The UK National Crime Agency and, concomitantly, tabloid and media reports, have long named Albanian migrants from the wider Western Balkan region as a leading ethnic group responsible for serious and organised crime. Most recently, ethnic Albanians have been identified as populating the most violent gangs, controlling the cocaine and human trafficking market and fuelling rising knife crime in the capital. As a social anthropologist specialising in Albanian cultures and societies since the late 1980s and directing an academic consultancy company, Anthropology Applied Ltd from 2003 to 2013, I have often been asked to provide cultural expertise in UK immigration proceedings regarding Albanian crime victims’ return situation. I have also been approached by different police forces in cases involving alleged homicide and violent crimes committed in the UK. The instructions included a request to explain how ‘kanun’ traditions, usually understood as ethnically specific ancient Albanian customary law, informed the deeds in question. This contribution critically interrogates the underpinning assumptions of such requests and explores the scope for providing theoretically and ethnographically informed cultural expertise to the police in such cases. Without denying specific repositories of cultural knowledge and often hidden yet distinct socio-cultural continuities, it emphasises the ways in which shifting geo-political and other factors have shaped offenders’ social obligations, thereby informing their rationale, agency and strategy, identity constructions and defence in discursive recourse to ‘kanun’. It emerges that externally applied, stereotypical labels in terms of kanun culture can become a self-fulfilling prophecy in supporting criminal identities, rather than explaining their root causes.
This contribution is based on reflections from a seminar entitled, ‘Approaching foreign milieus’, which was jointly led by the two authors, combining the training of young police officers, and a seminar on ethnographic methods for young BA students in 2019. Translation work featured in a number of ways in this seminar. First, translation between the methods of policework and the ethnographic methods of African Studies/Anthropology formed much of the content throughout the seminar. Second, the main task for seminar participants was to translate their interests in learning about foreign milieus into actual questions that could be asked to interlocutors. Third, translations took place between the ‘working cultures’ of the applied police training setting and the academic university setting. A fourth level of translation is proposed indirectly, which is a more comparative perspective on differing international police practices and strategies. This chapter includes the results of trying out methods in practical exercises, an analysis of interactions between students of different backgrounds, as well as their interactions with one another. While most participants realised that the foreign milieus were much more heterogeneous than they initially anticipated, they also discussed the similarities and differences between ethnographic work and police routines. The chapter thus addresses key issues about the relationship between practice and theory, interviewing and observing, and distance and closeness. The chapter reflects on the multiple roles played by observers, researchers, police, and their diverse interlocutors, and concludes with some ideas about how to improve joint training courses in the future.
This chapter focuses on the experiences of powerlessness among police detectives in a global world. Specifically, it discusses how Danish detectives often feel that certain foreign national criminals get away with their crimes with impunity – here not necessarily meaning that criminals are not caught and sentenced. Rather, what increasingly frustrates Danish detectives are their experiences of how even convicted foreign national criminals do not seem to think of their conviction as a real form of punishment, as something which is painful or problematic. To the detectives, such unaffectedness troubles not only the intended deterrent aspects of the law and the criminal justice system, it also comes off as a professional provocation – as a sad symbol of how all their work is, in the end, futile. As the chapter goes on to describe, this futility, this police impotence, sometimes becomes a catalyst in the police applying their own sort of ‘street justice’, to make sure that punishment is not only formally handed down but also truly experienced as such by the foreign national criminal. And as the chapter concludingly ponders, such Dirty Harry-style practices may indeed be on the rise in an increasingly globalising world of crime and policing. As not only Danish detectives but police officers worldwide experience that criminals from other places and parts of the world appear unstirred by the threat and force of the criminal justice system, there is a growing risk of the police taking the delivery of punishment into their own hands.
The migration and deportation regime is characterised by uneven power relations between state actors and non-citizens – in this context, those with precarious legal status. While both sides possess a certain range of agency, which is constantly challenged and contested, non-citizens with precarious legal status rely not only on information dispersed within various networks, but also on the transmission of information by street-level bureaucrats (SLBs). Based on this information, non-citizens can contest bureaucratic decisions and organise their own actions and reactions. Moments of porous or lacking information that reduce knowledge and action potential thus become crucial, because they inhibit individuals from making ‘informed decisions’. In this contribution, I examine ‘deportation talks’ that happen prior to deportation procedures through the lens of ‘translation’ and critically analyse how deportation orders and dates are communicated by SLBs, how information is shaped by SLBs and how power asymmetries come into being. The chapter develops three modes of translation that could be found in the collected data and argues that these shape everyday migrant–bureaucrat encounters and affect negotiations between officers and migrant individuals concerning their respective deportation. These three modes of translation lead to different stages of non-citizens being ‘lost in translation’ and portray the absurdity and abundance of these deportation meetings, in which more confusion is created than knowledge produced. The presented data derives from participant observation in a Swiss cantonal police unit and two Swiss migration offices, all in charge of planning (and implementing) deportation orders.
European countries are becoming more and more linguistically and ethnically heterogeneous, and language barriers have become part of everyday police work. What happens if police officers notice that their counterparts show limited or no proficiency in the official language? Starting from the concept of ‘inclusive multilingualism’ (Backus et al., 2013) and based on observations of five experimental operational trainings with six teams each at a German police academy, this chapter analyses the different linguistic practices of individual police officers and their counterparts to deal with language barriers, e.g. using different languages, translation aids, non-verbal communication and physical coercion. The setting varies between fictitious deployment, a noise disturbance in refugee accommodation or a student dormitory, and a car stop during a traffic control. The decisive differences in solving the situations lie in the differentiated modes of communication used by the police officers, being inclusive or non-inclusive. Through the use of different modes of communication, police officers in our data bridge communication gaps by practising ‘inclusive multilingualism’. Further, the chapter outlines the importance of overcoming language barriers actively and creatively in everyday interactions between the police and counterparts with whom they don’t share a common language. This seems to be more significant than cultural differentiation for both sides. By putting everyday situations under the analytical microscope, the chapter contributes to current discussions about processes of cultural differentiation in everyday police work.
