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The term ‘police culture’ is used to describe a complex set of beliefs and values held within the police force (Campeau, 2015). Culture has also been described as a patterned set of understandings to enable officers to cope, and adjust, to the pressures and tensions of front line policing (Maguire et al, 2002). There has been an increasing public interest in police culture over the past forty years, this interest is mainly due to public concerns, and therefore a discussion will be attempted, to look at if, and how police culture has changed. Events such as the Scarman Report (1981) have identified many of the problems within police culture, as has the Macpherson Report (1999), this essay will seek to evaluate whether these issues have been resolved in contemporary policing. A great number of scholars have studied police culture, such as, Reiner, Skolnick, Westley and Wilson, although most observational studies have focussed on uniformed officers, ignoring the behavioural differences and attitudes between “street cops” and “managerial cops” (Maguire et al, 2002).
Reiner (1985) famously summarised that police officers have core characteristics, he described the police as pessimistic, conservative, mission orientated, isolated, suspicious and masculine (Campeau, 2015). Policing has traditionally been a heterosexual, white male dominated occupation. With officers usually coming from an upper working class background, with very little formal education (Loftus, 2004). This created issues for individuals who did not fit these requirements due to sexuality, ethnicity or gender (Loftus, 2004). Stereotypical ‘cop culture’ has been described as almost a pure form of hegemonic masculinity (Newburn and Stanko, 1995). Officers are described to be aggressive, competitive and have a very patriarchal view towards women, often using racist or sexist language (Newburn and Stanko, 1995). Women encountered significant difficulty gaining acceptance into the police force as ‘real’ officers (Loftus, 2004). Members of the force become extremely loyal towards each other, and became isolated from others outside of the force. Westley (1970) suggested that police officers react this way for self-protection from the hostile world, as they see it. Joining together in isolation, and secrecy, from those outside of the police force.
Police culture has become a topic of interest since 1960, Westley (1970) being one of the earliest researchers into the subject (O’Neill et al, 2007). Westley (1970) noted that police officers appear to be have a very hostile view of the world around them, mainly because officers only come into contact with those that need to be policed, rather than those who need to be protected. The realities of police work, monotonous, mundane and unexciting, compared with the expectations of an action packed crime fighting day can also cause officers to develop a cynical view of the world around them (Banks, 2004).This cynical view could have a negative impact on the way police perform their duties, and view their job role (Banks, 2004).
The behaviour of the police force has led the public to believe that they are both racist and prejudiced towards minorities. Scarman (1981), was appointed to chair an investigation into the police force, following the Brixton Riots that took place between the 10th and 12th of April 1981 (Stout, 2010). The Scarman report (1981) described these incidents as the worst civil disorder outbreak in the 20th Century (Watson 2013). They occurred not only in Brixton but also in Manchester, Liverpool, West Midlands and Southall. These incidents, it was claimed by the public, were the result of the deteriorating relationship between the black community and the police, alongside high unemployment and existing social divisions (Bowling, 1998). Reports have since shown that the public, at the time, saw the police as racist and oppressive, the general consensus being that the police were contributing factors to the levels of violence that took place (Watson, 2013). The Moss Side Riots in 1981 were very similar, blaming police racism for the violence. The Moss Side community had consisted mainly of Asian and Caribbean communities, there had been reports of police abusing black youths before the attack began (Watson 2013).
The Scarman Report (1981) concluded that recognition and action was required to meet the needs, and special problems, of ethnic minorities (Bowling, 1998). Scarman (1981) reported that training was inadequate within the police and that racism, prejudice or discriminatory behaviour should become a disciplinary offence. A new monitoring and recording process for all police stop and search procedures, to eliminate accusations that ethnic minorities are searched more frequently (Stout, 2010). Scarman (1981) also recommended that the priority of the police force should be the maintenance of public safety, rather than just enforcing the law (Stout, 2010). Although Scarman (1981) acknowledged that there was indirect discrimination within the police, his report did not go as far to say that the force was institutionally racist, however there was no policy in place to discourage racism (Stout, 2010).
