Police teams

Laura Keesman

My project in the Group Violence Research Program focuses on violent incidents in policing. Police officers are sometimes confronted with tense, threatening and violent situations in the course of their daily work. They have a heightened risk of exposure to aggressive and violent behaviour of individuals. In order to deal with such behaviours and situations officers need to gain control. At the same time, they should be accountable for their actions. The aim of this research is twofold. First, I aim to understand how police officers manage to collectively gain control in antagonistic situations and how they work together in tense and threatening interactions. Second, I seek to understand how police officers experience violence, mentally, physically and emotionally.

I am specifically interested in how officers cope with antagonistic situations. For instance, how do they ensure ‘control’ in a situation, what happens when they fail to do so or when violence escalates. How do police officers work together as a team, and more specifically: how do they use their body when doing so. What types of (non) verbal communication do they employ and how do police officers intervene in early stages of tense interactions? How do they successfully de-escalate and when does it fail? In addition, I pay specific attention to how police officers cope with anxiety, tension or other negative emotions. This research is about police officers' experiences, explicitly from their point of view.

In order to understand the intricate dynamics of tense situations police officers deal with I conducted ethnographic fieldwork, that is, (participant) observations within different police teams in The Netherlands. I went along during their daily shifts, accompanied officers during surveillance, witnessed training sessions, riot police conduct, and special arresting teams. In addition, I interviewed the members of the observed teams about specific violent events. In this way I try to come to a thorough understanding of their experiences. In practice, I reconstruct their experienced antagonistic situations. Finally, I watched videos together with police officers who experienced violent incidents to discuss the details of their actions, communication, cooperation, and to understand how they manage tense situations. This had led to a publication in Poetics (see publications). By combining an ethnographic method with interviews I seek to comprehend the emotional processes and situational group dynamics of violent situations, and specifically how police officers deal with these in violent interactions.

In short my research profile looks like this:

  • qualitative research; ethnographic fieldwork/participant observation during policing in multiple police forces in the Netherlands and in depth/reconstructive interviewing
  • visual methodology; videos, drawings of antagonistic situations, and body maps
  • qualitative data analysis in Atlas.ti
  • publishing (peer reviewed) articles
  • presentations at international conferences and seminars