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'The Public and the Police' by John D. Brewer (1992), in, Social Attitudes in Northern Ireland: The Second Report



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Text: John D. Brewer ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna

The following chapter has been contributed by the author J. D. Brewer with the permission of the publishers, Blackstaff Press. The views expressed in this chapter do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the CAIN Project. The CAIN Project would welcome other material which meets our guidelines for contributions.

scanned image of front cover This chapter is taken from:

Social Attitudes in Northern Ireland:
The Second Report

Edited by Peter Stringer and Gillian Robinson (1992)
ISBN 0 85640 483 7 Paperback 228pp

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This chapter is copyright J. D. Brewer, 1992 and is included on the CAIN site by permission of the publisher, Blackstaff Press. You may not edit, adapt, or redistribute changed versions of this for other than your personal use without the express written permission of the author and publisher. Redistribution for commercial purposes is not permitted.


Social Attitudes in Northern Ireland
The Second Report, 1991-1992

Contents

The contributors
Introduction
PETER STRINGER
1Economic Conditions and People's Concerns and Priorities
STEPHEN ROPER
2 Environmental Concern
PETER STRINGER
3 On a 'British Withdrawal' from Northern Ireland
ADRIAN GUELKE AND FRANK WRIGHT
4 The Public and the Police
JOHN D. BREWER
5 The Perception of Crime
RAY GEARY AND JOHN MORISON
6 Civil Liberties and the State
A.M. GALLAGHER
7 The Thread of Social Welfare
RICK WILFORD
8 Housing
MARTIN MELAUGH
9 Bridging the Divide: Women and Political and Community Issues
VALERIE MORGAN
10 Political Violence, Social Values and the Generation Gap
ED CAIRNS
Appendix 1 Technical Details of the Survey
KEVIN SWEENEY
Appendix 2 Notes on the tabulations
Appendix 3 The questionnaire
Subject index


Chapter 4

THE PUBLIC AND THE POLICE

by
John D. Brewer

Sub Headings

Introduction
A Comparison of Northern Ireland and Britain
The Social Structure of Northern Ireland and Public Images of the RUC
Conclusion
References

Studies in Britain show that people's opinions of the police are formed on the basis of encounters with them on the street (Southgate and Ekblom, 1984; 1986). The encounters are fraught with difficulties, however, because of the contradictory expectations of each party. Members of the public mostly make calls on the police that are entirely unrelated to crime, such as requests for advice and assistance, from tracing lost pets to resolving conflict and controlling nuisance (Comrie and Kings, 1975; Punch, 1979; Punch and Naylor, 1973). The police do not see such matters as 'real' police work or as the task of crime-fighters, as they see themselves (Brewer, 1991a; Holdaway, 1983; Manning, 1977; Policy Studies Institute, 1983). Their priorities are to deal with serious crime, but the public expects a far wider range of services. The public expects the police to be polite, sympathetic and understanding (Southgate and Ekblom, 1986, p. 25), while police officers generally expect the public to be deferential (Southgate and Ekblom, 1986, p. 35). The police wish to have their authority and status recognised; members of the public expect constables to display softer human qualities.

Not surprisingly, when set against this background, research has charted a deterioration in relations between the public and the police over the last two decades: particularly in the case of young people, who have the most contact with the police on the streets (Schaffer, 1980; Southgate and Ekblom, 1984, p. 7), and also in the case of ethnic minorities (Scarman, 1981; Policy Studies Institute, 1983) and road-users (Dix and Layzell, 1983). Recent innovations in police practice and training have attempted to improve police-public relations by such means as the introduction of race awareness training, increased efforts to recruit from among the ethnic minorities, and a shift towards neighbourhood and community policing.

