Demands for Police to Soften their Approach

Although the public wants the police to be firm with criminals, as described above (, there is justifiable dismay if they use disproportionate violence.  And over-zealous policing can be counterproductive.  Law enforcement requires public consent for it to be effective, so it is important that police are not seen as being unduly heavy-handed and that they are seen as treating everyone equally.  Several high-profile examples illustrate these points:

●  The Department of Justice Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department, for example, revealed that the police in this Missouri town (population 12,000) were over-zealous:

“City officials have consistently set maximizing revenue as the priority for Ferguson’s law enforcement activity” (section 3);

“Ferguson law enforcement practices violate the law and undermine community trust, especially among African Americans” (section 4);

“Between July 1, 2010, and June 30, 2014, the City of Ferguson issued approximately 90,000 citations and summonses for municipal violations” (section 2).

●  Ferguson shot to prominence with police violence.  There were riots in protest against the killing of a young black man: a theme that shot into global prominence as the Black Lives Matter Movement.

●  The legitimacy of law-enforcement and national security forces depends partly upon them being seen to be representative of the population at large, for example Catholics underrepresented in N. Ireland police, quotas being considered:

“The old Royal Ulster Constabulary was only 8 percent Catholic and so had an unselfconsciously Protestant ‘ethos’, from which most Catholics felt estranged”.

In response to these problems, and as new issues arise, people seek police reform – to make the service more acceptable and more accountable to the public.  One approach is to have more local control, as recommended by the Stevens report on policing for example, which made “a case for the reinforcement of a social justice model of neighbourhood policing”.


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This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/5253.htm.