Modern Policing


Conflict Management
Problems with Crime Fighting at Local/National Level
Sir Robert Peel and the Principles of Law Enforcement (1829)
Models of Social Disorder

Conflict Management

The world has become a more turbulent place, particularly since the end of the Cold War. In place of the stabilising standoff of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) between the US and the former USSR, now there is conflict between and within nations.

An "-ology" is emerging which seeks to understand and address the phenomenon of human conflict. It is called Conflict Management

Conflict Management is the art, science, skill and practice of preventing, controlling and resolving conflict. Conflict Management operates at any level from personal acrimony, through community and society up to and including national and international conflict.

The principles of Conflict Management have been forged from hard experience. In part, that experience has been gained through UN, US, UK and other interventions, some less successful than others. Further principles and practices of Conflict Management have also emerged from policing at the local level. In both circumstances, and as is so often the way in human affairs, more has been learned the hard way from "doing it wrong." Conflict Management builds on that hard-earned understanding.

At international level, the UN reluctantly conducts so-called Peace Operations - interventions into (generally) fully-developed conflagrations between nations or ethnic/tribal groups. Conventional forces are used to establish and maintain relative order. Such forces, contributed by UN-member nations, form a so-called multi-national Peacekeeping force. It is generally the case that such forces have been trained and exercised in combat, not peacekeeping. Further the various national contingents will have received different kinds and degrees of training. Retraining combat troops for policing duties is time-consuming, expensive and unlikely to be entirely successful - the very essence of policing, with its reluctance ever to use deadly force, is alien to them. Subsequently, training them back to combat duties is also costly.

At local level the issues may range from social disorder to ethnic cleansing. In less exacerbated circumstances, crime may be the chief concern. Here again, Conflict Management applies - or rather could, even should, apply.

Whether at international or local level there is an increasing need for Conflict Managers to anticipate, control and resolve the rising tide of conflict, dispute crime and disorder. Traditionally, Conflict Managers have been called Peace Officers - for that is what they are.

King Arthur and the (Blue?) Knights of the Round Table

A new breed of Peace Officer is emerging, expert in the resolution of human issues, but - unlike their forebears - levering their capabilities through the use of advanced technological support - communications, intelligence, non-lethal weapons, immersion synthetic environments, and more. These Peace Officers are Blue Knights and Guardian Angels. They are experienced individuals, carefully selected, highly trained and imbued with a powerful guiding ethic. Operating as individuals, they are at the same time members of a team, supporting each other in operations.


The purpose of policing is the promotion of social order. There are, however, many ways to promote social order and, indeed, many views about what constitutes social order. In consequence, there are many "styles" of policing around the world, from the brutally repressive to thelaissez faire. One thing seems certain: societies crave order, or at least their perception of what order should be.

At the same time, however, there are strong social movements towards greater personal liberty and freedom. These movements often seem to promote disorder, as individuals and groups interpret 'liberty and freedom' in less than social ways. The spreading influence of democracy has encouraged nations to fragment, often along prior fault lines. See the figure, in which ©SG refers to the Social Genotype, which suggests how social fault lines, suppressed for hundreds or even thousands of years, can survive and re-emerge. Regions within overall nations now seek the autonomy they had historically. A counteracting influence is the growth of trade areas such as the European Union which seek to incorporate more nations under singular banners. These conflicting influences result in widespread social anxiety and turbulence.

A broad consensus has arisen concerning the way in which major disorder should be addressed. Force is regrettably necessary in the first instance to stop the worst excesses of conflict. A subsequent uneasy calm is maintained by a reducing force coupled with the background threat of more force, while the organs of democratic civil government are restored and the economy is set on an even keel. Finally, after elections, authority is transferred to the fledgling civil government to build the economy and to further enhance social capital. By this point, all external intervention should have ceased, and the civil government should control its own instruments for maintaining law and order.

