School of Law

Contact Details

  • Room: 2.02, Liberty Building
  • Office Hours:
    Mondays, 14.00-15.00; Thursdays - 13.00-14.00
  • Tel: 0113 343 7115
  • Email:

Dr David Churchill

Lecturer in Criminal Justice

I started academic life as an historian, during which time I developed particular interest in issues of crime and justice.

I was awarded an MA in History from the University of Cambridge and a PhD in History from The Open University.

I have taught at the University of Leicester and Birkbeck, University of London, and I held the Economic History Society Anniversary Research Fellowship at the Institute of Historical Research in 2013-14. I first came to Leeds as a research fellow in 2014, before taking up my current role the following year.

Research Interests

Reflecting my academic background, my research is in historical criminology and criminal justice history. This kind of research involves working across disciplines, linking history with criminology and the social sciences. Specifically, I work on subjects related to policing, security and crime control in modern Britain, and I have published several articles on these topics. At present, I am engaged in three major research projects.

The first project assesses the roles of the police and the civilian public in urban crime control. It addresses how crime was policed in the Victorian city by analysing how institutions of crime control (particularly the police) were organised, and by reconstructing the practices of crime prevention, apprehension, detection and resolution at this time, in terms of both ‘official’ policing and ‘unofficial’ civilian crime control.

To date, this project has produced articles and essays on police governance, police-public relations, popular justice and the historiography of modern criminal justice. Further work on urban crime control and on the politics of the police is in progress.

The second project investigates security technologies and the historical development of the modern security industry. Focusing on the security hardware industry (particularly locks, safes and strong rooms) this project contributes a historical perspective to the commodification of security and the technological development of security since the late eighteenth century.

Work so far addresses the role of security product marketing in reshaping attitudes towards crime and security in the past. Ongoing research focuses on ideas of risk and responsibility in urban crime prevention, and on the co-evolution of security technologies and criminal techniques.

The third project concerns public parks and the urban social order. This is a collaborative research project, conducted in conjunction with Anna Barker (University of Bradford) and Adam Crawford (University of Leeds). We are interested in the social purpose of urban public parks – both at the time of their foundation (in the Victorian era) and today – and the relationship between this social purpose and everyday experiences of the park and its regulation.

In addition to these projects, I have interests in several other areas of criminology and criminal justice, including victimisation, prosecution and the criminal justice process, and the interface between crime and technology.


I contribute to teaching on the BA in Criminal Justice and Criminology. Specifically, I coordinate ‘Criminal Justice Study Skills’ at level one, and I teach ‘Policing’ and ‘Crime, Law and Social Change’ at level three. I also supervise undergraduate dissertations.

PhD Supervision

I welcome proposals from students interested in any topic of historical criminology, whether concerned with crime, policing, security, justice or punishment. I would be delighted to discuss any such ideas with prospective applicants, and to advise on crafting proposals which incorporate an historical perspective.

In addition, I would like to hear from students with interests in my areas of research expertise – especially civilian crime control, policing, security technologies and the security industry – either in an historical or a contemporary context. For more details, please see my ‘Research Interests’, above.

Key Publications


  • Churchill D, Crime Control and Everyday Life in the Victorian City: The Police and the Public (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017)

    Author URL []

    This book provides the first detailed study of policing and civilian crime control in nineteenth-century England. It provides a sustained, empirically-rich critique of existing accounts, which present the modern history of crime control as process whereby the state wrested governmental power from the civilian public. According to the orthodox interpretation, the formation of new, ‘professional’ police forces in the nineteenth century is integral to the decline of an early modern, participatory, discretionary culture of self-policing, and its replacement by a modern, centralized, bureaucratic system of crime control. This book critically challenges the established view, and presents a fundamental reinterpretation of changes to crime control in the age of the new police. It breaks new ground by providing a highly detailed, empirical analysis of informal, civilian crime control – which reveals the tremendous activity which ordinary people displayed in responding to crime – alongside a rich survey of formal policing and criminal justice. With unique conceptual clarity, it seeks to reorient modern criminal justice history away from its established preoccupation with state systems of policing and punishment, and move towards a more nuanced analysis of the governance of crime. More widely, the book provides a unique and valuable vantage point from which to rethink the role of civil society and the state in modern governance, the nature of agency and authority in Victorian England, and the historical antecedents of the pluralized modes of crime control which characterize contemporary society.

