'We never refer to ourselves as a lobby group because 'lobby group' has a different connotation': voluntary police associations and the framing of their interest group work.

Author:Huey, Laura
Position:Canada
 
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Unfortunately, police officers have been classified by some as a 'special interest group' with a narrow interest in the justice system. We would suggest that, at the end of the day we are no different than many of the other groups who appear before this committee, including those here today. We are stakeholders within the justice system, who seek to find the truth, and in doing so seek safer communities and neighbourhoods.

--Tony Cannavino

The quotation above appears in the speaking notes of Mr. Cannavino, former Canadian Police Association (CPA) president, in his appearance before a House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights meeting concerning the judicial appointment process in Canada. While it is unequivocally the case that voluntary police organizations operate as interest groups in public policy domains, as the quote above illustrates, there is often a deep reluctance on the part of representatives of such groups to openly acknowledge the political nature of their advocacy work. Lobbying thus becomes "consultation" or is recast in even more idealized terms as "seeking to find the truth," whereas police interest groups become "stakeholders" advocating not on behalf of themselves but for "safer communities."

In the present article, we draw on a series of interviews conducted with representatives of Canadian federal and provincial police groups, as well as on the textual materials they produce and the scholarly literature from criminology, political science, and other social sciences, to explore the rhetorical strategies used by police interest-group actors. In essence, we argue that the language games often employed in relation to their political work serve to maintain the historical fiction of police neutrality on political issues. As our research demonstrates, as an interest group, the police occupy a relatively privileged position in criminal-justice policy-making circles as a result of their "insider" status. Thus, the fiction of police neutrality is politically expedient: it permits police groups to preserve the symbolic capital that their role in a democratic society affords them, a form of capital that relies, in large part, on their avoiding overt engagement with politics. Were police to become publically identified as an interest group, members fear, their privileged standing with both decision makers and the general public would be negatively affected.

Method of inquiry

The present article is informed by data drawn from a larger study conducted in 2009-10 of the work of police associations in Canada. Participants represented here include representatives of national and provincial police leader (1) (n = 8) and rank-and-file groups (2) (n = 4).

Participants were identified through one of two methods. First, using relevant keywords, we searched the Internet and the Canadian newsstand database. These searches yielded the names and contact information for various national and provincial voluntary police organizations. Each of these organizations was contacted and members of seven voluntary police associations representing either police leaders or rank-and-file personnel agreed to participate. The second method employed was snow-ball sampling. At the conclusion of each interview, participants were asked to suggest names of other individuals who they thought should be contacted.

As a central concern of this research was to understand how voluntary police organizations understand their work as participants in the policy development process, qualitative interviews were used as a tool to explore participants' worldviews, the meaning they ascribe to the work they do, and how they see their activities in relation to desired policy goals. All interviews were approximately 60 to 90 minutes in duration and participants were asked a series of open-ended interview questions drawn from an interview guide that covered questions from the following topic areas:

  1. the types of policy work that interviewees engage in

  2. their understanding of their organization's role within the fabric of public culture and the way they view their policy work in light of (a) their organizations' goals; (b) pre-existing government policy directions; (c) dominant cultural values; and (d) the public interest

  3. the nature of strategies employed in pursuit of policy objectives and the types of institutional knowledge or other claims used to support a given policy position; the ways they measure the effectiveness of different strategies.

    All interviews were taped with the informed consent of the participant. To analyse the data, interview transcripts were printed, read, and then manually coded according to major themes identified. To ensure reliability as well as to identify emergent sub-themes, transcripts were reread and manually re-coded two further times.

    To supplement the interview data collected, we also present data drawn from documents acquired through Internet searches of various groups and through materials provided by informants and/or secured through research conducted at the National Archives of Canada. We also conducted searches of the Canadian Newsdisc database for the years 2000 to 2009, searching relevant keyword criteria such as "police association" or specific association names to locate articles and media releases. To analyse the textual materials collected, hard copy texts were also coded according to themes previously identified through analysis of the interview data.

    "Consultation," "community stakeholders," and other language games

    We have to play on the political grounds because that's where decisions are taken. I don't see ourselves as a political organization. I see us more like an advocacy group.

    --Representative of a police rank-and-file group

    Individual police officers of various ranks and institutional affiliations are loosely tied together in the form of professional associations that represent their interests: police leader organizations for executive-rank officers and rank-and-file groups for regular police members. As is the case with other interest groups, police organizations draw upon several strategies to achieve their policy aims. Foremost among these tactics is the use of lobbying--the practice of attempting to influence government officials directly through letters, presentations, briefing materials, and organized events. Scholars delineate between two forms of lobbying, generally categorized as inside and outside, marking the distinction between those groups that have sufficient political clout to gainer direct access to policy makers and those that do not (Victor 2007). Examples of inside tactics include presenting research or technical information to decision makers, lobbying members of a committee to which a bill has been referred, contacting government officials directly to express opinions, and engaging in informal contacts with decision makers (coffees and lunches) (Victor 2007). Lobbying of public officials is one of the more common forms of inside strategy used by police groups (Finnane 2008; Berry, O'Connor, Punch, and Wilson 2008). For example, following the signing of the Cybercrime Convention in 2001, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) engaged in direct lobbying--meeting with senior government officials and influential members of Parliament--to sway support for a bill that would have given police agencies broader powers to intercept private Internet communications and wider access to Internet subscriber data (Huey and Rosenberg 2004).

    Interest groups also employ outside lobbying tactics, relying on various strategies aimed at securing public support for a given policy position. Their ability to influence popular opinion frequently rests on how they define or package a complex problem for wider public consumption (Nisbet and Huge 2006; see also Gamson and Modigliani 1989). "By giving more weight to some dimensions of a controversy over others," Nisbet and Huge (2006: 11) note, "the frames in news coverage help guide policy maker and citizen evaluations about the causes and consequences of an issue, and what should be done." A notable instance of police lobbying through media releases and issued statements occurred in the United Kingdom. To garner support for a legislative scheme that would see the introduction of national identity cards, the Police Federation issued press releases and gave interviews stating that "the police and the majority of the public support identity cards. Criminals and terrorists do not" (Police Federation 2004). The power of a statement such as this lies in its implications. In relation to the instant example, it is implicitly understood that only those individuals with something to hide have reason to fear the proposed legislation. In rather neat fashion, privacy advocates and opponents are thus recast as potentially dangerous others, figuratively--if not actually--allied with criminals and terrorists.

    While it is the case that voluntary police organizations operate as interest groups in policy-making circles, they are frequently loath to be seen doing so. Thus, we find that through the use of euphemisms, police organizations become "stakeholders," their lobbying activities are termed "consultations," and their policy objectives are recast in terms of the wants and needs of "the community" rather than as wants and needs of the police. "We are not an advocacy group for police leaders," former CACP President Jack Ewatski (2006) stated in an appearance before a House of Commons select committee. "We are spokespersons for policing, and for the safety of out communities." Although euphemisms can be thought of as "place-holders for important concepts," they are more commonly employed as linguistic devices that "take the sting out of practices we would otherwise disdain" (Mitchell 1999: 255, 263). Such use of language, as Watson (1997: 367) reminds us, is deliberately deployed for the purposes of

  4. distorting or...

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