Williams, Chris A.
Police governance – community, policing, and justice in the modern UK.
Taiwan in Comparative Perspective, 3
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The British police have always had the advantage of their image as a predominantly non-violent force which policed by consent. In reality, of course, this image has obscured a significant amount of violence, which was acceptable to the public at large because it mainly concerned marginalized individuals. Yet as the twentieth century witnessed an ever-greater revulsion against the use of violence in everyday life, this police practice came under increasing scrutiny.
This article will use a historical account to analyse the tension between police power and social legitimacy. It will note a series of crises of legitimacy which occurred in the mid-twentieth century and culminated in the 1960 Royal Commission on Police, and which demonstrate the limited extent to which this Commission addressed the problems which had precipitated it.
It then examines the consequences of the on-going legitimacy challenge which, I argue, had a two-stage effect. The first was to create an unprecedented degree of disconnect between police and the communities which they served in the 1980s – a problem exacerbated by racism and economic decline. The second, though, saw the police engage with a new rhetoric of 'community safety' and move towards closer relationships with other public authorities, and smaller organizational units.
Nevertheless, these units remain politically unaccountable to the areas that they serve, and connection between the police and the community is institutionalized rather than intimate.
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