'Lurking' and 'loitering': Historic Approaches to Policing Suspicious Behaviour in Britain and their Contemporary Resonances

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Law

Abstract

My research examines the history of policing, specifically the policing of suspicious persons, and its implications for police practices and their impact on minority communities today. This fellowship will enable me to further examine and disseminate my findings on the contemporary resonances of historical policing practices.
My research reveals the impact of policing practices on patterns of arrest and prosecution in London between 1780 and 1850. Scholars have long recognised that the received historical record of crime is a reflection of prosecutions, rather than of criminal activity itself, which is very difficult to quantify in the past. However, my research reshapes our understanding to show that it is also partially a record of policing. I advance the idea of 'proactive policing': the occasions on which policing agents exercised discretion to arrest defendants on suspicion that they had recently, or were about to, commit an offence. Using data collected from court records, including the Old Bailey Proceedings, and police or magistrates' court reports in newspapers, I examine the characteristics of those targeted by policing agents, and the reasons that policing agents gave for their arrests. This evidence demonstrates that individual police officers made active choices using their discretion, and their actions shaped patterns of arrests and prosecutions.
By examining the period between 1780 and 1850, my research highlights continuities and changes in policing practices before and after the establishment of the Metropolitan Police force in 1829. I examine the expectations placed on the wide variety of different officials responsible for law enforcement on the streets of London. This was an era of concern over policing provision, debate over criminal justice administration and fears of growing criminality.
I contend that policing practices, and proactive policing agents themselves, contributed to the prevalence of criminal stereotypes. These criminal stereotypes were closely related to the emerging fears that there was a 'criminal class', believed to be responsible for the majority of criminal activity. While my research so far has focussed on historical sources, I will explore in greater detail the implications of my findings for present-day policing through this fellowship. In particular, there are parallels between historical policing practices and present day police stop and search powers. While the characteristics of those targeted and stereotyped by police have evolved over time, there are clear continuities in the implications of these practices for the policed society.
Through this fellowship, I will disseminate my research to the academic community, police practitioners and policy makers. I will organise a workshop to engage with police practitioners about issues of police profiling and criminal stereotyping, write a policy paper on the historical roots of contemporary police profiling and explore further avenues for practitioner-focussed dissemination. I will also prepare my research for publication as a monograph, and a journal article.
As part of the fellowship, I will attend major international criminology conferences to build networks and cultivate my rising research profile in the social sciences. In particular, I will visit the Griffith Criminology Institute in Queensland, Australia, to forge connections with Australian criminologists and develop a future research project which will examine policing suspicious persons in Britain and Australia.
I will also undertake training in social science skills and methods, and in policy engagement and research communication to support my impact activities. These activities, and the networks that I cultivate, will enhance my ability to pursue an interdisciplinary historical social science career.

Publications

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