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Could police officers inform our understanding of terrorism?

To examine the way police officers conceptualise ‘terrorism’ and 'counter-terrorist' policing.

Key details

Lead institution
Principal researcher(s)
Russ Barlow
Police region
East Midlands
Level of research
Project start date
Date due for completion

Research context

Police officers serving and retired are represented in most academic literature as a collective in terms of their actions and responses to the problems of terrorism in society. Where individual voices are heard there is a strong tendency for those to be the voices of senior officers only. There is a significant missing narrative on the experiences, thoughts, strategies and interactions of other serving and retired officers in relation to their conceptualisation of terrorism. 

Much of the academic work on policing changes in Northern Ireland has tended to omit the 'crucial internal dimension' (Murphy 2013) pertaining to processes within the police as an organisation, leaving the narrative spaces of individual officers largely unfilled.

Current literature in terrorism studies strongly suggests that most research relies on secondary sources (Young and others, 2011). Very little primary research material is available on the experiences, thoughts, and ideas of police officers working in counter terrorism. It is this empirical knowledge gap that this study will concentrate on. 

Northern Irish policing has been chosen as the context for this study as the problems of terrorism have in the last four decades been incorporated into the lived experiences of police officers to a much greater degree than in mainland UK. This study’s findings will examine counter terrorist policing and terrorism through the lens of officer’s experiences both within and outside of their profession. It will utilise the thoughts and experiences of serving and retired officers, spanning the R.U.C through to the PSNI and the Belfast Harbour Police, who are deeply embedded within Northern Irish culture and society. 

This research will focus on local Policing Teams (LPT) and Neighbourhood Policing Teams (NPT) with the PSNI in Belfast. The intention is to utilise police officers' experiences in implementing procedural justice in Belfast.

It is hoped that this research will aid PSNI understanding of the issues still outstanding in moving to a normalised policing model in Belfast.

Research methodology

The overall strategy will encompass semi-structured in-depth interviews and focus groups in order to obtain the richest possible qualitative data exploring the narratives as described above. It will concentrate on the narratives of frontline (constable and sergeants) officers in contemporary NI (n=35)

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