Juan José Medina Ariza: “We also need a more plural police, with more civilian personnel, and greater diversity among its ranks”

Juanjo Medina is a Talentia Senior Distinguished Researcher affiliated to the Deparment of Criminal Law and Crime Sciences at the University of Seville. Previously he worked as Full Professor of Quantitative Criminology and the Head of the Department of Criminology at the University of Manchester until August 2020. He was the President of the Spanish Society of Criminology from 2016 to 2020.

1.- What are the defining elements of a police model?

I think this is a terribly important question and one that, despite the frequent use of the term “police models”, we still haven´t fully agreed upon. Kelling and Moore (1988) possibly still represents the best known effort at doing this in a systematic way. They talked about 7 dimensions: legitimacy source, definition of the  police role, organizational design of departments, relationships with the community, nature of police efforts to market or manage the demand for their services, tactics, and agreed-upon measures of success. And focusing on the American historical experience, they distinguish between the political, the reform/professional, and the community/problem solving models. Guillen (2016), following Bertaccini, discusses how the term police model is often used as a “point of reference” to improve past ways of thinking about and organising the police, what Wood and Shearing (2007) discuss as “waves of policing reform”. So in many ways the whole discussion about models, to date, has had a clear political and aspirational dimension. It seems to be more about what we would want the police to look like, than a concept that has been used to measure the diversity of models: how police organisations vary across national or regional jurisdictions. Without dismissing the relevance of such use of the term “police model”, as an empiricist I think it would be helpful to start thinking about relevant dimensions that could be used to characterise existing models and their differences, in a more rigorous and grounded way.

2.- Which of the existing police models do you think is the best for maintaining peaceful coexistence and a safe society?

I guess my previous answer places me in an awkward position to answer this one! I am not quite sure we can really answer in a rigorous way what are the models of police that can be found across the globe, never mind which one is best. Those of us that have worked in various countries and know different police institutions cross-nationally are aware of some of their more visible differences, as well as some of their similarities. But we need to follow the steps of David Bayley in trying to engage in more systematic cross-national empirical comparison if we really want to clearly identify these models. A good deal of the discussions about reform has been driven by American policing scholarship key confronting interests of maximising crime reduction effectiveness (through hot spots, problem solving, etc.) whilst minimising the social, and unevenly distributed, costs of the proposed tactics. In order to achieve the latter, we need a better understanding of the full extent of these costs. But we need to go beyond this kind of discussions in any case. Policing is more complex than just a crime fighting agency. For me a good model is one that is democratically debated and supported by the citizenship. As noted earlier, we need to consider different elements to it (nature of police role, tactics, accountability mechanisms, nature and content of training, degree of diversity, and a very long etcetera). In Spain, we are very far behind in having this debate. Initiatives like those taken in the Catalan Parliament, but also the positioning of different NGOs and more critical Spanish scholars about policing, are good first step towards having this debate, which I hope could take center stage. The problem we have here is whether the political class will be mature and responsible enough to follow this path.

3. Beyond judicial control, what external supervision should police organisations have? What are the consequences of these controls?

My view is that in terms of accountability and democratic input, we need to think beyond formal mechanisms of discipline (whether internal, judicial, or external). We also need a more plural police, with more civilian personnel, and greater diversity among its ranks. We need police-academic partnerships. We need journalist that take seriously the role of reporting about policing, rather than just reporting about serious or emotional crimes. We need to significantly rethink what we want police training to look like and who should do it, I think it is important there is more community involvement at this stage. Much better internal protocols for critical incidents and much more rigorous and open data about these incidents. I would love something like the British Inspectorates in Spain, so that there was a proper auditing of the police performance and quality of service across the country. We need parliamentary committees capable of working together to find some form of agreement about steps that need to be taken. And ministers that are not afraid of criticising their own force when they engage in non-acceptable practice. If all we have in Spain besides the judiciary, is the Human Rights Ombdusman we need to provide this institution with more teeth than it currently has.

4.- Under what circumstances should the police change its model if it is not considered valid, and who should be in charge of the change: professionals, government or citizens?

We should be doing what the citizenship demands, the government should be facilitating that, and professionals, together with academics, should inform all about the nuances, difficulties, and challenges of proposed reforms. Ultimately professionals need to understand that in a democracy they serve the public, not the other way around, and they can´t be a barrier for change. Given a significant amount of adult Spaniards were not even born when the current model was framed into the Organic Law 2/1986 and how the world has changed since,  as well as the many problems with the so-called Ley Mordaza, one could say that the circumstances for establishing a new social contract about the police model are already present in Spanish society.


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