Three terms have emerged to describe these activities and their objectives: -

  • Peacemaking, the enforcement of Peace
  • Peacekeeping, the maintenance of Peace
  • Peacebuilding, the enhancement of Peace

Clearly applicable on the international scale, these terms and concepts are equally applicable at national, regional and local levels, too, where disorder is hopefully of a lesser degree. Locally, responsibilities move into the province of police forces and social services, with military force de-emphasised. Nonetheless, the same processes are seen to operate. For example, if a housing estate has been taken over by gangs of louts, terrorising the inhabitants, then a task force of police officers will be sent in, order will be restored, and the residents will be encouraged out of their beleaguered homes, to co-operate in an estate wide security organization. Once this arrangement is up and running, police presence may be scaled down. Again we see Peacemaking, Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding occurring, in that sequence.

Not generally evident on the scale of international peace operations is the rôle of the indigenous police force. It must generally be the case that they have been unable to maintain social order. Despite this, they could be a major source of intelligence. The ability of incoming Peacemaking and Peacekeeping forces to tap into this potentially valuable source of intelligence is questionable, for two reasons.

  • First, the police force may have been compromised, and they may be identified with one or other of the protagonists.
  • Second, the organization and databases of the indigenous police and of the incoming forces are likely to be incompatible.

Such major international interventions are undertaken reluctantly and are very expensive. They occur, too, only after there has already been much bloodshed, loss of life and property and damage to the national economy. Were it possible to anticipate this breakdown and prevent it from occurring in the first place, much misery and expense could be avoided.

"Blue Knight" is an approach to policing on the local, regional, national and international scale that draws upon both the UN experiences and those of professional civil policemen. It is possible to envisage a resource of Blue Knights which nations in crisis may call upon to moderate internal disorder. Such Blue Knights would be carefully selected people with both background, and experience relevant to the restoration of order. Although many such special individuals may be drawn from the ranks of present or past policemen, Blue Knights might be recruited from a wider background, including the legal profession, social services and the military. In addition, Blue Knights would have passed a rigorous training programme and would be supported in the field by sophisticated technology, and by Guardian Angels - Intelligence Officers with direct communications to and their respective Blue Knights.

This page describes the concepts, principles, methods, technology, techniques, and issues inherent in Blue Knight.

(The Green Man, on the left, is an ancient archetype, as old as humanity. Osiris was green. Despite pagan origins, the Green Man was associated with the Knights Templar and appears in many cathedrals throughout England in carvings, bosses, etc. Tewksbury Abbey has several Green Men, for instance, and there are numerous Green Man public houses. The archetype appears to be something to do with death and resurrection, with the renewal of vegetation - hence the predominantly green colour. The association with police? Ah..!)

Problems with Crime Fighting at Local/National Level

Many current approaches to policing, including those in western democracies, are focused on crime fighting. The idea is seductively simple: create a set of criminal laws; catch and punish anyone found guilty of breaking those laws. Unfortunately, it does not work well. In the UK, for instance, only some 10 - 25% of crime is reported, and only some 20 - 25% of that reported crime is "cleared up", i.e. about 95% of crime goes unpunished!

One fundamental crime-fighting concept is that of fast response. Again, the idea is seductively simple.

  • If police have fast vehicles and are alerted to a crime in progress, then they can race to the spot and apprehend the criminal in the act.
  • Police investments in vehicles and radios are heavy, and police like responding in fast cars - it is dashing and important
  • Unfortunately, statistics show that less than 3% of criminals are caught by fast response
  • Further, this figure would rise to only 5% even if the officers could respond at the speed of light!
  • So, major financial investment is made by such police forces to achieve minor, even miniscule, effect
  • Moreover, the public are now fully educated to the idea of fast response, even though it may be of little use:-
    • Police forces set so-called Charter times, in which they guarantee response times and work hard to achieve them...
    • ...a classic example of missing the point, failing to measure outcome and concentrating instead on an internal system parameter that is easy to measure

Contemporary policing, then, is largely ineffective in catching criminals, despite valiant efforts by dedicated policemen over many years. The reason is simple: they are attempting the impossible. Trying to catch criminals during and after the event, when such crimes are occurring unpredictably over the social landscape, is a monumental task requiring universal knowledge. Police have neither the resources nor universal knowledge.

