• policing;
  • governance;
  • bureaucracy;
  • targets;
  • community engagement;
  • crime


Based on direct observation over a five-year period, the article paints an intimate picture of how the police in Britain are governed. It analyses the complexity of the economic and political environment in which the police have to work: the insecure funding platform; the stream of initiatives, targets and official guidelines; the delicacy of handling community sensitivities; the inherent opaqueness of the national ‘tripartite’ system of governance; and the constant challenge of making balanced judgements under conflicting pressures. The central theme that runs through the article (which follows on logically from two previous articles published in Political Quarterly) is that of a ‘managerialist’ political class, with a distinctive ideology and mode of control, trying to get a policy grip on the real world of service delivery: in this instance, policing. Unlike the previous two articles, which had a top-down focus, the emphasis here is primarily on how the thicket looks to those who have to navigate their way through it.