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Adapting, acting out, or standing firm: understanding the place of drugs in the policing of a London borough

Bear, Daniel (2013) Adapting, acting out, or standing firm: understanding the place of drugs in the policing of a London borough. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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The number of police recorded incidents in England and Wales involving cannabis more than doubled between 2004 and 2009 even though use of the drug was in decline and official policy was geared towards tackling drugs ‘that cause most harm’(Home Office 2008). Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork carried out in a single London borough during the 12 months leading up to the 2011 riots, this research examines the place of drugs within everyday policing, focusing on the working lives of street-level police officers who are not attached to specialist drug squads. The concept of bifurcation (Garland 1996, 2001) is used to make sense of, ”a series of policies that appear deeply conflicted, even schizoid, in their relation to one another” (Garland 2001, pg. 110). Analysis of the ethnographic data shows how the ‘structured ambivalence’ of state responses is evident in relation to front-line policing, including the policing of drugs. We find that the backbone of modern policing, Response Teams, are being pulled towards a ‘classic’ style of policing where officers ‘act out’ and impose order through the visible exercise of their powers, reasserting the authority of the state. This is a far cry from officers in Safer Neighbourhood Teams who work predominantly on Community Policing efforts, adapting their working styles, engaging with community partners, and focusing on ‘damage limitation’ efforts. The thesis charts these different orientations in relation to officers’ general activities, before going onto show how they are visible in the way each team approaches drugs policing. From here it will be argued that the increase in recorded incidents involving drugs reflects the influence of New Public Managerialism and the focus on output-based targets. These performance targets were easily fulfilled by targeting low-level drugs offences, and once met, officers were free to police as they saw fit. Instead of officers evolving their practices as the organisation evolved, NPM allowed officers to stand firm and maintain their culture, policing practice, and sense of mission. The author accompanied both Response Teams and Safer Neighbourhood Teams of the Metropolitan Police Service during their shifts, and also conducted 23 interviews with officers. This research also developed new digital ethnography methods that might be utilised by ethnographers in other disciplines.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2013 Daniel Bear
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology
Sets: Departments > Social Policy
Supervisor: Shiner, Michael

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