Leiden Safety and Security Blog

Plural policing in comparative perspective

In the latter part of the twentieth century, a trend towards the ‘pluralisation’ of policing emerged, and that trend is continuing in most European countries. In her article “Bringing politics back into the study of policing? A case study on the policing of social disorder in Belgium” in the international journal Policing and Society: An International Journal of Research and Policy assistant professor Elke Devroe (criminologist) uses Foucauldian governmentality theories to understand plural policing developments, in which the importance of constitutional-legal powers are noted in creating the space for political competition throughout the process of public policy formulation and implementation. 
 
Foucault accentuated the disciplinary power aspect of the state, in which politics is a key component. The concept is introduced to transcend the attention given to the state as a monolithic abstract category. Governmentality offers the possibility of shifting away from the normative tradition, in which the concept of the ‘rule of law’ is pushed aside for the benefit of an analysis that focuses upon the concrete practices of modern policy-makers and their power relations in daily settings. In this kind of approach, the state is no longer the center of the analysis. Governmentality offers the possibility of studying all of the techniques and procedures that influence the regulation of society and the living conditions of people. The execution of sovereign state power and disciplinary mechanisms, as a reaction to actions in the past, is replaced by policies that should protect citizens against incidents and prevent risks in the future. In this theoretical thinking, security evolves from a defensive notion (the exclusion of intruders from the outside and the sanctioning of offenders) to an offensive notion, more precisely, one involving the (preventative) regulation of our networked society. Policy-makers are expected to develop a proactive role that translates the punitive mentality into a risk mentality, or the post-crime society into a pre-crime society.
 
The key point in Devroe’s article is the conceptual analysis of the power relations generated by the rhetoric regarding - and the practice of – plural policing. A central objective is to explore the ways in which broader national, regional and local influences, and distinctive political institutions and structures, shape the agendas and actual decisions of key policy actors. The statement made by many Anglophilic scholars, that industrialized countries are becoming increasingly ‘pluralised-privitised’, often seems to have reached the status of universal acceptance. As the division of political power and state constitutional settlements differ in each country, British realities cannot rashly be transferred to other countries.
 
The article broadens the body of knowledge by providing empirical data regarding the situation of plural policing in Belgium, as a case study. In this research, 27 years of security policing have been reconstructed (1985-2012), based on 72 in-depth expert-interviews with Ministers of Internal Affairs, Justice and Big City Policy, cabinet members, civil servants, public prosecutors, Mayors, police Commissioners and other security experts, completed with an extensive document analysis of 472 policy documents, as well grey information as official documents. The findings reveal a completely different situation regarding plural policing than the common stream of empirical research in Great-Britain, and leads to different conclusions on plural policing in a modern age.

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