Why is the Police Culture a serious obstacle to reform?

Police Culture is defined as a set of beliefs and values shared within the police force along with the patterns that associate within the force, such as respect and comradeship. Organisational culture is the common type of culture which is defined by writers like Schein (1985: 6 cited in Newburn 2003: 197) and is understood that the beliefs, values and behaviour within the force are unconsciously taken for granted . Kier (1999:26 cited in Newburn 2003: 197) noted that organisational cultures have a vital influence on how police officers react to certain things and their relationships towards their colleagues on the aspects regards of gender, race and religion. Gender quality is one of the most influential features highlighted within the police and organisational cultures (Morgan 1992 cited in Newburn 2003: 197). Gregory and Lees (1999: 50 cited in Newburn 2003: 197) highlighted an example of gendered quality within the police force like male bonding within policing. They believed that male bonding is essential when it comes to dealing with dangerous situations. Nonetheless, Kier (1999: 27 cited in Newburn 2003: 197) also argued that male bonding involves one common value shared among them is the machismo value.

Reiner (2000: 87 cited in Newburn 2003) noted that cop culture, a set of patterns of understandings with the aims of aiding officers to adjust to the tensions when it comes to tackling issues which are confronting to the police. He also emphasises (2000: 90 cited in Newburn 2003: 199 -200) that isolation, risk – taking, authority and pragmatism are all the central building blocks of cop culture. Punch (1985: 187 cited in Newburn 2003: 198) criticised that the strain and anxiety among the police were embellished by olice officers and police research who become hypnotised by the police world and assigned to develop behaviour patterns rather than accepting the similarities of other occupations. For example, Winslow 1998 and Kier 1999 (Newburn 2003: 198) that cop culture concentrates and associates with junior police officers in the front – line policing rather than middle, senior managers and even superintendents.

The media play a partial influence on police culture where they are portrayed as crime fighters who carry out numerous tasks from driving fast in patrol cars to raiding homes of criminal who believed to possess illegal drugs (Newburn 2003: 200). It can be criticised that police officers portray differently from what they are seen from the TV show such as the Bill. In reality, police officers are viewed as crime fighters and more importantly in fact, as peace keepers who maintain social order and deal with case files and paper work which is suggested by Michael Banton (1964 cited in Newburn 2003: 201 – 2) who carried out the first study on British policing. However, Ericson and Haggerty (1997: 299 cited in Newburn 2003: 201) who observed the Canadian police officers, learnt that police officers make complaints about doing paper instead of pursuing crime like catching and apprehending criminals.

Newburn (2003: 202 – 3) stressed that new police recruits are hastened to assimilate to the norms and values within the police force and have to learn the tricks of the trade in order to be not only physically strong, but emotionally as well as policing is considered to be dangerous and distressing when dealing with homicide, fatal assaults to breaking up pub fights and affray. Fielding (1988: 54 cited in Newburn 2003: 203) sees that police training provides the new recruits the tools and practice in fostering occupational cultures within the police. In contrast, culture values are originated from expressing ideas among the police and the back chats made among colleagues and conversations made in corridors and staff changing rooms. Training also has the opportunity to hypodermic inject a dose of police reality with the intention to vaccinate the naive and deluded minds of new recruits so they learn that policing is not what they see on fictional TV shows. The most essential tradition for new recruits is the progression from self – sufficiency to becoming a productive member of the team where aims and values are shared (Fielding 1988: 189 cited in Newburn 2003:203).

It is believed that there were various explanations that advocate the debate among cultural and structural within policing especially the uses of discretion. From a political lens, Jerome Skolnick (1966: ch3 cited in Maguire, Morgan & Reiner 2007: 918) noted from his classic formulation that the police in liberal democracy are faced with a problem which involves them working under pressure in order to succeed within the form of law enforcement, but they were restricted from the methods they can use during the discretion process. He categorized three views of cop culture: suspiciousness, internal solidarity and conservatism.

Suspiciousness transpires from the pressure among the police to achieve results by catching and seizing criminals and the fear which comes with it. It can be criticised that suspiciousness makes the police liable to operate with prejudiced stereotypical portrayals of villains and deviants.  Internal solidarity bonds with social isolation. Solidarity is all about colleagues facing fear and life – threatening situations together. In contrast, social isolation is the creation of arranged aspects of work, such as the shift system and people’s caution towards interacting with authority figures. However, isolation could magnify the stereotypical portrayals of villains in terms of race, class; gender and class whereas, solidarity could be used as a tool to prevent professional misconduct. Conservatism from a moral and social angle is that police function is seen as the heart of representing and in defending authority and are in duty of the protecting and preserving law and order. In some cases, police are likely to have an option or opinions that are influenced by the narratives which is deemed influential. One example, they find themselves sympathetic and empathetic with deviants especially, women who are apprehended for theft or deviants with mental health disorders and criminals that come from broken environments. Political conservatism is a less common element of police culture. Robert Reiner (2000: 191 – 4 cited in Maguire, Morgan & Reiner 2007: 918) noted that police officers are liable to political right despite of having working class values.