If, instead, police effort were focused on Peace Operations, then much of the crime (not all) would be prevented from happening in the first place. If, instead of operating as crime fighters, police operated as Peace Officers, they could "turn down the flow at source", instead of trying to catch the (crime) waterfall in a teacup.

In both the UK and the US, Peace Officers used to be the order of the day: all policemen once regarded themselves as Peace Officers. They patrolled the streets, deterred disorder, admonished misbehaviour, met the people, told youngsters the time, apprehended minor crooks and resolved local conflicts. Little children were taught to find a policeman if in trouble. As a fundamental principle, these Peace Officers were from the culture and environment where conflict and disorder existed. External officers can intervene, mediate, act as catalysts, or implement changes but eventually only local Peace Officers can maintain a lasting peace.

Tough on Crime, Tough on the Causes of Crime

So, if the solution is obvious, why aren't we adopting it? Politics. Politicians love mantras. "Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime." As we have seen, being tough on crime doesn't work too well, and it can soon raise the hackles of the civil liberties lobby. The causes of crime are politically sensitive, too. Statistics may show that crime is related to poverty, or is associated with ethnic cultures, but politicans will denigrate the statistics rather than face such unpleasant notions. After all, to be tough on poverty as a cause of crime would cost money, raise taxes and put politicians out of office. To tackle the ethnic association would create civil liberty waves, would risk accusations of bias, persecution, etc. So, politicans find it difficult to be tough on crime, nor can they be tough on the causes of crime, even if they knew, and were prepared to accept, what those causes might be.

Zero Tolerance

"Zero Tolerance" creates problems, too. The idea is seductive enough. If small crimes lead on to bigger crimes, then stamp out the small crimes and the growth will be neutralized. Zero tolerance, then, requires many officers out on the streets to seize on any infringement, no matter how minor. This overloads not only the police, but their cells, the courts and the social services. Additionally, it irritates the average good citizen who, being far from perfect, makes minor transgressions throughout each day. often without even knowing it. Actually, zero tolerance works - for a time, the crime rate does drop. Release the pressure, however, and it may rise again. Alternatively, it may generate "doughnut effect," in which the crooks simply move outside the zero tolerance area to continue their activities unhindered. This creates a new ring of crime around the zero tolerance zone, hence "doughnut."

Three Strikes and Your Out

"Three strikes and you're out" might have looked like a good idea at first. If you are a continual offender, the argument goes, then on the third offence (for which you are convicted) you will go down for a long stretch. This should remove the long-term, professional repeat offender from the street, and so inhibit a major source of crime. And it worked. Crime rates fell. Politicans were pleased. So pleased, they increased the length of the stay in jail again. The crime rate fell even further. So they repeated it a third time. Crime statistics looked rosy. After a while, however, the crime statistics started to creep back up to their original level, only now there were some four times as many prison inmates as before - for the same, high crime rate as before.

N.B. At my last count, the UK had some 100 per 100,000 population behind bars. The US had some 400 per 100,00 population, i.e. 4 times as many pro rata, including some one million blacks behind bars. That implies a truly awesome cost, socially, economically and politically.

So what had happened with Three Strikes and Your Out? Well, it seems that, for every professional crook on the street, there is a small army of "wanabees" waiting to take his place. These wanabees are effectively held in check by the professional crook, who will not tolerate anyone on his turf or, alternatively, they are deprived of opportunity as the professional beats them to the punch. Remove the professional crook for a long period and one or more wanabees moves in, takes over and develops their own skills - so the crime rate rises back to its original level. Only, now you have perhaps four times as many prison inmates as before. Counter-intuitive? You bet!

