How police officers in England and Wales learn to construct and report 'official reality'
This research examines the way police officers learn to make sense of, and report, 'official reality'. 100 in-depth, tape recorded interviews were carried out with police officers at various stages of service including probationers, Tutor Constables, Trainers and a group of experienced officers. Full transcripts of the interviews were prepared and then subjected to a close-grained, qualitative analysis in which various themes were identified. The results were then subjected to a statistical technique known as logistic regression. The findings reveal, inter alia, that an officer's interpretation of incidents will change with experience. Probationers at first treat incidents as self-contained legal 'texts' with semiosis limited to consideration of 'points to prove'. Later they begin to take into consideration contextual factors. More experienced officers introduce experiential or 'intertextual' factors into their semiosic activity so that their interpretation includes not just synchronic but diachronic elements. Various 'interpretive communities' are identified linked to structural groupings within the policing institution and impacting on the way incidents are interpreted and reported. Police culture[s] is shown to largely determine what elements of an incident are seen as salient and what are ignored. Officers develop socio-spatial cognitive frameworks during their Tutor Constable attachments made up of detailed local knowledge and historical practices which shape the way they approach incidents, and interact with the public. The substantive criminal law was found to offer little guidance to patrol officers who utilise normative and evaluative conceptual frameworks grounded in personal and family value systems. Law is used by police officers to legitimise decisions arrived at through a parallel process of decision-making that is grounded in police operational culture. Anglo-Americanl egal discoursea ssumesa n unproblematicr elationshipb etween language and 'reality'. The present findings support a social constructionist theory of the semiotic encounter in which the patrol officer is not a passive observer of events, but constructs a version of 'reality' from various potential interpretations.