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From sacrifice to security: The arming of the West Australian police 1975-1985

Campbell, Bruce Charles (2001) From sacrifice to security: The arming of the West Australian police 1975-1985. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis accounts for a radical shift in police practice in Western Australia between 1975 and 1985, not by calling forth structural changes in either capitalism or crime and disorder, though such essentialist discourses are examined, but by interrogating the discursive formations which produced as their truth effects civil policing in 1975 and paramilitary policing in 1985. The body of the thesis describes the play — the rise and fall, the coupling and uncoupling — of the discourses that comprise these formations.

In just 10 years the Western Australian police were transformed from a civil, unarmed force into a routinely armed ‘service’ with extensive paramilitary capacity. The transformation occurred with no parliamentary debate (it is not mentioned in Hansard), with no academic scrutiny (either at the time or since), and with only a handful of letters and editorials in the local press. This thesis addresses the question: How did this silent transformation of a core social institution happen?

Drawing on the methodological approach of Michel Foucault, I propose that, beginning in the mid-1970s, the discursive formation within which the truth of policing is enunciated underwent a profound revolution or shift. The received truth that police should be unarmed and prepared to face significant personal risks as ‘part of the job’ became increasingly incoherent in the context of an emerging discourse of professionalism that fashioned police as specialists in containing society’s dangerous elements.

The central argument is as follows. In 1975 police orthodoxy comprised an articulation of two discourses. On one side was the dominant discourse of‘police realism’, incorporating the Hobbesian notion that social order is a consequence of ubiquitous, yet largely latent coercion, that crime is a rational choice and that crowds are no more than the arithmetic aggregate of individual rationalities. This discourse was conjoined or articulated to a ‘romantic’ or axiological ethics based on personal sacrifice (courage, strength and stoicism).

On the other side was a subjugated yet emerging discourse of‘police professionalism’, incorporating the Parsonian notion that order is a consequence of shared ultimate values, that crime is a consequence of positive criminality, and that crowds are prone to primordial irrationalities. Associated with professionalism was an incipient deontological ethics based on duty or the adherence to moral stipulates. The dominance of realism over professionalism defined the ‘Golden Age’ of civil policing.

The ascendancy of structural-functionalism, positivist criminology and a Le Bonian crowd psychology instituted new truths about the sources of social order and the role of the police that could not be accommodated by the existing discursive formation. Realism was subordinated to an emerging professionalism that affirmed the truth of armed, paramilitary policing.

Notwithstanding the new dominance of professionalism and the paramilitarism it notarised, realism remained an important element of police orthodoxy, preserving its enduring truths about human nature and the sources of social order. Thus the rise of professionalism and the paramilitarism it endorsed was accompanied by the emergence of‘community policing’, an unavailing attempt to revisit the ‘Golden Age’ of policing.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Division of Social Sciences, Humanities and Education
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Wickham, Gary
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