In comparison there is very little research on the police in Northern Ireland (for an exception see Brewer, 1991a) or about public perceptions of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). The few references that have been made to the public image of the RUC (for example: Brewer et al., 1988, pp. 73-5; Policy Studies Institute, 1987; Weitzer, 1985; 1987; 1989) use a 'divided society' model of policing (see Brewer, 1991b). The conflicts in which the police intervene in Northern Ireland are seen simplistically to arise from religious differences, and public attitudes towards the RUC to divide according to the same cleavage. In this model, public attitudes to the police are determined by the broader conflicts that characterise the society. They are largely impervious to the nature of actual encounters between the police and public or to initiatives to improve their relations. The public image of the RUC, as portrayed in the 'divided society' model of policing, is very poor. It is certainly worse than that of the British police, who are not involved in the kind of conflict management that occurs in divided societies and which can prejudice a police force's reputation. Catholic opinions of the RUC are seen as universally hostile, without qualification or extenuation.

I have argued elsewhere (Brewer, 1991b, pp. 184-90) that cleavages in divided societies are often more complicated than the notion of 'divided society' suggests. The model oversimplifies the ways in which the police mediate wider social conflicts. This is not to deny that the cleavages of a divided society produce a discrete type of police work. But a better understanding of policing in such a society is required than the model currently provides. Similarly, there is a need for a less simplistic portrayal of the public image of the police. Attitudes cannot be properly understood when they are presented only as a reflection of inter-communal conflicts. Account should also be taken of intra-communal conflicts that cause other lines of fissure.

The first section of this chapter looks at various issues relating to police work in Northern Ireland, and makes comparisons between public attitudes in Northern Ireland and Britain. The greater part of the chapter looks at some of the social variables that seem to structure these attitudes in Northern Ireland, and assesses the relative influence of religion as compared with other social factors. A particular focus is on attitude differences within the Catholic community, and between Catholics and nationalists. We shall see that it is misleading to equate religion simplistically with political affiliation.


A COMPARISON OF NORTHERN IRELAND AND BRITAIN

In terms of non-sectarian crime, Northern Ireland is seen as a relatively peaceful society: 69 per cent of the survey respondents there agree or strongly agree with the statement that there is little crime in Northern Ireland except for the 'troubles'. Seventy-one per cent feel that there is less ordinary crime in Northern Ireland than in Britain, and 90 per cent think the region more peaceful than people in Britain might think it to be. These attitudes are grounded in their experience of ordinary crime in Northern Ireland. While the proportion of those who say that they worry about crime is high at 63 per cent (compared with 76 per cent in Britain), the worry is about crime as a general social issue rather than a feature of everyday life. The numbers who believe mugging, vandalism and burglary to be very or fairly common in their area is low, and much lower than in Britain.

PERCEPTION OF VARIOUS CRIMES AS COMMON

.
Northern Ireland
%
Britain
%
Burglary
31
45
Vandalism
28
41
Mugging
5
12

The perception that ordinary crime is relatively uncommon affects public attitudes towards the RUC in two ways. First, it raises the salience of sectarian crime. The RUC's high profile tends to be based more on its handling of terrorism and public order incidents. The extent to which this prejudices people's opinions of the RUC depends on their ability to distinguish between routine policing and the RUC's public order roles. Common sense, however, suggests that it would lead to negative public attitudes toward the police.

The second effect works in the opposite direction. The low rate of perceived crime reduces the number and frequency of the contacts that people in Northern Ireland have with the RUC, compared with encounters between the police and public in Britain. In the last two years, for example, 35 per cent of British respondents reported a crime to the police or asked them for advice, compared with 29 per cent of Northern Irish respondents; 16 per cent of British respondents were stopped by the police in the last two years, compared with 11 per cent of respondents in Northern Ireland. Consequently, people in Northern Ireland have less opportunity to become alienated from the police as a result of an unsatisfactory encounter.

