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Policing the Customers: How Danish Community Policy Officers Label the People They Work Among

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice Policy Review Volume: 9 Issue: 2 Dated: 1998 Pages: 169-184
L Holmberg
Date Published
16 pages
The way in which community police officers in Denmark talk about and label citizens was studied by means of ethnographic fieldwork in a Danish community police department.
The fieldwork consisted of 4 months with the community police in Odense, Denmark, in 1994 and 9 months of fieldwork in the Copenhagen suburb of Glostrup in 1996-97. The research focused mainly on the discretionary practices of patrol officers. The analysis focused mainly from the first period of fieldwork. Results revealed that the four main labels (customers, clientele, good Danish citizens, the general public) functioned as guidelines for police discretion and that police officers interpreted and handled similar acts quite differently depending on the person's label. The crucial distinction was whether the citizen was known to the police. The customers were those known to the police as criminals and included drug addicts, burglars, joy riders, drunks, and others. Although the police dealt mainly with known customers, their leniency seemed to be reserved for unknown citizens. Thus, by judging the person more than the action, police practice and discourse maintains and reinforces a distinction between lawful and unlawful people rather than between legal and illegal acts. This way of exercising discretionary judgment reinforces the gap between the law-abiding general public and the criminal customers to such an extent that it is virtually impossible for someone labeled as a criminal to be recategorized. Figure, notes, and 11 references (Author abstract modified)


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