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Police discretion and the role of the ‘spotter’ within football crowd policing: risk assessment, engagement, legitimacy and de-escalation

Hope, Mike; Radburn, Matthew; Stott, Clifford

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Authors

Mike Hope



Abstract

Discretion is a key feature of policing, yet its surrounding research has historically been heavily reliant upon exploring interpersonal or dyadic encounters between individual officers and members of the public. More recently, studies have explored how discretionary decisions by police officers impact upon and interact with group-level and organisational processes but few studies have explored the relevance of discretion to debates in the literature on public order policing. Correspondingly, there is to date only a limited body of research exploring the nature and dynamics of dialogue-based football-related public order policing. This study addresses these combined gaps by drawing upon data from interviews with specialist football officers, referred to as ‘spotters’ or Dedicated Football Officers, from five English police forces. Our analysis critiques the idea that these specialist roles revolve merely around the surveillance, categorisation and enforcement of fans who are considered to pose a risk to public order. We highlight how these officers understand their roles in terms of the use of discretion. We argue that in a complex intergroup environment officers utilise discretion to manage perceptions of their legitimacy among supporters. This ‘social capital’ in turn enhances their capacity to de-escalate and avoid disorder through the promotion of self-regulatory behaviour. We discuss the relevance of our study for theoretical approaches to understanding discretion and consider the implications of our analysis for developing a more formal dialogue-focused and discretion-based approach to football crowd policing in and beyond England and Wales.

Citation

Hope, M., Radburn, M., & Stott, C. (2023). Police discretion and the role of the ‘spotter’ within football crowd policing: risk assessment, engagement, legitimacy and de-escalation. Policing and Society, 33(5), 485-500. https://doi.org/10.1080/10439463.2023.2173193

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jan 23, 2023
Online Publication Date Feb 7, 2023
Publication Date May 28, 2023
Journal Policing and Society
Print ISSN 1043-9463
Publisher Routledge
Volume 33
Issue 5
Pages 485-500
DOI https://doi.org/10.1080/10439463.2023.2173193
Keywords Law, Sociology and Political Science
Publisher URL https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10439463.2023.2173193

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