Policing in Northern Ireland: Research, Meaning and Lessons From a Contested Landscape

John Topping

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


    On an international scale, both developments and changes related to the policing and security affairs of Northern Ireland have remained a central focus of academic and policy attention over nearly four decades (Topping, 2015). In this regard, scholarly attempts to frame policing within the polity’s transitional and post-conflict nature have far outstripped comparable research efforts afforded to other jurisdictions in the United Kingdom and beyond in the Western world (Bayley, 2008).Yet at the same time, it must also be noted that such extensive research attention must be juxtaposed with de facto limited amounts of direct empirical research with the police or policing institutions themselves in the country over this particular period (Bayley, 2008; Topping, 2009). Indeed, the logical extension of this position is a complete dearth of actual methodological understanding or literature as to the nature, limits and meaning attached to police research within Northern Ireland’s divided, contested and transitional environment (Mulcahy, 2006; O’Rawe, 2003; Shirlow & Murtagh, 2006).In this respect, the author would contend that strict distinctions must therefore be drawn between the epistemology of broad policing knowledge related to Northern Ireland; and the etiology of ‘police work’ by the police themselves. In reference to the former, it may be argued that due to the relatively open, accountable and transparent nature of policing arrangements brought about under the Independent Commission for Policing in Northern Ireland (ICP - 1999), there exist substantive volumes of broad ‘police information’ in the public domain (Ellison, 2007). From crime statistics and monitoring reports through to oversight regimes and inspections, the ‘outputs machinery’ of policing activity by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) are laid bare for both public, academic and political interpretation on a substantive, regular basis (Topping, 2015).However, it is in relation to the latter contention, centred on the etiology of police work in the country where more contested and controversial issues of policing research converge – and which will form the substance of the present chapter. With policing in the country underpinned by, and constrained within, political, post-conflict and community pressures, it must be remembered that any understanding of police research is not complete with reference to these dynamics. With precisely ‘what’ the PSNI do imbued with political and community – as well as criminogenic – capital, academic police research in the country, thus has the potential to bolster such capital because of the sheer importance of policing ‘being seen to work’ in Northern Ireland (O’Rawe, 2003; Topping, 2015).The remainder of the chapter will therefore attempt to draw upon the author’s own experiences of police research in the country. Considering a brief history of police research, the chapter will further seek to examine issues of accessing the police, researcher conduct and ethics, along with controversies and wider applicability of undertaking police research in a post-conflict landscape. Ultimately, the chapter is not based upon an individual research study per se, but rather attempts to outline the key methodological issues and lessons of conducting police research in an environment where knowledge about policing can become as contested as the activities of police themselves.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationIntroduction to Policing Research: Taking Lessons from Practice
    ISBN (Print)978-1-13-801329-2
    Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 22 Nov 2015


    • police
    • police research
    • police service of northern ireland


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