Law in Policing: Legal Regulation and Police Practices

By David Dixon | Go to book overview

Preface and Acknowledgments

IN an authoritative review of British policing studies, Robert Reiner criticized the narrow focus of much research:

In their commendable rush to publish, in order to influence policy and practice as much as to keep sponsors off their backs, researchers are more concerned to relate their results to the concerns of practitioners than to relate them to earlier research, to policing in other times, other places, and by other means than formal state police ( 1992b: 490).

Despite the emergence of some important theoretical work (reviewed in Dixon 1997), Reiner's dissatisfaction with the general state of the field is well-founded. This book responds to his criticism by discussing aspects of the relationship between law and policing in a theoretical, comparative, and historical way. It seeks to broaden the debate about policing by examining strengths and weaknesses in competing conceptions and by suggesting how policing studies can benefit from theoretical development. This is approached through a critical exposition and development of theoretical perspectives in policing studies. In addition to using North American literature, the book provides a significant comparative element by drawing on my research on Australian policing: this gives a particularly useful point of comparison, given the common origins of (and continuing connections between) English and Australian policing. Despite its potential abuse ( Holdaway 1989: 58), comparative work provides a sense of perspective, a standpoint from which to look differently at the (sometimes all too) familiar. The book has a strong historical emphasis, reflecting my belief that historical perspective is crucial to an understanding of law and police practices ( Dixon 1996b). My purpose here is to put the relationship between law and policing (with particular attention to the crucial practice of custodial interrogation) into some of the broader contexts which Reiner suggests. This does not exclude consideration of policy: on the contrary, I would argue that theoretical understanding is vital for good policy-making. I have benefited considerably here from Australian criminology, in which a distinguishing feature of the best work is an unselfconscious ability to combine theory, empirical research, and policy analysis. It uses

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