From 'pounding the pavement' to 'pushing the pedal': a constable's perspective of the detraditionalisation of policing in a small county borough police force, 1947-1968

  • Kevin Rigg

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Published academic research on the social history of small county borough police forces during the post-war period, in England and Wales, is virtually non-existent. Yet these forces represented a third of the police establishment. Moreover, the period saw the most radical transformation of police practices since the formation of the police. A social characteristic of the period was an increase in individualism and a rejection of traditional authority that occurred in tandem with changes to the economy and a boom in consumerism and technology. Such modification in the way society operated is termed as ‘detraditionalisation’. For the first time this research answers the question, ‘what was the experience of a constable in a small county borough police force whilst facing the change process brought about by detraditionalisation in society, and changes intrinsic to the police, in the period 1947-1968’. Using oral history methods to create unique primary data from the testimony of 36 former constables employed in a small county borough police force in the north east of England, this thesis captures their viewpoint of the recruiting process, training and socialisation. It chronicles their recollection of day-to-day duty and captures their experience of significant changes in working practices. It provides a constable’s perspective; a ‘bottom up’ approach. The problem of recruiting experienced at a national level was not universal. Indoctrination and socialisation of constables into a strong occupational culture nurtured ‘easing’ activities and ensured a strict hierarchy within peer groups, and the organisation. The job offered limited scope to express individualism. Foot patrol consisted of mundane repetitive duty within an organisation requiring strict conformity where new recruits often struggled to ‘fit in’. The introduction of technology and new patrol systems, such as personal radio communication, greater mobility and the unit beat system, increased the demands made of the police rather than reducing them. Generational differences in attitudes and opinions of constables were most apparent at times of change. However, transformations to policing methods together with amalgamation into a larger force led to improved man-management, enhanced career prospects and greater standardisation in procedures. The working conditions of a small conservative institution, resistant to changing its traditional approach to constables, stifled individualism and enforced conformism. This added to the difficulties of policing a society in the process of modernisation, and in a state of flux. Technology and amalgamation however, paved the way for greater individualism. Detraditionalisation within constables was not a concept welcomed in the small county borough police force.
Date of Award24 May 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Teesside University
SupervisorNigel Copsey (Supervisor)

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