The graph, from a simulation, shows the effect. The magenta line shows the introduction of Three Strikes and You're Out, as an increase from 24 months to 48 months for the mean time to be spent in prison. The red line shows the resulting drop in the number of lawbreakers on the streets: the line drops sharply, but then starts to build slowly towards its previous level. Meanwhile, the blue line shows the numbers of prison inmates; this line ramps, and then climbs slowly towards some distant high. Paradoxically, then, both Zero Tolerance and Three Strikes and Your Out cause a netincreasein the number of criminals either in the jails or on the streets, or both.

Setting Targets

Yes, perhaps it is counter-intuitive, but isn't that exactly what we ought to expect from a complex social system?

Feb, 2000. The UK Home Office is issuing specific targets to individual police forces in England and Wales for reductions in car crime, street muggings and burglaries, to be achieved over a 5-year span. You really don't have to be a rocket scientist to see what will happen. The target figures will, apparently, be achieved. It is relatively simple either to "adjust" the reported crime rate, or the detection rate. And what will happen to the many aspects of social disorder that do not have target figures? Will the police (can the police) still maintain their interest in truancy, shop-lifting, disorderly neighbours, etc., etc., or is it just possible that they will have to concentrate on the new targets to the detriment of other things?


11 March 2000, Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, has been reported as saying that the UK prison population is now 65,000, i.e. some 120 per 100,000 population. This is an increase of 25,000 in the last 10 years, and he predicts that the numbers in UK prisons will continue to rise, as more people take to crime.)

Sir Robert Peel and the Principles of Law Enforcement (1829)

Before looking at Blue Knight, it may help to remind ourselves of the ideas expressed by Sir Robert Peel as the Principles of Law Enforcement in 1829, as a foundation for the, then, newly formed Metropolitan Police of London.

  1. The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder (my note: prevent, not catch after the event)
  2. The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police existence, action, behaviour and the ability of the police to secure public respect
  3. The police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain public respect
  4. The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes, proportionately, the use of physical force
  5. The police seek and preserve public favour, not by catering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice, or injustice, of the substance of individual laws; by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of society without regard to their race or social standing
  6. The police should use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to secure order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient
  7. The police at all times should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police are the only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interest of the community welfare
  8. The police should always direct their actions toward their functions and never appear to usurp the power of the judiciary by avenging individuals or the state
  9. The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action dealing with them.

Reading through Sir Robert's words, they are as fresh and relevant today as when he wrote them 170 years ago. So what happened? Well, technology happened, for one. The invention of the car and the radio convinced police in the 1930s that they could become remote from the people, could rush to the scenes of incidents, could be alerted and directed by radio and so they didn't really need to be out there, with the public, part of the public. Number 7 went out the window and never returned.

With it, Number 1 had to go since, with few police on patrol, there was little advance warning intelligence of what was going to happen, and no officer on the spot, so the opportunity for "nipping things in the bud" no longer arose. Prevention had to give way to catching after the event. The idea gradually arose that patrolling the streets was for the woodentops, and that "real policing" was in CID, catching criminals. Not to mention rushing around in fast cars and armed response vehicles, arriving at the scene in minutes, maybe hours after the crooks had flown.

Number 5 disappeared with the advent of multicultural societies. Police forces, particularly in the cities, failed to recruit members of the various ethnic cultures, and failed to understand the cultures they were attempting to police. With Number 5 went 2, 3 and 4.

But perhaps the real nail in the coffin was the employment of statistics; this scuppered Number 9 overnight. You cannot measure such things as deterrence. There is no immediate evidence that an officer has calmed things down, perhaps prevented a scuffle or worse, simply by his or her calming presence. Since this cannot be directly measured, it cannot be entered into a statistic, so in effect, it does not exist. Hence you cannot measure the efficiency of the police as Sir Robert so-correctly envisaged - at least, not directly using statistics.

