An Appreciative Ethnography of PCSOs in a Northern City

Cosgrove, Faye (2011) An Appreciative Ethnography of PCSOs in a Northern City. Doctoral thesis, Northumbria University.

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Previous research regarding the emergence of Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) has either been impact oriented (Cooper et al, 2006, Chatterton and Rowland 2005, Crawford et al, 2004) or has been concerned with their capacity to improve equality and diversity within public policing (Johnston, 2006). Despite the recent civilianisation of the patrol function (Crawford and Lister, 2004a) and increasing recognition of multiple police subcultures within the police force (Reuss Ianni, 1983, Chan, 1997, Foster, 2003), there has been little attention directed towards understanding PCSO working practices and decision making, their capacity to deliver reassurance or to the potential emergence of a distinct PCSO occupational subculture within the police organisation as a result of their differential role, remit and limited authority.

This study aims to critically examine the existence and characteristics of a PCSO occupational culture and its influence upon the delivery of neighbourhood policing within a northern police force. Underpinned by an appreciative ethnographic approach (Liebling and Price, 2001), it provides an original contribution to understanding the operation of PCSOs and to existing theoretical knowledge and understanding of police (sub)cultures within the context of civilianisation and police reform. The research involved three hundred hours of participant observation of PCSO working practices, individual interviews with twelve PCSOs and two focus groups with neighbourhood police officers across two police sectors of a northern police force.

The study revealed two key findings. Firstly, whilst PCSOs are able to deliver reassurance to ‘vulnerable’ and 'respectable’ residents within target communities, the pursuit of reassurance is secondary to the demands of crime control. The pull of the performance culture and high levels of public demand for service cause PCSOs to become increasingly utilised as a reactive resource and to be deployed in tasks falling outside their remit. Second, represented as a three-fold typology of PCSO culture, the study thus provides evidence of an emerging PCSO subculture within the police organisation. Widely held aspirations to become police officers amongst PCSOs combined with an emphasis upon and value attached to crimefighting within the dominant police culture (Reiner, 2000) leads to the construction of a PCSO occupational culture that is both similar to and distinct from police officers. PCSOs endorse characteristics of the dominant culture, including suspicion, solidarity and sense of mission in their efforts to either imitate police officers or support future applications to become police officers. However, their civilian status, limited authority and differential occupational environment also lead to the construction of distinct cultural characteristics and orientations to the role.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: policing, civilianisation, police reform, police culture, community
Subjects: L300 Sociology
L400 Social Policy
Department: Faculties > Arts, Design and Social Sciences > Social Sciences
University Services > Graduate School > Doctor of Philosophy
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Ellen Cole
Date Deposited: 05 Jan 2012 16:54
Last Modified: 17 Dec 2023 14:07

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