Structural explanations about police culture highlight the importance of beliefs and values within the police force which are relevant in explaining their customs. These values and beliefs are converted into actions in distinct circumstances. For instance, Waddington (1996b cited in Maguire, Morgan & Reiner 2007: 920) argues that police officers who exhibit signs of racial discrimination are restricted from displaying racist views within the work place. Police work is structured by the authorisation and administration of police. The modern police are largely prepared for duty in the public sphere. In contrast, police practice is shaped by the legal and social institution of privacy outlined by characteristics of class, race and gender.

Evidence are argued to vindicate why police culture is considered a serious obstacle to be reformed. Many writers and researchers were challenged by debates that question if there is likelihood that police culture can be changed into a more positive form as it is deemed to be overwhelmingly negative due to sensitive matters within race and gender. One of the writers included in this debate is James .Q. Wilson (1968: 4 cited in Newburn 2003) who concluded after carrying out a study on American policing, that the uses of force was placed on behaviour patterns among police officers. .Janet Chan (1997: 92-3 cited in Newburn 2003: 219) argues that police cultures are susceptible to external pressure and anxiety. She (1996, 1997 cited in Newburn 2003: 219 – 20) noted from an encouraging study which arouse debates about the change of police culture, learnt that corruption within the police department in New South Wales, Australia was accepted. However, it had been changed as the police department were obliged to concede and implement an anti – corruption strategy; a version of New York’s zero tolerance strategy which would prevent these mistakes from happening again.

Gender is suggested to be an issue which sends a wave of concern among many writers, particularly those with feminist views particularly views on radical feminism form debates to vindicate whether there are serious matters relating to gender within the policing, such as bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination. It has been noted (Heidensohn cited in Newburn 2003: 557) that most of the police recruits were  male by seventy – five years since the Metropolitan police was established in 1829 by the Police Acts. Nevertheless, the transformation between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw the launch of policewomen’s movement by those who advocated the employment opportunities for women within the police force.

Dorothy Schulz (1995 cited in Newburn 2003: 560) noted that Alice Stebbins – Wells was appointed as the first female police officer in 1910 by the Los Angeles Police Department after the policewomen’s movement. Few renowned writers like Margaret Damer Dawson, Mary Allen and Nina Boyle who have been linked with first wave feminism pushed for voluntary policewomen to patrol the streets in Britain. Frances Heidensohn (cited in Newburn 2003: 561) noted that women’s position within the police was persisted to be limited until the end of the Second World War. They were assigned and trained to carry out tasks, from escorting female prisoners to dealing female victims of crime especially victims of rape. The acceptance and legislation of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 was considered a stepping stone to vital changes of women’s roles within policing. It can be suggested that feminist writers are from the middle and upper classes and considered to be well educated.

Even though it can be suggested that women who pursue careers within policing sent a wave of rebellion against society’s stereotypical roles of women, as arguably, women are prone to victimisation by patriarchal influences within policing. Martin (1980) carried out the first study of policing in Washington DC in attempt find out how women adapt to occupational culture, especially cultures that are male- dominated where women are viewed as sex objects. Female police officers are  argued to be seen as a “threat” to the male macho chauvinistic values held in policing especially if they were promoted to higher hierarchal positions. Radical feminists could argue that women are subjected to sexual bullying which comes in minor forms, such as sexual comments and name – calling to most serious forms like rape although it can be suggested that rape is rarely committed. Disturbingly, it can be imagined that female officers are suggested to feel they are bullied, blackmailed or bribed into giving sexual favours to male chief constables disturbed by the anxiety of losing their promotion or career altogether.

It is suggested that subcultures are formed among female police officers however, it has been noted by Marissa Silvestri (2000, 2003 cited in Newburn 2003: 568) who emphasised numerous critical outlooks of senior policewomen and discovered that they felt isolated within their hierarchal positions. Cases of sexual discrimination and harassment against women police officers were published in newspapers, such as the case of Dee Mazurkiewicz, who became the second policewoman turned detective constable to win a sexual harassment case against Thames Valley Police, claimed that her career was jeopardized by being nicknamed “Massive Cleavage” and was accussed of exposing her breasts during suspect interrogation (The independent 11th November 1997).

Arguably, one of the reasons why police culture is seen as negative is how police respond to crimes, such as domestic violence, physical and sexual abuse of children and crimes of sexual nature against women. It can be suggested that women are more sympathetic when dealing these sensitive issues than men as they can take a maternal and nurturing approach to dealing with victims’ emotions and seem to be matured . Jones (et al 1994 cited in Newburn 2003: 569) noted after researching four provincial on new responses towards crimes committed against women and children, such as the creation rape and sex assault examination suites and officers to specialise in child protection. However, the case of Victoria Climbe, an eight year old girl who was murdered at the hands of her mother and boyfriend triggered Lord Laming (2003: 296, 309 cited in Newburn 2003: 569) to observe and learnt the training that the police officers who were involved in this case was inadequate although the front – line officers were women.

