Street pastors as substitutes for trust in the context of plural policing

Swann, Rachel; Green, Alison; Johns, Nick and Sloan, Luke (2015). Street pastors as substitutes for trust in the context of plural policing. Safer Communities, 14(4) pp. 168–182.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1108/SC-03-2015-0011

Abstract

Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to explore the work of the Street Pastors, a Christian organisation offering support to people in the night time economy (NTE), through the perceptions of students. The role played by this organisation is becoming more important as a shift from policing “by”, “through” and “beyond” to policing from “below” occurs (Jones and Lister, 2015). While the Street Pastors would not regard themselves as “police agents” there is undoubtedly a close connection albeit with geographical variation (Johns et al., 2009b). An evaluation of their activities and of public attitudes particularly around issues of trust is therefore important.
Design/methodology/approach – An online survey using the university’s student “portal” invited students to participate. A small incentive was offered, in the form of a prize draw for £50 worth of shopping vouchers. The survey took place during the first part of the Spring term during 2012 (January and February). The study analyses the 361 responses in reference to their knowledge of the Street Pastors, whether they had any “interactions” with them and whether they were regular users of the NTE.
Findings – Overwhelmingly respondents were either positive or completely ambivalent about the Street Pastors. The responses to the attitude statements indicated that the Street Pastors are seen as “independent” of police officers. The links between Street Pastors and crime reduction are not clear, however, respondents agreed that the Street Pastors did contribute to safety in the city.
Research limitations/implications – There are more than 20,000 students in the city and the findings can therefore be seen as tentative and indicative rather than generalisable to the entire student population. With the increasing emphasis on community involvement in “policing”, the findings from the research does suggest that the street pastor’s voluntary patrols are beneficial in terms of enhancing perceptions of safety.
Practical implications – Street Pastors do have an important role in the policing of the NTE, from handing out water and flip flops to comforting those who are in distress. Within the broader “police family” their role can then make a positive contribution to the practical challenges associated with a volatile environment.
Social implications – The NTE is associated with considerable public health and safety issues and the contribution of a voluntary group to easing some of these problems is significant. Whilst their presence is not entirely unproblematic, particularly in raising questions of accountability, their activities could be argued to contribute to the well-being of revellers.
Originality/value – Research on policing “below” the level of the state is street pastors is an under-explored area. Street pastors have attracted very little attention despite their being a large organisation that are a feature of NTEs throughout the UK.

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