Sean Butcher, PhD Law Research student at School of Law, University of Leeds.

Sean Butcher

Please tell us a bit about yourself.

I graduated from Buckinghamshire New University (BNU) with a First Class BSc (Hons) in Police Studies with Criminal Investigation in 2011, during which time I served as a Thames Valley Police special constable. In 2012, I completed an MSc in Criminal Justice Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science. I was awarded departmental outstanding academic achievement awards for my performance at both institutions.

Between 2011-15, I lectured on a variety of sociology, criminology and police-specific undergraduate modules, in addition to supervising final-year dissertation students at BNU. During this time I completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Learning & Teaching in Higher Education, gaining Fellowship to the Higher Education Academy. I also successfully applied for, and received a number of small grants to undertake research around the emergence and contribution of university police pre-join routes as a means of professionalising police training.

Between 2014-15, I was appointed a Leader & Improvement Fellow at NIHR CLAHRC Northwest London. During this Fellowship, I undertook research that examined the nature of multi-agency working relationships within multi-agency safeguarding hubs (MASHs) across London.

What motivated you to undertake your PhD at Leeds?

Choosing to complete my PhD at Leeds was an easy decision. I was fortunate that two leading academics in my research field, both of whom I had identified as ideal supervisors, worked at the University and were interested in my ideas. I was also very much aware of the School’s excellent reputation, and that my research centre – the Centre for Criminal Justice Studies – is well established. Joining it as a member and becoming involved in its eclectic mix of activities has been a real privilege.

What is it that makes you passionate about this area of study?

I developed an interest in the police service and its wide range of partners during my time as a special constable, and whilst studying policing as an undergraduate. My experiences introduced me to the idea of wider policing networks; within which the police operate as an important, yet single contributor.

Whilst the roles of other policing groups have been a consistent feature of my research to date, it is with the specific contribution of volunteers that my doctoral research is concerned. Volunteer initiatives have remained largely un-researched, particularly when compared with other forms of policing provided by the state and the commercial security sector.

Tell us about your research topic.

My research focuses upon the concept of volunteer citizen patrol groups. Largely un-researched, it adopts an exploratory methodology in order to assess the contribution of schemes, the manner in which they ‘fit’ into wider policing networks, and the rationales that volunteers adopt for partaking. 

My research draws upon data collected from observations and semi-structured interviews across three case study sites, during a 10-month period. The case studies cover citizen patrol schemes in a range of settings, including in rural settings, and in cities during daytime and night-time hours. The research is timely, given that interest in the role of volunteers has taken on added emphasis since 2010 – when police budgets were reduced significantly, and since which time police numbers have fallen considerably.

How has your experience been so far?

Fantastic! My research has developed in fascinating ways that I couldn’t have anticipated. But beyond this, my broader experiences have also been valuable and wide-ranging. I’ve had a chance to assist with research projects undertaken by other members of staff, complete an exciting programme of research training, engage in teaching at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, and present at and host conferences. All of this has been invaluable in shaping my academic skills and profile, which is vital to enhancing my career prospects.

What do you think of the facilities?

The facilities at both the School and more broadly across the University are first class. I particularly enjoy being able to work in a variety of different environments – whether that be within the School, at the University’s libraries, or using one of the University’s postgraduate research suites, all of which are easily accessible and well-resourced. The School’s teaching facilities are also of a very high standard – the manner in which they are set up and configured to promote the use of various technologies is invaluable to those attempting to introduce innovation into teaching practice.

How would you describe the research environment in the School?

The research environment within the School is both vibrant and engaging. Staff and students alike take a real interest in your research and broader progress. Aside from the great support I receive from my PhD supervisors, I routinely discuss my progress within the teaching teams in which I work, and with other academic staff in the School. My research centre also hosts a number of seminars, in which staff and postgraduate students are encouraged to present on research in progress. The format is both engaging and supportive, and subscribes to the motivating atmosphere the School projects at large.

What do you like to do outside of studying?

Away from study, I like to get out and about. I can often be found supporting my beloved Manchester United at Old Trafford, or walking the fantastic Yorkshire countryside. On a rainy day, I enjoy keeping up to speed with current affairs and reading literature. I’ve also a soft spot for sampling ale – altogether difficult to resist in the Leeds area!

What do you think of Leeds as a city?

Leeds is a great mix. I was brought up in the Cotswolds but most recently lived in London, so I was looking to study in an area that could offer both the excitement of city life along with the relative peace of a rural getaway. Leeds provides exactly that. Whether it be the hustle and bustle of city centre nightlife, or the idyllic sights of the Yorkshire countryside, I really feel that there’s something for everyone in Leeds, and for all occasions.

What would you say to someone considering a research degree?

Think about it carefully! A research degree is a significant commitment – one that’s likely to test you like never before. But it’s also been the most fascinating and intellectually stimulating experience of my life. How many other roles could you formulate and execute your own ideas in, work to your own schedule, and develop a wide range of personal and professional skills in? Undertaking a PhD brings with it so many opportunities. Grab them, enjoy them – and make the most of them!

What are your plans once you have completed your PhD?

My immediate plans largely consist of disseminating my research findings, within both academic and policy-making settings. I hope to further develop the particulars of my research, secure funding for future projects, and more broadly contribute to both academic and professional discussions about policing networks and the implications that these create.

In the longer term, I hope to return to teaching, building upon the experiences that I gained prior to and whilst undertaking my PhD. I also hope to be able to deliver relevant professional and short courses designed for those working in and aspiring to various police and partner agency roles. Having always strived to maintain an innovative approach to teaching, I’ll be looking out for roles that will afford me the flexibility to continue in this vein.