Journal articles

  • Churchill D, Crawford A, Barker A, ‘Thinking forward through the past: Prospecting for urban order in (Victorian) public parks’, Theoretical Criminology 2017 (Accepted)
    DOI: 10.1177/1362480617713986, Repository URL:

    © 2017, The Author(s) 2017. Supplementing familiar linear and chronological accounts of history, we delineate a novel approach that explores connections between past, present and future. Drawing on Koselleck, we outline a framework for analysing the interconnected categories of ‘spaces of experience’ and ‘horizons of expectation’ across times. We consider the visions and anxieties of futures past and futures present; how these are constituted by, and inform, experiences that have happened and are yet to come. This conceptual frame is developed through the study of the heritage and lived experiences of a specific Victorian park within an English city. We analyse the formation of urban order as a lens to interrogate both the immediate and long-term linkages between past, present and possible futures. This approach enables us to ground analysis of prospects for urban relations in historical perspective and to pose fundamental questions about the social role of urban parks.

  • Churchill D, ‘Security and visions of the criminal: Technology, professional criminality and social change in Victorian and edwardian Britain’, British Journal of Criminology, 56.5 (2016), 857-876
    DOI: 10.1093/bjc/azv092, Repository URL:

    © The Author 2015. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies (ISTD). All rights reserved. The later 19th century saw the formation of two distinct visions of serious criminality. Previous studies of the weak-willed, 'degenerate' offender, have neglected the simultaneous appearance of the modern professional criminal. This essay reveals that the rise of the security industry in the Victorian era served to reshape notions of criminal professionalism, imbuing them with a new emphasis on the technical proficiency of thieves. This image of the criminal provided an outlet for ambivalent reflections on social and technological change, much as similar, high-security visions of the criminal have ever since. Hence, this essay both traces the origins of a neglected aspect of modern criminological thought and reconstructs the historical role of security provision in shaping visions of the criminal.

  • Churchill D, ‘The spectacle of security: Lock-picking competitions and the security industry in mid-victorian britain’, History Workshop Journal, 80.1 (2015), 52-74
    DOI: 10.1093/hwj/dbv018, Repository URL:

  • Churchill D, ‘Rethinking the state monopolisation thesis: the historiography of policing and criminal justice in nineteenth-century England’, Crime, Histoire et Societes/Crime, History and Societies, 18.1 (2014), 131-152
    Repository URL:

    This article reviews how historians have interpreted the changing relationship between crime, policing and the state in nineteenth-century England. Specifically, it traces the influence of the state monopolisation thesis – the idea of the ‘policed society’. The impact of this model is assessed by comparing studies of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century criminal justice, and exposing stark discontinuities in their treatments of key subjects. This article proceeds to critique the state monopolisation thesis, before outlining priorities for further research. These new directions promise to lead to a more sophisticated account of the governance of crime in modern England, and to return nineteenth-century criminal justice history to the study of ordinary people and their lived experiences. (Cet article examine la manière dont les historiens ont interprété l’évolution de la relation entre la criminalité, l’action de la police et l’État dans l’Angleterre du XIXe siècle. Plus spécifiquement, il retrace l’influence de la thèse de la monopolisation par l’État – l’idée d’une « société policée ». Le poids de ce modèle est évalué en comparant des travaux relatifs à la justice pénale des XVIIIe et XIXe siècles, et en pointant les discontinuités frappantes dans la manière dont ils ont traité certaines questions-clés. L’article présente ensuite une critique de la thèse de la monopolisation étatique, avant de dégager les priorités des recherches à venir. Ces orientations nouvelles devraient conduire à une vision plus sophistiquée de la gouvernance de la criminalité dans l’Angleterre moderne, et amener l’histoire pénale du XIXe siècle à étudier l’expérience vécue des gens ordinaires.)

Media Contact Areas

History of crime, policing and security in Britain.

© Copyright Leeds 2018