Levels of satisfaction with the police are higher in Northern Ireland than in Britain: 25 per cent of Northern Irish respondents say that they are very satisfied, compared with 19 per cent of British respondents. Both figures may appear to be low, but the great majority in both samples say that they are quite satisfied. While the proportion of those who say that they are pleased with or annoyed by the police is roughly the same in the two samples, other responses show the RUC to be better thought of than the British police. Of those who had contacted the police in the last two years, 84 per cent found it helpful, compared with 74 per cent in Britain. However, of those who had been stopped by the police in the last two years, 64 per cent found its members polite, compared with 79 per cent in Britain. The RUC seems to have better public relations than the British police, though only when the encounter is initiated by a member of the public. When the police initiate the encounter, public attitudes are less favourable. Such encounters need to be handled more sensitively. None the less, there is a high degree of reliance on the police by the public and a belief in the efficacy of contacting them. Over three-quarters of Northern Irish respondents say that they would phone the police if they saw a house being burgled, and an additional 10 per cent would use the confidential phone; 81 per cent would use either of these two means to contact the police if they witnessed a car hijack.

The differences between attitudes to the RUC and to the British police force might arise not because the RUC is thought of positively, but merely not so negatively as the British police. However, more than 8 respondents out of 10 say that the RUC does a good job in controlling ordinary crime; 3 out of 10 say that it does a very good job. Those who believe that the RUC does a good job in controlling sectarian crime are fewer in number, but still in a majority of 71 per cent.

The real test of the professionalism of a police force that functions in a divided society is whether it is impartial in its dealings with the different social groups and arbitrates the conflict rather than contributes to it. The academic literature on the RUC is divided on this point. (For a summary of the arguments see Brewer, 1991a, pp. 275-7.) The public's view is equally divided. Nearly 6 out of 10 respondents say that they believe all people are treated equally by the police in the province. Although this is less than two-thirds of the population, still fewer (46 per cent) believe that the Ulster Defence Regiment treats all people equally. Protestants are overwhelmingly seen as the beneficiaries of preferential treatment.


THE SOCIAL STRUCTURE OF NORTHERN IRELAND AND PUBLIC IMAGES OF THE RUC

The social structure of divided societies is often more diverse than suggested by the most obvious patterns of conflict that exist within them. The primary social cleavage, whether it be race, ethnicity, national origin or religion, does not always subsume other cleavages. Differences of region, age, gender or class may have considerable additional significance. These secondary cleavages may cut across the primary social division, producing a fragmented pattern of social conflict and creating both intra-communal divisions and a measure of commonality between communities. This has been observed in South Africa (Adam and Moodley, 1986, p. 196) and Northern Ireland. Jenkins, for example, has commented that Catholics and Protestants share more of a common culture than is present in inter-racial situations (Jenkins, 1984, p.240).

This paradox is frequently alluded to by people in Northern Ireland. It is explained by the fact that, while religion is appropriated as the boundary marker that best represents the primary social conflict, over the legitimacy of the state, it does not overlap completely with this conflict. Religion does not subsume other social cleavages and is not alone in structuring people's values and behaviour. The religious communities in Northern Ireland can be divided within themselves on some issues and united with one another on others.

Public attitudes towards the police offer an excellent case to demonstrate this because the police are so closely linked to the state, to the issue of the state's legitimacy and hence to the primary social conflict in Northern Ireland. Attitudes towards the police are not structured by religion alone. Its predictive value is less important than that of political affiliation, which religion does not entirely overlap.

One measure of Northern Irish views of the efficacy of the police in dealing with ordinary crime is the number who would contact them to report witnessing a burglary. Eighty-one per cent of respondents would do so directly and 14 per cent indirectly. The number is higher among the wealthier respondents: 76 per cent of those who say that they would not report the crime at all describe themselves as having a low income. The number who would report the crime also increases with social class. All upper-middle-class respondents say that they would report the crime directly, compared with 61 per cent of the 'poor', although another 26 per cent of these would use more indirect means - either the confidential telephone or asking someone else to report it. There is no general reluctance on the part of the working classes to involve the police in incidents of burglary. However, confidence in managing direct social interaction with the police does increase with social status. There is little difference between men and women.

