Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

School of Law

Research Student: Ashley Kilgallon

Liaison based public order policing and processes governing the reduction of conflict during crowd events

Photo of Ashley Kilgallon

Since 2009 there have been substantial reforms to public order policing policy and guidance in the U.K., underpinned by application of the Human Rights Act (1998) and theoretical understanding of crowds. The reforms involve enhancing police capacity for dialogue to augment perceptions of police legitimacy, avoid disproportionate force and reduce conflict by empowering ‘self regulation’ among crowd participants. This capacity is delivered primarily through Police Liaison Teams (PLTs). The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) has a full time PLT, based within their Public Order Unit, now deployed to the majority of crowd events. However, whilst there is a great deal of anecdotal evidence that PLTs are reducing conflict there is no systematic data or analysis of PLTs, behavioural outcomes or processes mediating their (in)effectiveness.

Using a predominately ethnographic approach, my PhD will focus on trying to address the issue of limited systematic data or analysis of PLTs and their (in)effectiveness by developing research guided by specific objectives to:

  1. Gather direct evidence on the deployment, role and function of the PLT in practice across a range of crowd events within MPS jurisdiction.
  2. Understand the impact of PLTs upon crowd dynamics, psychology and behaviour, particular as this relates to the avoidance of conflict and criminality.
  3. Advance understanding of the epistemology of evidence based approaches to the policing of crowd events.

Develop theoretical understanding of the relationships between public order policing and crowd behaviour, particularly with respect to police use of force and the maintenance of human rights.


I completed my undergraduate degree in Sociology and Anthropology with Study Abroad at the University of Exeter from 2010-2014. Whilst studying at Exeter I experienced a wide variety of different modules from Social Anthropology, to the Sociology of Addiction to Criminology. This overview of Sociological and Anthropological disciplines taught me how important it is to approach academia from an interdisciplinary mind-set and it is this style that I sought for my PhD. During my third year at Exeter I studied abroad at Iowa State University in America studying a mixture of many criminology and policing related classes, American history and Sociology. One class in particular, taught by a police officer, prompted me to seek an internship with Ames Police Department. Whilst with the PD for six months I shadowed many different roles alongside also taking part in the Citizen’s Police Academy – a programme focused on educating civilians about police work. Alongside this experience, I have also interned with the Violence Reduction Unit in Glasgow and completed my undergraduate dissertation looking at the Integrated Offender Management Programme in Bristol. This experience further intensified my interest in researching the police and progressing towards a completing a PhD.

What motivated me to undertake PhD study?

I have always been passionately interested in police and policing which has always been my main driver for working towards gaining a PhD. Having grown up in a policing environment, I always felt I had a unique comfort around police officers which allowed me to integrate and learn about their occupational cultures, pressures and motivations. I always knew I wanted to complete a PhD focused on policing and my drive was always to have some researching link to the Metropolitan Police Service, therefore this partnership PhD between the University of Leeds and MPS was absolutely perfect for me. I passionately believe that a strong, ethical and facilitating police force reflects those qualities in a democratic country  - the police are an acutely magnified reflection of wider society and this has always interested me. Reading the ethnographic literature of people like Van Maanen, Skolnick and more recently the work of Alice Goffman further exemplified to me where my interests and passions lie and pushed me to apply for a PhD programme.

What makes me passionate about my subject?

Public Order policing and the exploration of crowd dynamics is an area of interest that is relatively new to me – having started looking at it when beginning my Master’s programme under the guidance and supervision of Clifford Stott. The research aims to explore a vast variety of different crowd events – such as sporting events, celebrations such as New Years Eve and also events such as Nottinghill Carnival. Alongside this, protests play a massive part in my research and being based in the capital, there are certainly no shortages of protests! This is an area of policing that is fundamental within a democratic country and research focused on continually increasing the democratic facilitation of protest is likely to have positive impact within society. I don’t think there could be a more interesting time to be exploring this area – with the student protests and London riots still fresh in everyone’s memories, the recent “Anti-Tory” protests in Whitehall and the continued “anti-gentrification” protests that are becoming increasingly present in London we can continue to see how important understanding the dynamics of different groups and their interactions with police is, but also how police can continue to ensure public safety in such a financially challenging time.

What are my plans once I have completed my PhD?

I haven’t completely committed to any career goals after completing my PhD and I think this is quite a good way to be – as it means you’re constantly considering different career options and explore every avenue of interest. I think ultimately, I will seek work that is related to the expertise I will gain when completing my PhD whether that be explicitly in academia, a think tank, a policing focused research center or perhaps in government.

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