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Study notes

Social Control: Police and Policing

  • Levels: AS, A Level
  • Exam boards: AQA, Edexcel, OCR, Eduqas, WJEC

Police and Policing is an important topic area within the study of crime and deviance. Sociologists view the police as agents of social control, theorise about their role in society from conflict and consensus perspectives, and consider the nature of police discretion and its impact on both crime and the measuring of crime through police statistics.

There are two broad approaches to studying police and policing in sociology: consensus policing and conflict policing.


Functionalist sociologists see the police as coming from and working on behalf of the community that they police. There is general agreement in the community about law and order and the police are on the same side as the vast majority. Their presence is welcome and reassuring; they follow&dash;up crimes reported by the public and they are known members of the community. Left realists recognise that this is not the reality of policing in many areas but that this is a desirable model and how policing should be organised.


Conflict policing is a Marxist perspective and one that views the police not as a part of the community but as a hostile outside force.

Studies that support this model come from the 1980s (such as Young, 1984 and Scraton, 1985) when military&dash;style policing was evident both in Northern Ireland and during the 84/85 miners' strike. It is also applicable to the way certain neighbourhoods become "no go areas" for the police; and then when there is a police presence, it is often in large numbers in armoured vehicles or in riot gear. From this perspective, the police are working directly in the interests of the ruling class, against the interests of the proletariat whom they are policing.

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