The effect of religion and political affiliation is interesting. The numbers from each religious group who would go directly to the police station is roughly the same, at around 3 per cent. However, 8 out of 10 Protestant respondents say they would phone the police directly, compared with 7 out of 10 Catholics. While the latter proportion is lower, a high number of Catholics would none the less report the crime to the police, including a further 10 per cent of Catholics who say that they would use the confidential telephone. Only 5 per cent of Catholics would not report the crime at all, compared with 2 per cent of Protestants. Even 60 per cent of nationalists say that they would directly telephone the police, and 14 per cent would use the confidential telephone. Combined, these proportions are much lower than for unionists (81 and 10 per cent respectively), but they are still surprisingly high. Indeed, 15 per cent of those who say that they would go personally to a police station to report the crime were nationalists. Only 4 per cent say that they would not report the crime at all.

The use of an indirect means to report crimes, particularly the confidential telephone, is much higher among Catholics and nationalists. When anonymity can be assured, the police are readily contacted by those who are thought to be their critics. There is no obvious lack of faith in the efficacy of contacting the police, simply a wish not to get personally involved. This might also explain why middle-aged respondents are more likely to contact the police directly. The elderly may wish to avoid getting involved, whilst, if research from Britain is applicable, the young may not expect contact to be efficacious because of their greater alienation from the police.

This willingness to contact the police might also be explained by the nature of the crime, since insurance claims routinely require burglary to be reported. But nearly an equal number of respondents say that they would report witnessing a car hijack to the police, although slightly fewer would do so directly either by telephone or by going to a police station. Sixty-five per cent say they would do so directly, with another 20 per cent doing so indirectly. Again, this response is least frequent among low-income and working-class respondents.


CAR HIJACK AND POLICE CONTACT, BY CLASS

.
Upper middle
Middle
Upper working
Working
Poor
.
%
%
%
%
%
Go to police
-
3
6
3
7
Phone police
93
71
75
54
44
Use confidential phone
7
16
13
24
12
Ask other to report
-
4
1
3
12

It is also lower for Catholics than Protestants, and for nationalists than unionists. Nevertheless, the great majority of Catholics would contact the police: only 17 per cent would not do so, compared with 3 per cent of Protestants. Again, there is a tendency to make more use of indirect means of contact. Catholics seem more unwilling than Protestants to have direct contact with the police. This may be an index of their greater fear (of the police), intimidation (by the paramilitaries) and disaffection from the RUC.

CAR HIJACK AND POLICE CONTACT, BY RELIGION AND POLITICS

.
Catholic
%
Protestant
%
Nationalist
%
Unionist
%
Go to police
2
4
2
5
Phone police
47
70
41
70
Use confidential phone
20
17
22
19
Ask other to report
6
3
5
2

The significance of Catholic disaffection from the RUC is perhaps reflected in the differences in response between Catholics and nationalists. Nationalists are less likely than Catholics to contact the police directly, and are no more likely to do so indirectly. Nearly 20 per cent of nationalists say that they would not contact the police at all, compared with 2 per cent of unionists, 17 per cent of Catholics and 3 per cent of Protestants. Clearly, differences along religious lines exist. But it is important to note that some Catholics are generally more willing to contact the police than are nationalists, and significant numbers even of nationalists would contact the police over non-sectarian crime. One-fifth have actually gone to the police under their own volition, at some time in the last two years, to report a crime or to ask for advice.

Believing that it is efficacious to contact the police is not the same as a positive endorsement of them. It gives no indication of how the contact was evaluated. Those respondents who had been to the police at some time in the previous two years have a very positive view of their helpfulness. Low-income respondents find them least helpful, but 80 per cent still say that the RUC is either very or fairly helpful. Women find them more unhelpful than do men; but 83 per cent of women who had been to the police in the previous two years consider the police helpful. The differences between Catholics and Protestants are marginal, but vary slightly with political affiliation. Of the nationalists who had been to the police in this period, 84 per cent find them helpful, compared with 87 per cent of unionists.

The younger respondents are most likely to find the police unhelpful. This perhaps reflects the fact that the young tend to have more contact with the police and are more likely to be stopped by them. On the whole, the categories of survey respondent who are most likely to be stopped by the police are those with a low to middle income, members of the 'poor' and working classes, Catholics, nationalists, and, in particular, men and young people. Assessments of the politeness of the police are most negative among these categories of respondent, though a small majority in each case, with the exception of the young and nationalists, do find the police polite.

