The Role of Police Perceptions and Practices in the Development of “Public Disorder”12


  • 1

    The authors acknowledge the statistical help provided by Rod Bond.

  • 2

    The term “public disorder” is problematized throughout to acknowledge the contested nature of this category.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to John Drury, Department of Psychology, University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton BN1 9SN, United Kingdom. E-mail:


Recent studies suggest that crowd conflict needs to be understood as an interaction between the crowd and out-groups such as the police. This paper describes a questionnaire survey in which 80 police officers from 2 United Kingdom forces were asked about their perceptions of crowds, appropriate “public order” policing methods, and attributions of responsibility for crowd conflict. As predicted, police officers saw the composition of crowds as mixed; yet they also constructed a dichotomy between a powerful minority, capable of exerting influence in the service of disorder, and a majority, who are unable to resist this influence. Police officers did not clearly endorse the view that crowds pose a homogeneous threat. They recommended control and quick intervention to prevent the escalation of crowd violence but denied that such methods might themselves contribute to conflict. Path analysis provides suggestive evidence that these perceptions of the crowd are related as part of a coherent ideology. Overall, these results offer support for the elaborated social identity model of crowd behavior as a dynamic intergroup process.