Faith and Policing

By Karen Bullock

Together with my colleague, Paul Johnson from the University of York, I have recently been conducting research on the role that faith based organisations (FBOs) play in policing. We have been looking at how the British police seek to co-produce forms of crime control with FBOs. One facet of this research has looked at how faith groups may deliver policing relevant interventions on behalf of police services. At the present time there has been interest in this form of coproduction. This interest stems from wider debates about the role of civil society in the delivery of public services and from the long held belief that working with communities will promote police responsiveness, increase police legitimacy, and more effectively control crime. However, the extent to which officers identify, engage with, and motivate FBOs to deliver interventions aimed at controlling crime is far from clear.


With this in mind, our research sought to unpick how officers understand work with FBOs, the mechanisms which exist to facilitate such interaction between FBOs and officers, the extent to which the wider police family engages with issues relating to faith and the perceived benefits and challenges of working with FBOs. To examine this we conducted interviews with officers and police staff in three English constabularies. We found that police officers support a degree involvement of FBOs in policing. FBOs were seen to share values which accord with public service, were thought to be well positioned to mobilise community resources and were thought able to deliver services in ways that reduce demands on constabularies. Participants gave examples of FBOs working with officers to implement projects and programmes that sought to improve community safety. However, we found problems as well. Much more critical attention needs to be placed on the assumption that FBOs are well placed to work with the police to increase the security of communities and citizens. Our research suggested that FBOs may be less willing and less well positioned to work with the police than is sometimes assumed. For instance, FBOs are different sizes, have different degrees of internal stability, have different outlooks on their role in the community and are more or less competent to deliver police relevant interventions. The consequence is that they may lack the technical expertise and capacity to work with the police and/or be more or less willing to do so. In addition, whilst FBOs may be thought to offer an important way of delivering services which reduce demands on constabularies, something viewed as especially important at a time of state retrenchment, it may well be that the reverse is actually true. We found that working with FBOs places demands on the time of officers. From identifying suitable FBOs, to motivating them to participate, to sharing information, to making joint decisions about the delivery of interventions, to managing or coordinating service delivery, FBOs need to be supported by police organisations if they are to deliver police relevant interventions. Incorporating FBOs into police work does not remove officer responsibility for the delivery of policing but merely alters the nature of officer responsibility. Lastly, orienting officers towards new ways of working will be challenging. There is now a long history of failed attempts to promote citizen participation in police work. Our research suggests that it will continue to be difficult, not least because of officer attachment to conventional modes of crime control, the organizational configuration of constabularies, and the considerable investment required to equip officers with the necessary skills. Taken together, this research indicated that the role of FBOs was seen to be valuable but that it should not be taken for granted.


To read more see the article recently published by the British Journal of Criminology

Karen Bullock and Paul Johnson, Faith in Policing: The Co-production of Crime Control in Britain British Journal of Criminology azw080 first published online October 21, 2016 doi:10.1093/bjc/azw080


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