ASSESSMENTS OF THE POLITENESS OF THE POLICE AMONG THE GROUPS MOST FREQUENTLY STOPPED

18-24 years
%
Nationalist
%
Catholic
%
Low income
%
Male
%
Poor
%
31
33
53
53
57
63

Women have less contact with the RUC and find them more unhelpful than do men, yet the police appear to treat women more politely. Sexist views on the part of the police, who are predominantly male, clearly improve their politeness towards women. But the personal skills used in interaction with women sorely need to be applied to other social groups, particularly the young and nationalists. The difference between Catholic and nationalist perceptions of the politeness of the RUC is considerable. The police are either able to distinguish the two (there is evidence that they can: see Brewer, 1991a, pp. 130-5) and treat nationalists much less well; or nationalists are more sensitive to the demeanour of the police than are Catholics. Either interpretation suggests that the major basis of conflict in Northern Ireland is political affiliation rather than religion, and that there are fissures and divisions within the Catholic community.

No similar disjuncture exists between Protestants and unionists: 84 per cent of unionists find the RUC polite, compared with 83 per cent of Protestants. This confirms Whyte's (1986) observation that politics is the one area in which Protestants are more united than Catholics. He infers from this that the process of boundary maintenance is different in the two communities. Protestants, who are socially and culturally fragmented, tend to define themselves in terms of politics; Catholics, who are politically divided, tend to define themselves more in terms of their greater social and cultural homogeneity (Whyte, 1986, pp. 231-2).

Similar patterns are found when respondents were asked if they had ever been annoyed by the RUC's behaviour toward them. Overall, 20 per cent say that they have been annoyed. The highest percentages are among the poor, young, males, Catholics and nationalists.

HAVE YOU EVER BEEN ANNOYED BY POLICE BEHAVIOUR TOWARD YOU?

.
18-24 years
%
Nationalist
%
Catholic
%
Low income
%
Male
%
Poor
%
Yes
37
36
26
19
25
30

The highest proportion of those expressing annoyance was in the group of respondents aged 24 years or less (37 per cent). Just over one-third of nationalists say that they have been annoyed. The corollary is that nearly two-thirds of nationalists say they have not been annoyed. While fewer than the unionists' 86 per cent, this is still a large percentage. Absence of annoyance, however, is not the same thing as being pleased. Those who have been pleased by police behaviour towards them amounted to 30 per cent of the sample: members of the RUC please more people than they annoy. However, there are significant exceptions to this general trend, with certain social groups having a greater tendency to express annoyance.

HAVE YOU EVER BEEN PLEASED BY POLICE BEHAVIOUR TOWARD YOU?

.
18-24 years
%
Nationalist
%
Catholic
%
Low income
%
Male
%
Poor
%
Yes
Yes 21
22
23
28
36
43

The proportion of Catholics who are pleased is only marginally less than of those who are annoyed. This gap widens considerably for the young and nationalists, although around one-fifth of each group do acknowledge having been pleased by police behaviour towards them. Clearly, the police have their greatest public relations problems with these two groups. Young nationalists are most likely to be alienated from the RUC.

There are other points worth stressing. Fewer women than men say they have been pleased by police behaviour: 24 per cent of women compared to 36 per cent of men. This reverses the usual pattern, that women have the more positive views (save with the exception of finding them more unhelpful). The polite demeanour of the police in interaction with women does not create an impression of helpfulness. Fewer people of high than of low social status say that they have been pleased. The difference is marginal in income terms, with 23 per cent of high-income respondents saying they had been pleased by the RUC's behaviour toward them, compared with 28 per cent of low-income respondents. But the reversal of the usual pattern that high-status respondents have the more positive view of the police is most apparent in terms of self-rated social class, where high-status groups have more negative views than the 'poor'.

HAVE YOU EVER BEEN PLEASED BY POLICE BEHAVIOUR TOWARD YOU?

