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University of Portsmouth

Bsc. (Hons) Policing and Police Studies


Registration Number 227296

It will be the intention of this essay to answer the question, ‘ “can psychology help the Bobby on the Beat?” Answer this question referring to aggression, non-verbal behaviour and stress’. The areas of aggression, non-verbal behaviour and stress have all been the focus of a great deal work by psychologists over the years. In the very short scope of this essay it would not be possible to cover all of these areas. As such, I will divide this article into four distinct stages. Firstly, I will discuss aggression and in particular how the Bobby on the Beat can exhibit aggression. I will then examine non-verbal behaviour, again focusing on the officer and the factors that surround their display of non-verbal behaviour. I will then consider the effect the police uniform, the proxemics and gesturing used by an officer, might have on the people with whom they interact. Concentrating on stress, this paper will consider why police officers may become stressed, the police culture and its relationship to stress and finally how stressors can have an adverse affect on the health and well being of the Bobby on the Beat. In conclusion, I will draw on the content of this essay in deciding how psychology can assist the Bobby on the Beat, if at all

Most psychological research in the area of aggression has focused on how and why people are aggressive in society, but very few have aimed at police aggression. It is accepted that the police have to meet aggression full in the face on a daily basis, but there is outrage if it is the police themselves that use such behaviour.

Tourists to, and other law enforcement officers from outside of, the United Kingdom are often surprised to discover that the British ‘Booby on the Beat’ does not carry a firearm. Recent calls for, and poles which have looked at, whether the British police should be armed, should make note of the negative effects that this may have on police-public relations. Empirical research conducted by Boyanowsky and Griffiths

(1982) found that officers, who were wearing sunglasses and carrying a firearm openly, whilst issuing a traffic ticket or conducting a roadside check, were perceived more negatively. In fact, the motorists who were informed that they would be receiving a ticket expressed the most anger on their faces and reported more aggression from the officer.

Such inadvertent and probably unintentional display of aggression is just one example that the ‘Bobby on the Beat’ can learn from. As the risk of violence and the criminal use of firearms increases, the supply of personal safety equipment such as CS spray, side handled batons and overt stab-proof and ballistic vests are being issued. The ‘Bobby on the Beat’ now resembles ‘Robocop’ more than ‘Dixon of Dock Green’.

If we consider how open and approachable a police officer will act when conducting a school crossing patrol, comparing this to the authoritative and forceful behaviour that will be displayed when arresting a violent offender. But how will the officer be greeted in light of this new ‘Robocop’ style image. The officer will still be friendly and approachable when dealing with school children, but may be seen as more of a threat, outside of a pub, dealing with the violent offender. Let us consider if an officer took a different approach to the latter. An understanding of what makes people aggressive; identifying aggressive situations and recognising how their own appearance and behaviour affects such an incident, may allow the officer to adopt a different approach. An approach that was open and aimed at avoiding an altercation may negate a physical confrontation, run the risk of assault and allegations being made against them.

One of the popular theories put forward by psychologists as to what causes aggression is that people experience frustration, which manifests itself into anger and ultimately aggression. We have to remember that police officers themselves suffer frustrations in the same way as other occupational groups. They suffer pressures at home, financially and emotionally and may react to these frustrations, and emotional feelings with anger and aggression.

Other work related stressors, associated with increased interpersonal aggression, were identified by Chen and Spector (1982) during their survey of white-collar workers. These were:

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  • Role ambiguity
  • Role conflict
  • Interpersonal conflict
  • Situational constraints

Although this study was not directed at the police service, the above factors appear as major elements of police work and stressors. If officers allow such stress to get on top of themselves, then maybe this will go some in explaining why certain officers act aggressively at certain times.


A police officer is one of the few members of British society who can lawfully use force on members of the public. The levels of force authorised varies from common assault, to the use of a baton ...

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