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The Politics of the Police

The Politics of the Police (5th edn)

Benjamin Bowling, Robert Reiner, and James W E Sheptycki
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date: 01 October 2023

p. 22911. Police powers and accountabilitylocked

p. 22911. Police powers and accountabilitylocked

  • Benjamin Bowling, Benjamin BowlingProfessor of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Kings College London
  • Robert ReinerRobert ReinerEmeritus Professor of Criminology, The London School of Economics and Political Science
  •  and James SheptyckiJames SheptyckiProfessor of Criminology, York University, Toronto, Canada


This chapter focuses on police powers, accountability, and the regulation of police discretion. It begins by considering the legitimation of police legal powers in democratic societies and the problem of police accountability. There is then discussion of policy-making for the police force—priorities in resource allocation, strategy, and style—and the street-level actions of rank-and-file officers. Developments in police powers before and after the landmark Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984, and the principle of fundamental balance between powers and safeguards supposedly enshrined in PACE are covered. The chapter then examines developments in police accountability, including the mechanisms for handling complaints against the police and the role of political control in police governance. It concludes by assessing the attempts to reconcile police power and democratic accountability in contemporary societies characterized by a patchwork of domestic, transnational, public, and private police agencies carrying out ‘high’ and ‘low’ policing.

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