, it is also the case that people are now much more sceptical about the abilities of the police than once would have been the case and are likely to be much more critical about their interactions with police officers. Writing in the inter-war years Charles Reith, in his ‘orthodox’ history of the police, suggested that, ‘What is astonishing … is the patience and blindness displayed both by citizens and authority in England over a period of nearly a hundred years, during which they persistently rejected the proposed and obvious police remedy for their increasing fears and sufferings' (1938: v, emphasis added). It is rarer now for policing to be viewed as an obvious remedy for the problems that confront us for, as Reiner (2000: 217) notes, ‘police and policing cannot deliver on the great expectations now placed on them in terms of crime control’. Nevertheless, there remains considerable residual faith in this particular state institution.

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