Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

School of Law

Research Student: Ashley Kilgallon

Liaison-Based Approaches to Public Order Policing: an ethnographic study into police use of dialogue

Photo of Ashley Kilgallon

What is the value of dialogue during the police-citizen interaction process in the maintenance of public order? People are familiar with seeing images of demonstrators surrounded by police officers during protest, often images of direct action. However, what is the role of dialogue before, during and after protest interaction? To enable police to facilitate peaceful protest, communication and negotiation are central. However, their implementation, often under periods of intense and competing pressures, is complex. Understanding how both police and citizens make room for dialogue in this process is essential to understanding its subsequent impact.

Traditionally, public order policing is viewed as being focused more towards the physical capabilities of units of officers, with tactical reliance often being placed on robust methods, as opposed to dialogue. However, since 2009 there have been substantial reforms to public order policing policy and guidance in the U.K. resulting in a new tactical option: police liaison teams (PLTs), deployed for the first time in 2012. Ideologically, PLTs place communication and negotiation as its central focus in an attempt to enhance perceptions of police legitimacy, avoid disproportionate force and reduce conflict by empowering ‘self regulation’ among crowds.

Using PLTs as a case study, this thesis will explore how the use of dialogue within public order policing is utilized by a variety of differently skilled public order police officers, alongside exploring cultural understanding to its use. Adopting an ethnographic approach, the research will be based with the public order unit at the Metropolitan Police Service in London, the collaborator for this research. 

Background

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 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?

Policing has always been my passion and main driver behind continuing into further academic study. Policing is an area that almost everyone in society has some form of opinion on and yet, so few people fully grasp the (often) competing complexities of any one force. Having grown up in a policing environment, with many of my earliest memories being spent at Bramshill Police Training College, it felt a natural path for me to further explore policing from an academic perspective. It is from a micro-sociological perspective that my main passion lies, exploring the occupational cultures, behaviours and attitudes present in policing within Britain. 

Public order policing was an area I had spent little time exploring previous to starting my PhD. Arguably there could not be a more interesting time to be researching this area. The student protests of 2010 and London riots of 2011 still fresh in everyone’s memories, the protests against continued austerity in attack of the welfare system and the more recent Brexit protests demonstrate the continued significance of understanding in depth how to most effectively preserve public order.  

What are my plans once I have completed my PhD?

I haven’t committed to any career goals after completing my PhD.

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