Doing the right thing? value conflicts and community policing

Research on police legitimacy and public confidence underlines the importance of the police demonstrating moral alignment with the communities they serve. However, less attention is given to conflict between values, either within communities or between communities and the police. This study explores value conflicts in community or neighbourhood policing from a perspective of political realism, which suggests that such conflicts are inevitable and can only be resolved in temporary and contingent ways. It does so through a case study of neighbourhood policing, seen through local ward panel meetings, in one London borough. In total, 33 semi-structured interviews with 43 participants were undertaken, and seven hours of observations. This paper identifies four value-based conflicts that emerged through the meetings, and shows how neighbourhood police officers were able to provisionally resolve them, thus supporting confidence and legitimacy. However, it also shows how austerity has put this capacity at risk, both operationally, and through a receding of confidence as an organisational priority, with potential long-term consequences for public confidence in the police. With global protests such as Black Lives Matters, and anti-lockdown demonstrations, underlining the importance of public confidence and legitimacy to police organisations across the world, this paper adds to the evidence on the capacity of community policing to support this, offers a new perspective to understand the role of values in policing, and discusses the policy implications.

University of Lincoln, College of Social Science Research

Carina O’Reilly, University of Lincoln, College of Social Science