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Understanding Assaults against Police Officers: A Study of Conflict Escalation in Police Encounters with the Public

Johnson, Lee Antony (2019) Understanding Assaults against Police Officers: A Study of Conflict Escalation in Police Encounters with the Public. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.

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Abstract

Assaults against police officers are an enduring aspect of the risk posed to police officers, with the underlying risk of conflict prevalent in all encounters with the public. Egon Bittner (1975) highlighted that police officers hold the threat of and ability to use force to resolve conflict between and with citizens. As a result, police officers put themselves in situations where there is an increased risk of being assaulted or injured. Police officers make quick decisions to interfere in the lives of others, deciding whether to use force and on how best to control potentially violent individuals. The main research questions for this thesis focused on the impact of the police role and the informal rules of the ‘occupational police culture’ on the risk of conflict escalation. It explored the importance of cultural talk as a way of making sense of the police role but also in guiding the way in which officers approach future incidents. To provide this detailed understanding of cultural traits, the study concentrated on the observation of police officers in action at live incidents as well as their behaviours and actions in the parade room and police vehicles when discussing and explaining incidents of violence. The thesis explored how both male and female officers engaged with gendered discussion and the differences between officers in how they approached incidents and reacted to facing aggressive non-compliance. In doing so, the study moves away from quantitative overviews of assault data, including location and temporal analysis towards understanding the realities of policing, the dynamics of incidents, how officers support each other and the influence of informal cultural values in explaining some assaults and the general reactions to being attacked. The study reveals that there is a strong connection between how an officer performs according to informal rules and guidance and the increased risk of being assaulted. The approach of an officer, coupled with a desire for action and a need to (re)assert authority create situations whereby there is often a higher risk of conflict escalation. The police role also influences the risk of assault with a clear impact of workload and call demand stressors on the police response to incidents, including the danger that an officer under stress can over-react to challenges to their authority, creating conditions by which assaults sometimes occur. The final key finding suggests that the demands of assistance based calls present new risks and challenges to police officers from the misunderstanding of needs to problems in morally applying force and establishing authority. This study extends knowledge of assaults against police officers in England and Wales and leads to wider debates about the influence of informal cultural values and discretion on assaults alongside the impact of assistance based calls. Recommendations are made for police policies on personal safety training, the encouragement of reporting assaults and the provision of information on the effects of drugs and mental health concerns on a person’s behaviour. The conclusion also raises opportunities for future research on this emotive subject.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Policing, Police Officers, Assaults, Police Culture, Police Role
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law (Leeds) > School of Law (Leeds) > Centre for Criminal Justice Studies (Leeds)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.797988
Depositing User: Mr Lee A Johnson
Date Deposited: 29 Jan 2020 12:49
Last Modified: 11 Mar 2020 10:54
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/25726

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