.
Upper middle
%
Middle
%
Upper working
%
Working
%
Poor
%
Yes
18
32
33
27
43

Expressions of being pleased peak in middle age, and drop thereafter. Perhaps the politeness of the police in dealing with women, the elderly and people of high social status creates expectations of a positive outcome that are unfulfilled by subsequent police action. Or the interaction might leave these groups offended because the police are not deferential enough. Another explanation might have to do with the nature of the demands these social groups make. Evidence from ethnographic studies of the police suggests that women, the elderly and high-status groups tend to make more public-service demands on the police (Brewer, 1991a; Fielding, 1988; Punch, 1979; Punch and Naylor, 1973; Southgate and Ekblom, 1984). Public-service calls are not seen by the police as 'real' police work. Their attitude might communicate itself to members of the public who make such calls.

Assessments of whether or not the RUC has ever pleased respondents are probably based on particular incidents of contact with the police, whereas evaluations of how satisfied they are with the RUC are likely to be based on wider considerations and more habitual attitudes. Levels of satisfaction with the RUC decline with income: 88 per cent in the high-income group are satisfied, compared with 64 per cent in the low-income group. The RUC has problems at both ends of the social class continuum. The nature of the contact with them by people of high and low status may differ, but it leaves both groups less than fully satisfied.

SATISFACTION WITH THE POLICE, BY SOCIAL CLASS

Upper middle
Middle
Upper working
Working
Poor
74
82
74
65
56

Satisfaction with the police is also less pronounced among Catholics, half of whom say that they are satisfied with the RUC, including 10 per cent who are 'very satisfied'. Satisfaction is much commoner among Protestants: 85 per cent are satisfied, including 37 per cent who describe themselves as 'very satisfied'. The small minority of Protestants who are dissatisfied and the much larger number of Catholics who are satisfied illustrate that the two communities do not divide absolutely on this issue. Indeed, a further 23 per cent of Catholic respondents describe themselves as neither satisfied nor dissatisfied; and one-fifth of those describing themselves as dissatisfied are Protestant.

Political affiliation produces the greatest polarisation, though a surprising number of nationalists are satisfied with the police.

SATISFACTION WITH THE POLICE, BY POLITICAL AFFILIATION

.
Nationalist
%
Unionist
%
Very satisfied
7
40
Quite satisfied
32
47
Neither
23
7
Quite dissatisfied
24
4
Very dissatisfied
13
2

The level of satisfaction with the police is higher among Catholics than nationalists, and the views of nationalists on this matter are more heterogeneous than those of unionists. Unionists are almost unanimously satisfied with the RUC. Nationalists are more divided: roughly the same proportion are satisfied (39 per cent) as dissatisfied (37 per cent). It is not just that there are more political differences among Catholics; attitudes vary considerably within political factions. Policing is an issue which obviously provokes much disagreement among nationalists. This is apparent in opinions about sectarianism in the RUC: 38 per cent of Catholics believe that the police treat the two religious communities in the same way (compared with 75 per cent of Protestants), as do 32 per cent of nationalists (compared with 79 per cent of unionists). Even these low figures point to lines of fissure within the minority population. An appreciable number of Catholics and nationalists are not alienated from the RUC. Where bias is thought to exist, each religious group tends to see the other as the beneficiary of preferential treatment.

Assessments of how good a job the RUC is doing in controlling non-sectarian crime follow much the same pattern as shown in respondents' replies on their satisfaction with the police. The majority of respondents believe them to be doing a good job, 28 per cent saying 'very good' and 57 per cent 'fairly good'. Those who think that the RUC is doing badly tend to be poor, low income, male, young, Catholic and nationalist. Although these are the social groups with the worst opinion of the RUC, the proportions in each group thinking the RUC are doing badly is very low.

