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Identities, Conflict and Cohesion Programme Paper 4: Policing and Human Rights: Eliminating Discrimination, Xenophobia, Intolerance and the Abuse of Power from Police Work

22 Jun 2004

  • Authors: Benjamin Bowling, Coretta Phillips, Alexandra Campbell and Maria Docking

This paper reviews the research on the control of abusive policing through structural and cultural change; explores innovations in personnel management and training; and recommends the introduction of robust mechanisms to achieve democratic accountability.

Racial discrimination, xenophobia, intolerance and the abuse of power are problems in police organizations in many parts of the world. Conservatism, xenophobia and suspiciousness toward marginalized groups are part of police culture in each of the contexts studied, as are hostility and racial prejudice. Research evidence suggests that disproportionate use of police power is, at least in part, a product of discrimination, and that the abuse of power is most discriminatory where police autonomy and discretion are greatest. Minority groups are, in many places, dis-proportionately subject to excessive, including deadly, force. Systems of police governance and handling of complaints are insufficiently robust to prevent the abuse of power.

This paper sets out a human rights framework based on legal instruments relating to anti-discrimination policy and the regulation of policing (including the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the United Nations Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials). It concludes with a series of recommendations for the development of competent, accountable, equitable and responsive policing systems for the maintenance of community safety and the protection of fundamental human rights.

Benjamin Bowling is Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at King’s College in London. Coretta Phillips is Lecturer in Social Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Alexandra Campbell is Visiting Professor at the University of New England in Maine. Maria Docking is a Research Associate at King’s College in London.

Order PPICC 4 from UNRISD ($12 for readers in industrialized countries and $6 for readers in developing and transitional countries and for students).