A typical example of the abuse of statistics occurs from time to time in every police force. The classic (apocryphal?) case relates that a village bobby (i.e. an officer resident in a village and responsible for its policing) had a zero return for criminal activity, arrests, etc., in his area. The statistics were interpreted by a senior officer to deduce that there was no crime in the area, and that the officer was not needed. He was withdrawn and given other duties. Within days, crime broke out in the village as youths travelled to the now-wide-open village during the evenings and at weekends to "hang out" and terrorize the residents. Police response? " Cannot deal. Manpower shortage. Oh! and by the way, we have lot's of plain clothes policemen in your area, it's just that you cannot see them."And this is a very common example. The idea that the simple, visible presence of an officer can deter crime and promote order seems entirely alien to today's police 'managers.'

If Sir Robert Peel were alive today, he would be spinning in his grave.

Models of Social Disorder

To understand policing at any level, its effects and its effectiveness, it is very helpful to have a mental image of a society, its behaviour and the way order and disorder come about. The basic ideas behind a typical model are explained in the book Getting to Grips with Complexity, on this web site: in particular, see Chaper 12, The Dynamics of Order and Disorder.

This reference provides a model by analogy to a liquid body, stirred up by energy, with dynamic behaviours, causing whirlpools and eddies to form, stabilize for a while, then dissolve, only to reform into some other temporary structure. With increasing energy come higher metabolic rates, bubbling, popping, splashing and eventually boiling. Boiling can be suppressed by increasing the pressure on the liquid, as in a pressure cooker. Boiling can also be suppressed by dissolving substances in the liquid which raise the boiling point. So, we see elements of bulk social behaviour by analogy. Social energy creates disorder, but it also creates order. These two continually interchange as organizations and social structures build, sustain and collapse. The more energy, the greater the degrees both of order and disorder, and the greater the dynamic rates of change. And, of course the suppression of this dynamic corresponds to social calming or repression by police or military or even by culture.

Also evident by analogy is the concept of social capital. Social capital is an indicator of the cohesiveness of a society, which is enhanced by co-operative interaction between individuals, groups and societies to form stable structures. Social capital is also enhanced by education and training, both of which constitute investments in societies and from which the return is capability to achieve goals, overcome obstacles and co-operate successfully.

We can learn more by looking at reported crime. See the following graphs, both taken from reported crime statistics for a county in England. At left we see the raw statistics for a 23-year period.

The blue line shows the reported crime figures for each year, 1970-94 and the red line shows a regression through the statistics. There are three features of note: -

  • The highly variable figures on a year-to year basis
  • The underlying accelerating increase as revealed by the upward curve in the regression line
  • The increasing swing above and below the regression line, characteristic of a system on the edge of, and moving ever closer to, instability

It would not be unreasonable to predict from the increasing swing about the regression line that succeeding years, post '94, would show an even greater reduction in crime, to be followed by yet another upsurge. The track record of politicians suggests that they would observe the downswing, naively presume that they had control of the situation, and reduce spending on the police. This is precisely what has happened. As I write, the crime figures have turned the bottom of the curve and are rising again - fast. Watch this space.

The right hand graph is derived from the left hand graph by looking at the "bumpiness" of the year-on-year figures about their regression line. The results are surprising. The straight line shows that the crime figures are fractal, i.e. they derive from a system that is weakly chaotic. Many weakly-chaotic systems occur naturally. Statistics for deaths in war, stock exchange price movements, distances between cars on a motorway, noise in conductors, earthquakes, etc., show similar characteristics.

Bak and Chen described the phenomenon as Self-Organized Criticality. See Self-Organized Criticality, Scientific American, 264(1),1991. They were researching earthquakes and had built a simple model using a sand pile. As sand is added to the pile, the cone increases in height until there is a slippage, and grains of sand fall off. The cone height reaches a critical height - going above results in avalanche, going below results in build-up. There are many small avalanches, relatively few big ones. The whole pile becomes a single dynamic system hovering on the so-called edge of chaos. A log-log graph of the size of avalanche against the frequency with which that size occurs produces a graph similar to the right hand graph above.