CATEGORIES BELIEVING THE RUC DOES BADLY IN CONTROLLING
NON-SECTARIAN CRIME AND ARE DISSATISFIED WITH IT

.
Very bad
Fairly bad
Very dissatisfied
Quite dissatisfied
.
%
%
%
%
Poor
7
10
10
13
Upper middle
-
-
7
-
Low income
4
10
6
13
High income
-
8
8
-
l8-24 years of age
5
16
5
15
Over 65 years of age
1
4
2
7
Male
4
9
6
8
Female
2
9
3
11
Catholic
5
14
7
19
Protestant
1
5
2
4
Nationalist
6
20
13
24
Unionist
1
3
2
4

The proportion who believes that the RUC does badly in controlling non-sectarian crime is smaller than that which is dissatisfied with the police. Some people may be dissatisfied, while accepting that the RUC is doing a good job in dealing with ordinary crime. This is particularly the case for Catholics and nationalists. For example, 19 per cent of Catholics say that the RUC is doing badly in controlling non-sectarian crime, compared with 26 per cent who are dissatisfied with the police. The figures for nationalists are 26 and 37 per cent, respectively. This suggests that some people who are critical of the RUC draw a distinction between the RUC's two policing roles (non-sectarian crime and public order) and look more favourably on its role in dealing with non-sectarian crime. This is also apparent from previous surveys (see Brewer, 1991b, pp. 186-7; Weitzer, 1987, pp. 283-8).

There are also differences in views on how well the RUC is doing in controlling sectarian and non-sectarian crime. Overall, people believe the RUC to be worse at controlling sectarian crime: 85 per cent of respondents say that the RUC is doing a very or fairly good job in controlling ordinary crime, compared with 71 per cent for sectarian crime.

Assessments of the RUC's performance vary according to the social characteristics of respondents.

BELIEF THAT THE RUC IS DOING A GOOD JOB IN CONTROLLING SECTARIAN AND NON-SECTARIAN CRIME

.
Non-sectarian crime
%
Sectarian crime
%
Poor
75
48
Middle
91
83
Low income
82
67
High income
92
86
18-24 years of age
76
54
Over 65 years of age
90
83
Male
86
71
Female
84
72
Catholic
76
53
Protestant
92
84
Nationalist
67
42
Unionist
94
88

The proportion of unionists and Protestants who believe that the RUC does a good job in dealing with sectarian crime is only marginally smaller than for ordinary crime. This is surprising, given the high profile of some Protestant politicians' criticism of security policy as ineffective. Low-status groups are more likely than those of higher status to draw a distinction between the RUC's performance in dealing with the two types of crime. Probably the 'troubles' have greater effects on working-class areas, with associated increases in levels of violence and sectarian crime. The young are also more likely to withhold positive assessments of the police's performance in dealing with sectarian crime. This is surprising given that it is normally the elderly who are most concerned about crime. The young, however, are more inclined to have a poor opinion of the police and are more likely than the elderly to encounter sectarian violence and crime. Low-status groups and the young are also more predisposed than their counterparts to disagree strongly with the statement that people are more afraid of crime than they need be in Northern Ireland.

There are also differences according to respondents' religion and political affiliation. Catholics and nationalists have some of the poorest opinions of the performance of the RUC for both types of crime, and show large differences in their assessments of the RUC's performance in dealing with sectarian and non-sectarian crime. One reason for this may be their frustration at the RUC's inability to reduce sectarian crime, which is high in Catholic and nationalist areas. It may also represent a criticism of the way in which the police treat Catholics and nationalists when dealing with sectarian crime in their areas. None the less, it is worth noting that 4 in 10 nationalists, and 5 in 10 Catholics think that the RUC is doing a good job in dealing with sectarian crime. These are higher levels of endorsement than one might expect on the basis of a simplistic notion of divided societies.

Two social cleavages among Catholic respondents appear to be important in differentiating their views of the RUC. Social class and age are significant in structuring Catholic views on how impartial the RUC is in its treatment of Catholics and Protestants. The 'all treated equally' option is selected by 47 per cent of middle-class Catholics, compared with 29 per cent of Catholics who see themselves as 'poor'. Likewise, this option is selected most frequently by the elderly: one-fifth of Catholics aged 18-24 years say that the RUC treats the two religious groups equally, a figure that rises to 53 per cent for those Catholics aged 65 years and over. Only 23 per cent of the youngest age group of Catholics say that they are satisfied with the RUC, compared with 67 per cent of the oldest group. Favourable estimates of how good a job the police are doing in dealing with ordinary and sectarian crime also increase with age, although in both cases they peak in middle age: it is elderly Catholics who worry most about crime, like the elderly in more socially integrated societies. Differences of social class are also very evident. In the Catholic community, higher status groups make the most positive evaluations of the RUC's performance. There is a marked difference of attitude between Catholics at the two ends of the class spectrum.

