Beyond "boots and handshakes"...
In partnership with the University of Leeds and the Metropolitan Police Service, CIP is delighted to publish the report following its research project "Effective Community Policing: Negotiating Changing Religious Identities".
The research shows that neighbourhood policing teams can make a real difference to community cohesion by learning about religion in their local contexts and being aware of the difference it makes to everyday life. But a study of police officers’ attitudes to religion, in two London boroughs, found that some were hampered in their work with communities by their fear of causing offence.
‘We call it “boots and handshakes”’, explains Dr Al McFadyen, senior lecturer in Christian Theology and a serving officer with the West Yorkshire Police. “Sometimes when thinking about religion, police officers focus on rules – like when you have to take your shoes off to go into a place of worship, or who you are or aren’t supposed to shake hands with. And they worry that they’ll cause offence, or be in trouble, if they get the rules wrong. So religion’s treated as something you have to worry about – and something that gets in the way of efficient police work. But that doesn’t get to the heart of why religion is important for local communities and the people who police them.
‘Our research found that many individual police officers had a really deep knowledge of religious communities, built up over many years. We are recommending that their knowledge is more widely shared and passed on, and that other officers are equipped with the skills to understand everyday, local religious life. This is important for all aspects of policing and it’s the basis on which responses to specific issues, like the threat of terrorism, can be built’.
The project was developed by the Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme, and led by Dr Al McFadyen and Dr Melanie Prideaux, both of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Leeds, in partnership with the Metropolitan Police Service. The report was launched at a major international colloquium in Leeds, at which policy-makers and practitioners met to discuss issues of religion, policing and security.
Assistant Chief Constable John Parkinson of the West Yorkshire Police, who led the local investigation into the 7/7 bombings, said ‘Our experience in West Yorkshire has taught us that good community policing and good counter-terrorism work go together, and both of them require an understanding of religious communities and how they work. Police services shouldn’t just treat religion as a problem – we need to work with and for religious communities as part of our responsibility to society as a whole’.