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Neighbourhood policing: community, confidence and legitimacy in a London borough

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posted on 2023-08-31, 08:21 authored by Carina O'Reilly
This thesis examines how confidence and legitimacy are maintained through the processes of neighbourhood policing; an area particularly important for the legitimation of the police, but which has come under severe pressure from austerity-driven budget cuts. These pressures have been accompanied by a shift away from community-driven police priorities and towards concerns for risk, vulnerability and ‘hidden harms.’ Together, these changes could have serious consequences for police legitimacy. This study, for which fieldwork was undertaken between June 2016 and September 2017, looks at neighbourhood policing in a single London borough. It was undertaken as an embedded case study, enabling comparisons between wards. Interviews were carried out with neighbourhood police officers, ward panel members, council officers and local councillors, as well as senior police officers. These were supplemented with observations of panel and public meetings. The study found that the mechanisms by which neighbourhood policing were originally intended to deliver confidence were still valued. However, they required face-to-face engagement with the public, and so were particularly susceptible to resource limitations. The London system of ward panels could support neighbourhood policing in unexpected (although not entirely unproblematic) ways. However, the study also found that resident priorities and values were highly variable, and often differed from police priorities, and that these disagreements could also be exacerbated by resource constraints. The research concludes that legitimacy and confidence are locally and situationally contingent, as are ideas of ‘fairness’ and other values. This means that maintaining confidence and legitimacy in a complex modern society needs a model of policing that includes processes to determine what residents value. Such a model must also include a community-driven element; it is not sufficient to decide what it is that policing should achieve and then hope that confidence and legitimacy will follow. This has important consequences for the way that neighbourhood policing is conceptualised, organised, and supported.



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