Violence and police culture in Australia

Criminology Research Council grant ; (17/92)

For nearly a decade from 1987, the Australian State of Victoria was witness to an extraordinary number of shootings by its police department. For many observers, these shootings have come to be the defining symbol of the propensity of police to act violently. The public discourse on the shootings has been replete with a range of contentious issues: the strict legality of the shootings, their necessity, their moral and ethical parameters, the training of police in use of force, and speculation on the existence of a culture of violence within the Victoria Police.

The fact of the police shootings, and the public discourse which surrounded it, stimulated the Violence and Police Culture project. Popular commentary on the shootings revealed simplifications and confusions which reflected inadequately the accumulating scholarly knowledge on police violence. The principal project officers identified the need to draw together the threads of that knowledge. In particular, they explored the intersections between broad criminological contributions (predominantly analyses from legal, cultural and structural perspectives) and philosophical insights into violence, ethical behaviour and moral decision-making.

The research project has had several constituent parts. With the assistance of the Victoria Police, CRC funding enabled a series of focus group discussions in 1993 and 1994 with police officers of varying rank, gender and experience. The discussion groups were presented with an academic model of police culture, and were then invited to reflect upon and describe their occupational and organisational environments in terms of that model. The focus group discussions were reported to the CRC as a monograph (James & Warren 1995). Another component of the project was the writing of works on police ethics by a Centre for Philosophy and Public Issues research fellow ([now] Professor Seumas Miller). These works have been compiled into a volume on police ethics, with acknowledgment to the CRC for initial support (Miller, Blackler & Alexandra 1997). The centrepiece of the project was a two-day workshop in June 1996 which brought together legal scholars, criminologists, philosophers and police to present papers and discuss the phenomena and understanding of violence and police culture. The papers prepared by the participants to that workshop have formed the basis of an edited volume to be published by Melbourne University Press in late 1998 or early 1999 (Coady, James & Miller forthcoming). Other products of the project which have benefitted from CRC funding are listed below. The intentions of the Violence and Police Culture project have been not only to generate original research and gather together the scholarly and applied work in the area, but also to offer a published account of that work which is accessible to both specialised and general audiences. The work produced in the forthcoming volume is designed to stimulate a more profound discourse and understanding of violence and policing both within and outside police agencies.

References

  • Coady, T., James, S. & Miller, S. (eds) (forthcoming) Violence and Police Culture, Melbourne, Melbourne University Press.
  • James, S. & Warren, I. (1995) "Police Culture and Violence: Report of Victoria Police Workshops", a report presented to the Criminology Research Council and the Victoria Police, Criminology Department, University of Melbourne.
  • James, S. & Warren, I. (1995) Culture and Ethics: The Case of Police Rule-Breaking, ResPublica, vol. 4, pp. 1-4.
  • James, S. & Warren, I. "Women and Police Culture" in Victoria, a paper given at the First Australasian Women Police Conference, Australian Institute of Criminology, Sydney, July 1996.
  • Miller, S., Blacker, J. & Alexandra, A. (1997) Police Ethics, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, NSW.