Police: in a period of recession, is it possible to continue as before?

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Police: in a period of recession, is it possible to continue as before?

CECOPS seminar, Paris 5th and 6th May 2011

The implication of citizens in policing activities can seem natural in the anglo-saxon policing model. The creator of the “bobbies” of the Metropolitan Police of London, Robert Peel, developped as early as 1829 the concept that “the police are only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent upon every citizen in the interests of community welfare”. Such is not the case in countries with a Latin background, and especially in France, where police is essentially a state prerogative, and where the theme of direct citizen participation in policing activities can come as a surprise or even a deadlock.


But the question of the implication of civil society, and especially volonteers (payed or not) in policing activities is a question that is emerging in most European countries, and that justifies the interest of the CECOPS project (see below). The last ten years were budget-wise very successful for European police insitutions. The rise of dangers such as terrorism, serious crime, and even more so the rise of securitarian discourses demanding greater police presence in the streets have favoured the allocation of bigger budgets. However, global recession has led to a reduction in all public budgets and especially those concerning the police. In a period of recession, is it possible to continue as before? The methods of work and organisation must change to adapt to these decrease in numbers. The budgetary crisis encountered by every state increases the tendancy to find auxilliaries, reinforcements to make up for the reductions in the police.


For example, in the United Kingdom, despite a decrease of 20% of the police budgets in 4 years[1], and a blocage of recruitments since 2010, we observe an increase by 15% in the number of “specail constables”, who are voluntary citizens with the same competence as the police. Big debates are taking place in the UK on these changes. One of the possibilities to counterbalance the effects of the recession is to associate closer still the voluntary (and unpaid) citizens to the implementation of actions linked to security. This appears in the idea of the “Big Society” developped by M Cameron, UK’s prime minister: less State and more Society.


In France also, in the contexte of the General revision of public policies (RGPP), important reductions of policing numbers have been observed in the National police and gendarmerie. The recent evolutions of the voluntary service in the National police (article 37 quarter of the LOPPSI II bill, recently voted by parliament) and the developpement of the system of “citizen participation” (previously called “vigilant neighbours”), but also the increase of the gendarmerie nationale’s reservist schemes confirm the interest that the French institutions have in direct implication of citizens in policing activities. In Belgium (especially in Flanders), since the end of the 90’s, “Local prevention partnerships” (previously called “local information networks”) are developping, but extremely supervised and that correspond to an adaptation of the Neighbourhood Watch concept in Belgium.


For some time, we have seeked to implement policies for the population. Today, security policies have the tendancy to be made by the population itself. Security is everyone’s buisness, but the question remains to know wether the policing function is sharable? This is an interrogation that we must have at the European level. The European project CECOPS, aims at better understanding these phenomenons within the diversity of national situations and to bring forward good practices, whilst setting European recommandations to enable policing systems to integrate citizens in their activities in the best ethical conditions, and in the prospect to improve the link between police and population.


The seminar that was held in Paris on 5th and 6th of May 2011 enabled participants to understand the difference of approaches between anglo-saxon countries and countries with a Latin tradition. The objective was to put the questions of direct implication of citizens in policing activites back into the French and Belgian contexts.




On May the 5th, after a general introuction by Mr Michel Marcus, executive director of Efus, a presentation of the French schemes of citizens implication within the gendarmerie, and especailly its reservists, was made by the General Jean Danède and the Colonel Luc Auffret, representing the Gendarmerie Nationale general directorate. After this, Mr Christian Mouhanna[2], CNRS researcher, came to present his sociologist point of view of citizen implication in policing activities, explaining the different reasons of the distance between National police and citizens in France. Mr Michel Barret, deputy Mayor of the city of Gif-sur-Yvette, presented his experience of local initiatives of a network of intermediary citizens linking with the Gendarmerie, and the practice of his city in terms of voluntary mediation.


On May the 6th, the Local Prevention Partnerships were presented by two speakers from the Belgian Interior ministry, Mr Jacques ICKX and Ms Dafné Vanhelleputte. In order to open the seminar on some initiatives of citizen participation in urban security issues, but without a specific link with the police, Mr Manuel Comeron, from the city of Liège, came to present the Stewarts of the Standard de Liège, which take part on a voluntary basis in security issues within football arenas. An overview of different practices at the European level, especially civil courage in Germany and senior patrollers of parcs in Portugal, was also made by Mr Mark Burton-Page, Efus project manager.


This seminar, very rich in terms of exchanges, was a good chance for participants present to gather information and to ask question to the speakers.




The CECOPS project is lead by the Metropolitan Police Service of London, with the participation of partners from Italy (the RISSC research institute, and the city of Bologna) Lithuania (the Law Institut of Vilnius), and the European Forum for Urban Security. This project focuses on the research of European experiences of voluntary citizens implicated in urban security initiatives and especially policing activities. Five meetings have taken place in London, Vilnius, Padova, Bologna and Paris. A publication of the outcomes of the project is planned and an international conference where the results will be disseminated will take place on September the 21st in Vilnius, in the context of the European Society of Criminology.

[2] Christian Mouhanna, « La police contre les citoyens ? », ed. Champs Social Mars 2011