Evolving Patterns in the Police Systems of North Rhine-Westphalia, the Netherlands and England & Wales

By van Sluis, Arie; Ringeling, Arthur et al. | German Policy Studies, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

Evolving Patterns in the Police Systems of North Rhine-Westphalia, the Netherlands and England & Wales


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


1 Introduction

The previous articles described police systems and reforms implemented in three countries. In this final article, we explore the similarities and differences in the police systems of these three countries, focusing specifically on the organization of the police forces and their governance systems. While we expect all police systems to have multiple levels, they will probably differ in their organization, their relationship with their political and administrative environments, and how they are influenced by polity, tradition and the prevailing political culture.

Section 2 examines what the starting point for police reforms is and how the shifts brought about by successive police reforms can be assessed. In Section 3, we ask if there is a common pattern in the way these four police systems have evolved, or whether it is more appropriate to talk of a hodgepodge of developments. In particular, we are interested in any centralizing or decentralizing tendencies that have occurred and their impact on the governance of the police and the democratic accountability of the police.

Another relevant subject for comparison is the role of innovations in police work. Which police innovations have taken place and to what extent have they had an impact on the police system? Are these innovations common to all three countries? In Section 4, we will look at shifts in policing and in police work and ask whether there is any correlation between the increase in police professionalism and the evolution of police systems.

Section 5 then focuses on the dynamics of police reform. Have police reforms across the four countries followed the same template, and if not, what are the consequences for the police system? Another relevant question is how the balance between continuity and change is determined (Section 5).

We end our paper in Section 6 by discussing our expectations of the future of police systems in the three countries and by raising the question of whether there is sufficient evidence to assume the existence of a common Western European developmental path for police systems.

2 The organization of the police

A common feature of police systems in established democratic countries (including those discussed here) is the existence of checks and balances that spread authority and accountability over multiple arms. Such a system reflects the need for protection against the police. Together with the multiplicity of the police task, it gives the police force a multi-level character involving many political-administrative levels.

Nonetheless, institutional arrangements, the number of organizational levels, and the systems of governance can vary significantly. While police systems are organized predominantly on a national scale in some countries, other countries use more regional and local organizational forms, depending on the system of democratic accountability.

We can locate the three police systems discussed here on a continuum from predominantly local to predominantly national, or from decentralized to centralized. In The Netherlands, regional police forces are spread across 25 police regions and a national police force serves to support the regional forces. While there are no administrative regions, political control is exerted at the local and national levels. The Dutch police system has a democratic deficit in this respect.

Germany organizes its police forces on a state level and the state parliaments are important in steering and controlling the state-level police. The German federal police operate on a national level, and a number of local police forces have been set up. State parliaments exercise democratic control. Local boards serve as mediators between the police and the council, trying to both control the police and put them in touch with local safety and security concerns. There are a number of provincial police forces in England & Wales. …

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