A Case Study Analysis of How Public Order Policing is Interpreted and Practised in South Wales

  • Michael Harrison

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Since the death of Ian Tomlinson in 2009 at the G20 protests in London, public order (PO) policing has come under great scrutiny. A review of how the Metropolitan Police Service managed the protests suggested a predilection towards forceful tactics and a strict enforcement of the ‘law’. New guidelines issued in 2010 appeared to consider contemporary academic research that included an enhanced understanding of crowd disorder and a commitment to accommodating crowds wishing to exercise their rights of gathering in assembly. There has been a plethora of research that has explored how police have adapted to changes, but most of these have been based on single-event studies.

    Using a qualitative case study research design, the thesis analysed South Wales Police’s (SWP) management of public order events. The overall aims of the study were to (1) Gather a critical understanding of SWPs awareness and interpretations of the theoretical model used to understand crowds (the Elaborated Social Identity Model or ESIM), as well as academically informed policing approaches found within the guidelines, and how this was reflected in practice, and; (2) Understand how broader aspects of police culture, organisation, as well as local context and police identity influenced interpretations and practice of PO policing. A multi-methodological approach was used to gather data. This included observations of 14 public order events over 13 months, 13 semi-structured interviews with strategic, tactical, and operational commanders, and four focus groups with public order ground officers. A thematic analysis was used to analyse the data.

    The research revealed that many aspects of SWP’s policing were reflective of the ESIM and policing approaches found within the guidelines. Nevertheless, interpretations and practice appeared to be motivated by a desire to control crowds and engage in clandestine tactics. Conversely, SWP associated some aspects of PO policing as an opportunity to manage the impressions of crowds. SWP claimed that their approach to PO policing was influenced by their identity as Welsh police officers. Officers used popularised versions of Welsh identity to explain their ‘meet and greet’ PO policing approach. The research also revealed that PO policing is shaped by McDonaldizised practices, where emphasises is placed on policing that is efficient, predictable, and calculable.

    The study has implications for practice in terms of how police evaluate what is considered to be successful PO policing, and how PO police management effects operational staff. It also highlights the importance of understanding PO policing in local contexts.
    Date of Award2020
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorFiona Brookman (Supervisor), Mike Maguire (Supervisor) & Colin Rogers (Supervisor)

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