School of History, Classics & Archaeology

Police and Community in Twentieth-Century Scotland: a Social History

This two-year project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, is examining the relationship between police officers and the diverse urban and rural communities they have served in Scotland from 1900 until around 1971, assessing to what extent they were shaped by consent and co-operation as well as points of tension or conflict.

An interdisciplinary collaboration between the School of History, Classics and Archaeology and the School of Law (both at the University of Edinburgh), the project involves archival research on historical source materials and interviews with former serving officers. It focuses specifically on areas in the west and north of Scotland covered most recently by Strathclyde Police and Northern Constabulary.

The researchers hope to produce a social history of policing in twentieth-century Scotland, about which surprisingly little has been published to date. It is hoped that this will enable better understandings of the dynamics shaping police-community relations today.

The team consists of historian Dr Louise Jackson and criminologist Professor Richard Sparks, who have been joined by research fellows, Dr Neil Davidson, Dr Linda Fleming and Dr Davie Smale. The project started in July 2012.

Community Policing – then and now?

The contemporary concept of ‘Community Policing’, highly influential across the UK and USA, usually implies engagement with local people, responsiveness to local need, working with other agencies, and an emphasis on service rather than simply ‘thief-taking’. It is often talked about as a return to the ethos of the ‘village constable’ or ‘bobby on the beat’ associated with an earlier ‘golden age’ of police-community relations. The project will test this empirically, asking to what extent the origins of ‘Community Policing’ can, indeed, be found in earlier models.

It will also explore the history of the Special Constabulary in Scotland as a link between police and community, as well as seeking to identify changes in public expectations of the police.

The project focuses on the period before the formal introduction of the rhetoric of ‘Community Policing’ in Scotland in 1971 (ahead of England and Wales) as a result of the Scottish Office recommendation that Community Involvement Branches should be established in all Scottish forces.

Researcher profiles