Contested Police Systems

By van Sluis, Arie; Frevel, Bernhard | German Policy Studies, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

Contested Police Systems


van Sluis, Arie, Frevel, Bernhard, German Policy Studies


1 Introduction

This issue of German Policy Studies is dedicated to police and policing. To be more precise, the focus is on trends and developments that have taken place in policing and in the police system of Germany, in particular of North Rhine-Westphalia, from a comparative perspective, by analyzing similarities and dissimilarities with changes in the police systems of England, Wales and The Netherlands.

These three countries (or rather, two countries and one German state) have gone through recent reforms to their police systems. All three have been wrestling with the proper arrangements for the organization as well as with steering and controlling their police systems in ways that fit both national, or federal, and local demands, in an effort to improve police performance.

Symposium on police reform at the German Police University

This issue of German Policy Studies is the result of a Symposium on Police Reform in Europe at the German Police University in Munster in February 2009. It was inspired by a comparative research study into the organization and governance of the police in Denmark, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany (especially North Rhine-Westphalia), England and Wales, funded by the Police and Science Program of the Dutch Police Academy. The results were published in 2009 in Dutch, in a book entitled "Het Betwiste Politiebestel" (The Contested Police System) (Cachet, van Sluis et.al, 2009). The aim was to learn from developments and experiences abroad so as to introduce scientific arguments into the debate about the future of the Dutch police system. In contrast to Germany, for example, where the police and the police system in general are not, as a rule, heavily debated or put to the test, the Dutch debate is rather more politicized, normative and sometimes more emotional ("we want national police", or, "we'll stick to our regional police", or, "we want our municipal police back") than based on solid arguments. The politicization of policing is not an exclusively Dutch phenomenon. It has also occurred in countries such as Belgium (the Dutroux affair), England and Wales (the merging of regional police forces into strategic super forces).

The findings of this research are presented in this issue of German Policy Studies. However, the primary focus is on a comparative study of the developments in the police systems in Germany as opposed to those in the Netherlands, England and Wales. In Germany, developments at the federal level, particularly in North Rhine-Westphalia, are primarily analyzed.

2 Police reform

Since 2007, the police forces in North Rhine-Westphalia have been organized along functional lines, or by specialization (Di-rektionen) in 2007. Before this, the police forces were organized geographically in police inspections (Inspektionen). By changing their organizational structure, the police aimed to strengthen their core tasks, which include traffic management, the general prevention of danger and criminal prosecution (Schulte 2008, p. 296).

At the beginning of the 21st century, the field of policing is being restructured around the world and police reform is high on the agenda of many nation states (Bayley and Shearing, 2001; Stenning and Shearing, 2005; Savage, 2007; GroB/Frevel/Dams, 2008), including western European countries. In England and Wales, police reform in the last 20 years or so has been aimed at improving effectiveness and 'value for money' in the delivery of public services. Performance management regimes have had a massive impact on policing in England and Wales during this period of time. More recently, there has been a strong trend towards revitalizing community policing and strengthening local partnerships. In the Netherlands, a new Police Act took effect in 1993, which resulted in an increase in the scale of the police force and the introduction of new regional police forces. The aim was to improve police performance, especially in crime fighting. …

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