The study by Charman (2019) attempts to study the formation of identity and culture of new police recruits upon entering the force. The focus of the article is to study new recruits in England and their perceptions of and attitudes towards victims and crime itself through the framework of social identity theory. The literature review notes that the transition from being regular citizens to law enforcement is challenging, and many of the officers join the force to help others and be part of meaningful work. However, the current criminal justice system is offender-oriented, giving little voice to victims and pursuing a strategy of taking rights away from the offender as a means of “justice” for the victim, which is incorrect. Furthermore, under social theory, a certain culture and perception form in groups and populations. As a result, certain stigmas and stereotypes emerge in policing. For example, certain neighborhoods, often disadvantaged communities, are seen as dangerous and high potential for crime and face marginalization and under-policing. Meanwhile, stereotypes of an ‘ideal’ victim and ‘dangerous’ offender may result in cases that do not fit such parameters to be taken less seriously or perceived as abnormal. The non-ideal victim would see much less interest or be questioned on their legitimacy.
Charman’s (2019) research is longitudinal ethnographic research, which aims for long-term immersion in the field. For this study, two cohorts of new police recruits of 24 total officers were used as subjects. The subject population’s make-up largely adhered to national norms. Officers were interviewed after five weeks on the job and subsequently after six months, one year, and four years. At each interview, the individuals were asked about their opinions on the role of police, why they chose to pursue the career, what makes a good officer, the benefits and challenges of policing, and other insightful questions. Charman (2019) indicates that officers grew significantly and, as trust developed as well, felt more open about their views and contributed to the research on the topic.
As mentioned earlier, many of the officers joined the force to help people and be part of the larger force. The police force both in England and elsewhere are seen as symbolic ‘defenders’ of peace and the vulnerable. It is a cultural element of the police which also leads to recruits forming a perception of who the ‘ideal’ victim is. The research notes that officers saw much more job satisfaction and pride working to protect or get justice for an ‘ideal’ victim such as an elderly woman or a young, innocent white girl. The officers even used the term “genuine” as if any other victims were seen as not real (Charman, 2019, p. 90). Therefore, how officers perceived ideal and, genuine victims depended strongly on external factors such as age, race, sex, and neighborhood of residence. So victims in bad neighborhoods were seen as potentially creating their own problems as both parties are involved in criminal activity. Charman (2019) argues that despite the concepts of victim and offender being mutually exclusive, for police, the boundaries were blurred, and the victims that did not fit their ideal were ‘undeserving’ and faced significantly differential treatment.
Charman ends her research in a discussion which highlights the social identity crisis for police and those involved in the criminal justice system. The police serve as not just protectors of peace but determinants of victim status. The classification based on perception as identified in this research is dangerous because the victims that are ‘undeserving’ because of a negative perception of their lifestyle or location of residence face greater marginalization politically, economically, and evidently policing as well. The status of the victims determines which voices are heard and which are lost, and that splits the community apart, despite what the police view as doing beneficial work, they are instead of creating more divide and opportunities for crime to emerge. There needs to be significant reform to policing perceptions, culture, and procedures in the attempts to avoid such rampant and prevalent discrimination.
Charman, S. (2019). Making sense of policing identities: the “deserving” and the “undeserving” in policing accounts of victimisation. Policing and Society, 30(1), 81–97. Web.