CATHOLICS' EVALUATION OF ASPECTS OF POLICING, BY CLASS

.
Satisfied
Good job in ordinary crime
Good job in sectarian crime
.
%
%
%
Upper middle
100
100
-
Middle
63
88
63
Upper working
53
77
59
Working
48
76
55
Poor
43
63
25

Taking these figures for Catholics as a whole, it is apparent that more Catholics are impressed by the quality of the police's performance in controlling non-sectarian crime than are satisfied with them, and fewer are impressed by their performance in dealing with sectarian crime.


CONCLUSION

A number of features of public attitudes toward the RUC may be highlighted. The RUC has most work to do in improving its image among low-status groups, the young, males, Catholics and nationalists. That the RUC has problems with the last two social groups is no surprise, given that Northern Ireland is a divided society. But it is important to emphasise that a sizeable minority in each group positively endorses the RUC and is not alienated from it. This points to the existence of intra-communal lines of fissure, and illustrates that conflict is broader than the traditional social cleavages in Northern Ireland. The religious blocs are not as homogeneous or solidified as the notion of a divided society might suggest. Indeed, political affiliation rather than religion is the best predictor of public attitudes to the police. Other factors are also important in structuring these attitudes, such as social status, gender and age.

These findings confound the impression that is given of public attitudes to the RUC in the divided society model of policing (Brewer et al., 1988; Weitzer, 1985; 1987). This model presents a simplistic view of conflict in divided societies and under-represents both the diversity of attitudes towards the police and the range of factors that play a part in structuring them. Catholic attitudes towards the police are more positive and heterogeneous than has been presented in the past. This is in large part due to the narrow and distorting lens through which they have been viewed, rather than to any fundamental change in Catholic attitudes. There appears to be no increase in the size of the minority within the Catholic population who have been found by previous surveys to hold positive views of the police (for example, Weitzer, 1987, p. 286). The diversity in these attitudes has been underplayed, however, in earlier analyses.

There is diversity in two senses. Catholic attitudes vary according to the social characteristics of respondents and the particular policing issue which is the object of their attitudes. The diversity should not be exaggerated. Northern Ireland is divided along lines of fissure created by religious differences. But religion is not a complete representation of this conflict. Diversity should not be minimised by oversimplification of the patterns of conflict.

The significant trend is the wide divergence of opinion among Catholics on all these matters. To return to the issue raised in the introduction to this chapter, it is clear that there are lines of cleavage within the minority community. These complicate the simplistic portrayal of Catholic attitudes towards the police that is provided in the divided society model of policing. Intra-communal divisions are fragmenting the public's attitudes towards the police and are reducing the salience of religion as a determinant of those attitudes.


REFERENCES

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BREWER, J.D. 1991a. Inside the RUC: routine policing in a divided society, Glarendon Press, Oxford.

BREWER, J.D. 1991b. 'Policing in divided societies: theorising a type of policing', Policing and Society, 1, 179-91.

BREWER, J.D., GUELKE, A., HUME, E, MOXON-BROWNE, E. and WILFORD, R. 1988. Police, Public Order and the State, Macmillan, London.

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WEITZER, R. 1985. 'Policing a divided society', Social Problems, 33, 41-55. WEITZER, R. 1987. 'Contested order: the stRUCgle over British security policy in Northern Ireland', Comparative Politics, 19, 281-98.

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WHYTE, J. 1986. 'How is the boundary maintained between the two communities in Northern Ireland?', Ethnic and Racial Studies, 9, 219-34.


CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within the University of Ulster.


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