Policing past and present: contemporary crime control in historical perspective

The development of modern policing is usually understood in terms of a shift in responsibility for crime control from ordinary people to the state.

In particular, the formation of ‘new’, professional police forces in the nineteenth century is widely seen as central to the state’s monopolisation of crime control. This symposium will highlight new research on the history of policing which casts doubt upon this orthodox view.

Rather than quickly assuming responsibility for crime control, new research suggests that the new police struggled to combat crime effectively, creating an enforcement gap between public expectations and actual experience. This encouraged ordinary people to continue to play a vital role in dealing with crime as part of their everyday lives, from locking doors and windows to chasing down suspects, from tracing stolen property to negotiating private settlements with criminals. This suggests that the modern crime control might be characterised more by the persistence of a mixed economy of policing than by the growth of state control. 

This historical research also raises questions concerning policing today. The ‘pluralisation’ of policing beyond the state is widely considered characteristic and distinctive of contemporary crime control. Yet if the nineteenth century too was marked by a mixed economy of policing, how might that change the way we think about contemporary policing? Hence, this symposium will reflect on the connections between policing past and present, and more broadly on the value of historical research to criminology and police studies.


Dr David Churchill, Centre for Criminal Justice Studies, University of Leeds.


Dr Anja Johansen, University of Dundee

Professor Tim Newburn, London School of Economics and Political Science

Location Details

Moot Court
Liberty Building
University of Leeds

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