Urbanisation and community perceptions of law and order: An Australian case study

A Schermuly1
1Monash University, Clayton, Australia

This paper explores how rapid urban change influences perceptions of law and order. The paper is based on findings from a qualitative case study on community perceptions of Victoria Police in an urban area of Melbourne: The Monash Local Government Area (LGA). Rapid urbanisation was a significant theme that emerged from the case study. The implications of this for perceptions of the police are discussed as three sub-topics:

The first considers the effects of urbanisation on the local communities in Monash. Examples illustrate the centrality of urban change in participants’ opinions of the police.

Secondly, structural factors. This included the development and stagnation of infrastructure in Monash LGA, such as the physical re-imagining of ‘community’ necessitated by subdivision of housing blocks. Increased urbanisation and development in the area was juxtaposed with a perceived lack of investment in policing infrastructure. These structural factors were believed to be stimulating opportunities for petty disorder which Victoria Police did not have the capacity to respond to.

The third sub-topic is demographic change, characterised by the increased ethnic diversity in the population of Monash. An apparent relationship between increased ethnic diversity and decline in satisfaction with Victoria Police is discussed. Tension is revealed between participants valuing diversity versus an evident fear of ‘others’ amongst some participants which appeared to result in conflicted feelings towards ethnically diverse residents in Monash LGA, particularly amongst older European-Australians. Why competing emotions about ethnic diversity might have an effect on perceptions of Victoria Police is explored.

Allegra Schermuly is a research fellow in the School of Social Sciences, Monash University. She completed her PhD (Monash Univeristy) in 2018 on the topic of police legitimacy. In her dissertation, Allegra explored perceptions of Victoria Police and the implications of public perceptions for legitimacy, community satisfaction and willingness to cooperate with police. Using qualitative interviews with community representatives in the Monash Local Government Area, Allegra’s doctoral thesis analysed the factors that impact police legitimacy with a view to informing police practices and culture, especially in contemporary multicultural societies.

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