chapter  3
27 Pages

Social context of criminal investigation

ByMario Matassa, Tim Newburn

Robert Reiner has remarked that the ‘police are like social litmus-paper, reflecting sensitively the unfolding exigencies of a society’ (1992 cited in Newburn 2005: 676). When Robert Peel first established the modern British police in 1829,1 widespread fear of continental-style policing inhibited the formation of a plain-clothes investigative branch. It was not until some years later, after such fears had partly abated and were superseded by fresh concern over rising crime, that the path was paved for the formation of the first team of detectives in the Metropolitan Police. Ironically, the wheel appears to have turned full circle. Whereas the British police was established under a condition of ‘difference’ (Emsley 2003) – and for some considerable time was different from many of its counterparts in the Western world – recent decades have witnessed something of a ‘convergence in organization and style’ (Reiner 2000: 202). Much of the reason for this convergence can be traced to broader socioeconomic changes, and it is these – which form the social context of criminal investigation – and their relationship to crime and mechanisms of social control which lie at the heart of this chapter.