The chapter describes the findings of participant observation of the professional lives of two Russian police divisions – patrol service and local police – in Kazan, Tatarstan in 2007. The research explains why police-initiated encounters mainly target phenotypically identified non-Slavic migrants, as well as the ensuing dynamics. Despite a significant presence of foreigners from Ukraine and Moldova among migrant labour in Russia, they are less likely to be stopped by the police than migrant workers from Central Asia and the Caucasus region. While the assessment of police officers’ work in Russia is subjected to quantitative performance indicators, the police officers use an instrumental racism in migration control, providing ethnic profiling mainly on the physical characteristics of people. We call this approach instrumental as its predominant function is to facilitate stop-and-search practices and thereby reach the quantitative indicators. The chapter distinguishes between two opposite strategies in establishing daily interactions between the police and migrants: first, mutually beneficial cooperation, including long-term corruption, and second, punitive and strong control towards ethnic minorities, or sporadic extortion of money under threat. The first strategy is more prevalent in the local police, whereas patrol-guard officers favour the second one. At the same time, an instrumental racism is the main technique for the ethnic profiling of migrants as ‘potential criminals’ in the Russian police and it is applied in both strategies.
The recent increase in the numbers of refugees and asylum seekers has made it obvious that Europe is changing rapidly, accelerating its conflict-ridden transformation into linguistically and ethnically more heterogeneous societies. The police are arguably one of the most crucial – and most discussed – state organisations that interact with an increasingly diverse clientele often labelled simply ‘migrants’. How to deal with differences based on culture, ethnicity and race – all highly problematic terms – has become a central issue of policing in the last decade. In this book, we look at everyday, often mundane, interactions between police officers and migrantised actors in European countries and explore how both sides deal with perceived differences. Many, if not most, anthropologists currently position themselves, in the field and in writing, with the victims of the police. In contrast, our contributors study the practices, discourses and beliefs of actors whom anthropologists do not as easily sympathise with – police officers. We believe that such an epistemological positioning, while often ethically challenging, is unavoidable for a nuanced understanding of policing. By adopting an ethnographic and multi-perspective approach, the contributors to this book study the possible course of action, perspectives and rationalities of both sides in these encounters. Our book presents empirically grounded contributions from various European countries, jointly developing a field of study and generating robust concepts in a highly politicised field, bringing together anthropology, criminology, history, sociology and linguistics.
Migration to Germany has profoundly affected the demographics of the country. This has implications for state institutions, whose positioning on issues such as diversity and self-perception and perception of others is problematised. The police present an interesting case to analyse: they are the most visible representative of the state in daily life and in everyday interactions with people. Also as an employer of the state, the police is the addressee of integration efforts, insofar as an increasing number of police officers now have a so-called ‘migration background’. This chapter presents initial empirical findings from an interdisciplinary research project which focuses on the organisational design of the police, its personnel and diversity management, the interactions between citizens and police officers, and their organisational culture in Germany since 2018. The ethnographic part of the project deals with the mutual relations and interactions between police officers and citizens in metropolitan neighbourhoods characterised by ethnically and culturally diverse structures. By examining everyday working life in four neighbourhoods in the federal states of Berlin and North Rhine-Westphalia, we are investigating the extent to which the migration background of individuals – both police officers and citizens – affects the way they interact with each other in order to grasp what patterns of perception, interpretation and behaviour exist in the different locations. Settings such as proactively or reactively stimulated encounters on the street and within the police station are the focus. We also explore how individual and institutional practices are developed and transmitted within police personnel.
Our chapter aims to contribute to the topic of police racism by showing how the dynamics of racialisation and racism are rooted both in the occupational experiences of French and German police officers and in their ways of describing reality. Based on data collected through several observational and/or interview-based studies conducted among police forces in France and Germany, our chapter follows the footsteps of a body of research that considers police occupational socialisation as the main variable explaining how police officers may embrace and pass on racialised patterns of perception. We make a distinction between racialisation, whose underlying logic is the production of racial hierarchies and the attribution of social and behavioural features to certain categories of the population (in the present case ethnic/racial minorities), and racism, defined as one specific instance of racialisation characterised by the hostile stereotyping of said categories, what we call the ‘temptation of racism’. Despite these shared patterns, the practices of police forces differ, as German police officers tend to be less prone to discrimination than their French counterparts. To explain this discrepancy, we shall see that institutional authorities differ significantly in terms of how they address the question of racism, both in their discourse and in their management methods, or even in the prioritisation of police tasks.
Nationalist ways of thinking assign orderliness to the world when each person can be assigned to a (single) territory and ideally be moved to it. Maintaining the sort of order that policing requires is not prima facie nationalist, but police officers often use nationalist discourses in order to express imaginaries of nationalist orderliness. For the people they deal with are not only a threat to the moral or public order, but also to these assignations of belonging to the policed territory and the local orders. In this chapter, I shall focus of the functions of these imaginaries of nationalist belonging within police discourses, using ethnographic field work with police forces in Saxony and beyond.