So we can envisage a complementry model of society, based on this idea of self-organized criticality. Avalanches represent disorder which, it has often been noted, seems to trigger further disorder, i.e. disorder does not occur randomly. If each grain of sand that falls off the pile represents an incident of disorder, then an avalanche represents a triggered flow or stream of disorder or crime. We can also use the fractal property of the statistics to propose that the same fractal number will apply at all levels within the county for which the statistics were drawn up. A similar statistical "bumpiness" will arise at Divisional level for instance - this self-similarity is a feature of fractal system.

It should not be imagined that the right hand graph above enables us to predict crime and disorder, any more than we can predict the size and location of the next earthquake. As Richter noted, if there are 10 earthquakes of size 7 on the Richter scale, then there are 100 of size 6, 1000 of size 5 and so on. Similarly with meteors entering the earth's atmosphere, if there are 10 of mass 500 tonnes, then there are 100 of mass 50 tonnes, 1000 of mass 5 ton, and so on - over a long period. So, with crime as with earthquakes, we may know that, over a long period, crime will fit on the fractal graph, but we still cannot know with any confidence where the next crime will occur or how many there are going to be in this location, this year.

Noise in conductors is fractal. A useful mental image would be of a lattice of conductor ions resisting the free passage of electrons along a tube. As electrons seek to squeeze past the ions, there is a build-up of electrons upstream of each ion. Each build-up, like the sandcastle, releases avalanches of electrons which result in a variable flow pattern in the electron stream that we hear as noise.

Policemen act like the ions, seeking to stem the flow of disorder and crime. Most crimes get by them as most electrons get by the ions in the conductor. Some crimes are detected, and the pattern of their occurrence mirrors that of the electron stream. The mental model suggests that more policement would resist more disorder, creating a wider spectrum of avalanches. The model also explains why individual policemen are working so hard - and most of them do work hard. However, what they are being tasked to do is beyond capability, even with many more policemen to help. It is rather like trying to catch Niagra using a thimble. Even lots of thimbles aren't going to make a big impact.

The following graph was developed by the British meteorologist, Richardson, just after WWII. He collected data on the wars of various sizes that had taken place between 1820 and 1945. He measured the size of a war by the numbers killed, He graphed them as shown, using logarithmic axes, and found that there was a continuum. At the bottom of the curve were individual killings which took place every 5 minutes or so, on a global basis according to his figures. At higher level wars occurred with decreasing frequency as the numbers killed rose. (It is possible, by completely invalid extrapolation, to show that a war big enough to wipe out the human population will occur some 1000 years from the first statistic, i.e. about 2820.)

Curiously, the continuum suggested by Richardson arises over a period where the introduction of technology for mass killing, from the machine gun to the atom bomb, was introduced into warfare. That major factor seems to have made little difference to the nature of the curve.

Richardson's statistics can be rearranged, so that the y-axis shows conflicts per 1000 years against deaths per conflict, i.e. the frequency. The graph at right, about deaths in war, corresponds to the similar log-log curve for crime above, only this time it is for deaths in war. This goes to establish that both killing and crime :-

a) form a continuum

b) are chaotic

c) emerge from self-organizing social systems

This leads to important conclusions:-

  1. societies, far from being stable, exist - like Bak and Chen's sandpile - on the edge of chaos, with "avalanches" of crime disorder and killing being as continual, inevitable and unpredictable as earthquakes
  2. even seemingly-stable societies may "go over the edge" into chaos without warning, sparked by a trigger event
  3. like the sandpile, societies hold their general form over long periods, despite the continual turnover of individuals (grains of sand)
  4. crime, disorder and killing do not occur randomly. Instead, initial events trigger avalanches of other events, often in the same area and of related nature, generally without warning
  5. despite this, communities or societies form one, self-organizing system, not separate parts which can be adressed in mutual isolation
  6. any society without disorder and crime would be lifeless
  7. because societies are self-organizing systems, counter-intuitive responses to control should be expected - control, in effect, creates its own reactive-opposition
  8. similarly, addressing different aspects of societies as though they were, somehow, independent of each other, will likely result in counter-intuitive response