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Obstacles and possibilities in police research

Keywords: ethnic minority , racism , police , stereotyping , marginalised groups

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Abstract:

Drawing on a Norwegian research project investigating the possible existence of police racism, this article explores challenges related to conducting research in such sensitive sites as the police with reference to methodological and institutional obstacles. The project featured participant observation, in-depth interviews with ethnic minority men, and in-depth interviews with police officers and lays the basis for a discussion of the diverging perspectives on police racism held by the police and by members of ethnic minorities. The degree to which research on the police can reveal the ‘truth’ of policing and thereby contribute to changing police practice is problematised and questions are asked about the extent to which research can contribute to facilitating change within the police that might be of benefit to the relationship between the police and ethnic minorities. A key question raised is whether the existence of a specific police culture, featuring loyalty, a hierarchical organisational structure and the use of discretion may prevent such research methods from revealing ‘true’ data, as well as organisational change. A discussion of problem-oriented policing illustrates some of the obstacles to implementing changes. The article concludes that the police in Oslo do not demonstrate evidence of institutional racism though there is evidence of derogatory language use and stereotyping where ethnic minorities are stereotyped in homologous ways to other marginalised groups who come into contact with the police such as drug users.

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