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Multiple community policing: how do you mean? (MCP)

Research project TA/00/03 (Research action TA)

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Statistics of the National Centre for Statistics and the Flemish Administration Planning and Statistics show that Belgium evolved to multicultural society and that multi-etnic minorities are mainly concentrated in certain neighbourhoods of (middle)large cities (NIS-APS, 2005). This constitutes an important context element for the police work in (these neighbourhoods in) these cities. Many examples of conflicts between the police and members of ethnic minorities and -far less- research, however, indicate a tense interaction between both. In this context the police practice reveals a tendency towards coercive policing (cf. introduction of zero-tolerance in several cities). However, this only offers short-term solutions and does not touch the fundamental, more structural causes. A meaningful approach requires a more proactive and preventive way of action in cooperation with different services and organizations in the social and administrative field and with the ethnic minorities themselves (Feys, 2002). Such an approach fits in perfectly with community policing. During the last two decades this philosophy is increasingly aspired, also in Belgium where the government stimulates this form of policing and recently provided it with a Belgian interpretation stated in a circular of 27 may 2003 (this interpretation consists of five dimensions: external orientation, problemsolving, partnership, accountability and empowerment). Community policing builds, however, on the -mythical- idea of a homogeneous society with shared values, norms and life style, which seriously complicates the implementation of this philosophy in the real society, since the real society is heterogeneous (Van den Broeck & Eliaerts, 1995; Van de Sompel & Ponsaers, 2003; Van Outrive, 1998). This gap in the conceptualization of community policing is strongly felt in attempts to implement this philosophy in a multicultural setting. The interactions between the police and ethnic minorities often remain difficult. In the field one does often not succeed in putting the 'abstract policy' of community policing into practice.


In order to support the 'translation' of community policing into practices in multicultural settings, one needs to gain insight in that practice, i.e. in the way interactions between the police and ethnic minorities develop and in the elements that influence these interactions whereby perceptions, granted meanings and expectations of both parties play an important role. This kind of police research is closely linked to what is often refered to as police sociology which draws a picture of how police work is shaped in the social process between policemen and civilians and amongst policemen (Van der Torre, 1999). The research at hand intends to gain insight in this matter in function of the following aims :
1. Examining how community policing is or is not translated in the interactions between the police and ethnic minorities when handling daily routinetasks and incidents. [reality]
2. Examining how the interaction with the police in their handling of daily routinetasks and incidents is perceived/experienced by ethnic minorities and what the expectations of ethnic minorities in this respect are + examining to what extent these expectations are congruent with community policing. [perception of ethnic minorities]
3. Examining to what extent policemen find community policing applicable in their interactions with ethnic minorities in daily routinetasks and incidents, which problems and possibilities they see in this respect and what their expectations are in this field. [perception of police]


I. In order to explore the subject and create a framework a study of the international literature is indispensable. This study focuses in the first place on the insights concerning the relation between the police and etnic minorities. In the second place the study of the literature focuses on community policing in multicultural settings and especially in concrete interactions with ethnic minorities.
II. The central method consists of a field study which is conducted in five police-zones: two in Flanders, two in Wallons and one in Brussels.
1. The first step of the actual field study in each zone consists of an exploration of the relationships between the local police forces and the ethnic cultural minorities. This is mainly done by means of semi-structured interviews. On the one hand the main ethnic minorities in the zone are explored. Their networks are mapped and key-figures are interviewed about their perceptions and experiences concerning the police. The ethnic neighbourhouds are also physically explored whereby spontaneous contacts emerge. The development of an adequate strategy of entrance is of crucial importance. On the other hand also policemen are interviewed (chief of police, interventionteams and policemen on the beat) about their perceptions, experiences and initiatives concerning their relationship with ethnic minorities.
2. In the second -and most important- phase observations are done. Given the focus on interactions with ethnic minorities in the handling of routinetasks and incidents, more particularly interventionteams and policemen on the beat are followed. These observations generate cases that are examined more profoundly. Thereby on the one hand observation takes place from an 'outer perspective' which stands for the inspection and processing of objective facts (Bruyn, 1976). Observation from this perspective is related to the first aim as mentioned above, i.e. examining how community policing does or does not take shape in the interactions. On the other hand an 'inner perspective' is of crucial importance, which entails finding out the subjective meaning (Bruyn, 1976). This process of gaining insight into the mutual perceptions which shape the interaction, into the way the interaction is experienced by the participants and into their expectations serves the second and the third goal which concern the perception of the ethnic minorities and of the police. These elements can, however, not be examined by sheer observation, but require interviews with both parties. Therefore the individual cases are discussed with the concerned policemen on the one hand and with directly or indirectly involved members of the ethnic minorities on the other hand. In order to gain insight into this complexity and especially to take into account the different aspects of reality, the so-called flashpoint-model of Waddington (1989) can be used. This model distinguishes six dimensions that can influence interactions, namely the immediate interactional one, the situational one, the contextual one, the cultural one, the socio-political one and the structural one.
3. In focus groups, the findings of the entire field study in a zone are discussed with policemen and key-figures of the ethnic minorities (who were also interviewed in the first step of the field study). Here again their perceptions and interpretations are explored.
III. The findings concerning the different zones are integrated in a final report that includes policy-relevant conclusions which may support the use of community policing in multicultural settings.

BRUYN, S.T. (1966). The human perspective in sociology: the methodology of participant observation. Englewood Cliffs, Prentice-Hall.

FEYS, J. (2002). Politie, een afspiegeling van de samenleving? De relatie tussen politie en etnische minderheden. In: G. Duhaut, P. Ponsaers, G. Pyl & R. Van de Sompel (red.), Voor verder onderzoek... Essays over de politie en haar rol in onze samenleving. Brussel: Politeia, 771-794.

Ministeriële Omzendbrief CP 1 van 27 mei 2003 betreffende community policing, definitie van de Belgische interpretatie van toepassing op de geïntegreerde politiedienst, gestructureerd op twee niveaus. B.S., 9 juli 2003.

VAN DEN BROECK, T. & ELIAERTS, C. (1995). Community policing: een basis voor de politiezorg in ons land? Politeia, 9, 5-13.

VAN DE SOMPEL, R. & PONSAERS, P. (2003). Bronnen van community (oriented) policing en de toepassing ervan in België. Elektronische kopie dd. 23 mei 2005:

VAN DER TORRE, E.J. (1999). Politiewerk: politiestijlen, community policing, professionalisme. Alphen aan den Rijn: Samson.

VAN OUTRIVE, L. (1998). De ware aard van de inbreng van de burger en van de lokale politie. De Orde van de Dag, 3, 34-41.

WADDINGTON, D., JONES, K. & CRITCHER, C. (1989). Flashpoints. Studies in public disorder. London: Routledge.

NIS-APS (2005). Vlaanderen in cijfers 2005. Electronische kopie:

Documentation :

Multiple Community Policing : Hoezo?  Easton, M. - Ponsaers, P. - Demarée, C. ... et al  Gent : Academia Press, 2009 (PB6247)
[To download

Mulltiple community policing : comment? : synthèse    Bruxelles : Politique scientifique fédérale, 2011 (SP2416)
[To download

Mulltiple community policing : hoezo? : synthese    Brussel : Federaal Wetenschapsbeleid, 2011 (SP2417)
[To download

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