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Visible policing

This project explores the visibility of policing in today's culture, in terms of buildings, social media presence and symbols.

Key details

Lead institution
Principal researcher(s)
Professor Mike Rowe, Prof Andrew Millie, Dr Matt Jones, Liam Ralph
Police region
North East
Collaboration and partnership

Edge Hill University; The Open University; The College of Policing; Cumbria Constabulary; Greater Manchester Police; Lancashire Constabulary; West Yorkshire Police.

Level of research
Professional/work based
Project start date
Date due for completion

Research context

Police visibility today spans across physical and digital spaces as police officers, police staff, and citizens interact face-to-face and through social media. This project will be the first to explore the visual culture of contemporary policing and the impact of this on citizen-focused policing more broadly.

Three strands of visibility are explored in the project:

1. The symbolic power of police stations.
This is particularly important since the architecture and location of buildings changes, and as pressure on resources leads to co-location with other agencies in shared premises.

2. The symbolic artefacts of police culture, including ceremonial uniforms, flags, badges, tourist souvenirs, and children’s toys. This strand will incorporate analysis in terms of the organisational and professional identity of police staff, as well as public perceptions.

3. Police visibility in social media, including official police accounts as well as those owned by individual officers, staff associations and other networks. These will be considered in terms of their impact on the public, including whether the police online can provide public reassurance in ways similar to ‘real world’ foot patrol.

The study is sponsored by the Economic and Social Research Council, reference ES/R011885/1

Research methodology

This research will be conducted with police officers, police staff, citizens, and online using social media analysis.

These methods will be used across each of the three themes outlined previously:

  1. Police estate:  Interviews with police estate managers and architects who have worked on police buildings (n=15); citizens will be tasked with taking photographs of police stations or aspects of police station architecture and design that they find notable or significant in some way. Interviews and focus groups will then be conducted with these citizens (n=40); GIS mapping will analyse the location, architecture and internal and external design of police premises. 

  2. Police visual objects: Interviews with police officers and staff exploring the cultural and occupational identity within the police (n=30); photo-elicitation interviews with citizens (n=30). 

  3. Police use of social media: Interviews with police officers and staff involved in managing and communicating via police social media channels (n=30); focus groups with citizens (n=5 focus groups); analysis of visual content found on police social media accounts.

Research participation

Further information about the Visible Policing project can be found on the project website . Click the 'Participation' section to find out how you can contribute to the project by submitting your photographs and reflections on visible policing, including buildings, vehicles, social media, toys, and other representations of the police you encounter.

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