The riots were a huge turning point for the police force, and the concept of public policing. As a result of the report there was to be an increased emphasis on community based policing in the years that followed (Watson, 2013). The Scarman Report (1981) was intended to produce a radical change within the police force, both with regards to race and equality (McLaughlin, 2006). However, a decade later it became apparent that racism was still prevalent within the force (McLaughlin, 2006).
Stephen Lawrence was a black teenager who was murdered in a racially motivated attack by a group of five white youths (Coates and Lawler, 2000). Nobody has ever been charged for his murder, and the investigation faced severe criticism. The Metropolitan Police force were subject to a public enquiry (Coates and Lawler, 2000). Macpherson (1999) conducted an inquiry into the investigation and produced a report. The report stated that the police attending the scene made little or no effort to pursue Lawrence’s attackers (Giddens and Griffiths, 2006). The murder was not treat as urgent by the police, and as a result vital evidence was lost. Police surveillance of the incident was poorly organised. Witness statements were not taken seriously, and improper searches of the suspects houses were performed (Newburn, 2007). The Metropolitan police presumed that Lawrence was either a gang member, or had been involved in a street brawl, despite being an innocent victim of a racially motivated attack (Giddens and Griffiths, 2006). There was no evidence to suggest that senior officers attempted to intervene at any point, to rectify the mistakes that were made during the investigation (Newburn, 2007). Macpherson (1999) stated within his report that there had been fundamental errors without any doubt. The investigation was flawed by a combination of failure of leadership from senior officers, professional incompetence and institutional racism (Newburn, 2007).
The case of Stephen Lawrence opened a wider political debate into the methods of policing racial crime (Coates and Lawler, 2000). During the course of the investigation several police constables admitted the existence of racial attitudes amongst their officers, describing the problem as institutional racism (Coates and Lawler, 2000). The Macpherson Report (1999) identified institutional racism within the police force, and made seventy recommendations for improvement, including racial awareness training for all officers. Stronger disciplinary action was introduced for racist or discriminatory behaviour to remove racist officers. Furthermore, the report also expressed the need for a clearer definition of what constitutes a racist incident (Giddens and Griffiths, 2006). The police force had to show a commitment to employ more black and Asian officers. It was recommended that the home office should determine a nationally agreed procedure for dealing with complaints against the police (Joyce, 2001). The responsibility for dealing with a formal complaints procedure was to be with staff who were completely separate from the police force, to eradicate racism and bias from the police force (Joyce, 2012). The current system of police accountability, based on the Police Act (1964) provides a tripartite system of accountability (Kadar, 2001). The tripartite consists of three separate bodies, The Home Office, The Chief Constable and the local police authorities (Kadar, 2001). The responsibilities of the police force are distributed between the three to provide accountability to parliament through the home secretary (Joyce, 2012).
Documentaries that broadcast behaviour, usually hidden from the public have become a fascination in contemporary media (Chakraborti and Garland, 2009). In 2003 a documentary showed on BBC1 exposed extreme violent and racist attitudes by a number of police officers (Rowe, 2007).The documentary was filmed by an undercover reporter at a police training centre in Warrington. ‘The Secret Policemen’ shocked the public, as it showed trainee officers expressing support for far right political organisations and stereotyping (Chakraborti and Garland, 2009). More recently the Dispatches film ‘Undercover Copper’ released in 2006 revealed sexism, and pornography as continued features amongst officers within the police force (Rowe, 2007). The film also raised concerns of officers attitudes towards victims of rape, showing some male officers as behaving in an un-concerning manner towards victims (Rowe, 2007), it showed several examples of gender bias and prejudicial attitudes (Chakraborti and Garland, 2009). These documentaries gave an image to the public, that despite recommendations and apparent reform of the police force, nothing had changed. The police still displayed racist and inappropriate behaviour (Chan, 1996).