A sociological analysis of four police consultative committees in Birmingham
Consultation between the police and the community was a recommendation of Lord Scarman in his report into the Brixton riots in 1981. By 1982 the West Midlands Police Authority had established local consultative committees on each police sub-division. This thesis is a study of four Police Consultative Committees in Birmingham, using qualitative methods of attendance at committee meetings and interviews with committee members. The research was carried out between 1990 and 1992 - ten years after formal consultation was established, and aimed to examine the relationship between the micro social processes of the committees and key sociological theoretical concepts. The analysis of the four committees contextualises them within the social and political parameters of urban policing in the late 1980s. Each committee is taken as a case study to highlight the following aspects of consultation:- relations between the police and black communities; membership, representation and accountability; responding to community conflict; crime prevention agencies and networks of social control. The findings are then generalised to the sociological theoretical concepts of hegemony, legitimation, community conflict and social control. The central proposition of this thesis is that, whilst these committees are not fulfilling the role Lord Scarman envisaged for them (of involving local community representatives in policing strategies and policies), they do have important policing and political roles. It is argued that they offer a platform from which senior police officers can engage local people into supporting policing objectives without actually involving them in determining those objectives. Furthermore, such committees have political symbolism in that they enable the government to be seen to be responding to the issues of accountability and relations between the police and black communities following the urban disorders, without actually devolving any statutory powers to the community.