Race is suggested to be the core issue which raised controversy and is concentrated more than gender historically. Research vindicate that ethnic minorities are subjected to discrimination as victims and employees within policing. Since the 1960s, it can be argued that ethnic minorities are represented in sports, business, politics, the civil service and medicine and none of them are represented in policing. Researches vindicate that police assess and categorise people of their ethnic origin. For example, it had been noted (Cain 1973, Graef 1989: 131 cited in Newburn 2003: 529) that studies reveal that Asians were classified as clever liars, deceptors fraudsters and potential illegal immigrants whereas in contrast Graef (1989, Reiner 1991 cited in Newburn 2003: 529) noted that black people are suggested to be trouble – makers, sexual deviants, highly aggressive, non – intelligent and participate mainly in violent crime and drug abuse.

Numerous researches illustrated that Black and Asian police officers were subjected to racial discrimination by their white counterparts. An overwhelming interview of ethnic minority police officers by Holdaway (1993 cited in Newburn 2003: 540) revealed that racist remarks and jokes were normally “a way of life” among police conservations which are carried out in canteens or changing rooms. It had been noted (Smith and Gray 1985; Holdaway 1983 cited in Maguire, Morgan & Reiner 2007: 436) from qualitative research conducted on police culture revealed racial derogatory words, such as ‘Paki’ ‘Nigger’ and ‘Coon were commonly used and accepted in police conversations. The Journal of Policing and Reducing Crime contained research which suggested that Black and Asian officers were slower than their white counterparts in obtaining promotion (1999: vi) It was also believed that ethnic minority graduates are more likely to have their applications withdrawn or rejected than their white counterparts. It can be argued that racism could have an immediate effect on career prospectus among Black, Asian and Ethnic minority officers. It had been noted (Hunte 1966 cited in Newburn 2003: 530) that oppressive policing could be originated to the 1960s where a report to the West Indian Standing Council illustrate the police participate in practices like ‘nigger – hunting’.

It can be argued that ethnic minorities and black people in particular, display pessimistic attitudes towards police officers. It had been noted (Gordon 1984 cited in Newburn 2003: 530) immigration was emphasised as a controversial debate which determined the experiences of policing among ethnic minorities where police officers were granted the powers by The Immigration Act of 1971 to apprehend and question those who were alleged to immigrate to the country illegally or overstaying their terms of entry and would be stopped and searched.

The brutal assault of Rodney King, an African – American by Police Officers in Los Angeles after being stopped for drunk – driving in March 1993 is argued to be proved as evidence that police abuse their powers of arrest and suggested that this and many cases of police brutality encourage or influence ethnic minorities to view the police as “racist”. Racially – motivated harassment among ethnic minority persisted until the British government and the police in 1981 accepted the problem and begin to record it (Home Office 1981 Bowling 1999). Bowling (1999 cited in Newburn 2003: 540) who carried out a study in East London, noted that ethnic minorities who experienced racist abuse were unhappy with the way the police respond to dealing these crimes and felt the police could have done better and felt the police did not take these crimes seriously. However, some compromised with how racist abuse was dealt with by the police and less than one – third of the people interviewed were satisfied. Stephen Lawrence, a black youth who was murdered in a racially – motivated and unprovoked attack triggered Sir William Macpherson to carry out a report of the police response to the murder, and discovered there was an indication of institutional racism. In his 10 year review report, it been noted that Doreen Lawrence, the mother of the Mr Lawrence felt that black families were treated differently from white families. She also believed that institution racism exist in some areas of the police force. Dwayne Brooks, a friend of Mr Lawrence recommends that racial allegations made by members of the public against officers should be considerably practiced with caution and taken more seriously. The report concluded that black people are persisted to be overrepresented in the National DNA Database and in the criminal justice system. They (Black people) are remained disproportionately represented in stop and search statistics. The report also recommended the police must concentrate on confronting issues of racist discrimination within the workforce.

On the whole, it is clear to be obvious that police culture is a serious obstacle to be reformed from the evidence mentioned in this essay. This essay emphasises that majority of police officers were white middle class males with machismo values. Police Officers are argued to have indirect unconscious disturbing views of racism and sexism in policing and the police force is argued to be a breeding ground for corruption which may in turn influence policing tackles seriousness of hate crimes experienced by Black Asians and Ethnic minorities, and members of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender communities along with cases of domestic and sexual violence and child abuse. The media obviously, plays a manipulative influence on police culture which deludes our minds towards policing rather realities of behind the scenes. It is clear that institutional racism continues to exist in many forms along with gender discrimination in policing especially in dealing bullying in the workplace. However, writers should be criticized for ignoring the issues of sexuality and religion in policing which is blinded by race and gender. This essay could recommend that more training should be provided within the police force to become more sensitive in dealing with victims of male rape, hate crimes and domestic violence especially in ethnic minorities. It can be recommended that strategies should be implemented to tackle languages barriers within ethnic minority communities and  should continue to tackle indirect forms of discrimination in the private and public sphere of policing.

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Internet site (s)


The Macpherson Report – Ten Years On (2009) HoC: Home Affairs Committee: London.



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