Religious Policing: How officer’s religion and level of religiosity shapes perceptions of police-citizen interaction

A/Prof. Toby Miles-Johnson1

1Western Sydney University, Liverpool, Australia

Policing as a profession and police work as a practice are meant to be secular activities free from the influence of religious ideals and religious doctrine. Police work is situated within secular guidelines of professionalism set out by police institutions, and individuals entering policing are expected to place their religious beliefs and religious practices into a secondary role; thereby putting the ideologies of policing (as well as the ideals of the institution) over and above their identity as a citizen. Yet religion, religious beliefs, and religious ideologies are considered the most widely used systems of reasoning when ethical decision making is conducted, or when moral rationalisation is applied. Whilst it is argued that there is a great deal of ambiguity relating to interpretation of religious beliefs and ideologies (particularly when religion is used to provide the direction of an ethical outcome or moral reasoning) the impact this may have on policing practice is problematic; particularly if officers use their religious beliefs and ideologies as a moral guideline for law enforcement, over and above operational codes of conduct or police training. Yet it is unknown whether Australian police officers are heavily influenced by the social practices, morals, beliefs, cultural practices and laws fortified by religious ideologies.  As such, this research determines how Australian officers’ religious identity and individual level of religiosity (religious belief, religious knowledge, religious experience, religious practice and religious consequence), may shape their judgement of people from diverse groups during police-citizen interaction. Using an online survey, the responses from Australian officers (N = 1172) working in one police organisation offers insight into a previously under-researched area regarding officer’s religion, level of religiosity and how this may shape their perception of police-citizen interaction with members of diverse groups identified by differences in race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality and gender-identity.


Associate Professor Toby Miles-Johnson has a national and international profile as a policing scholar specialising in quantitative and qualitative methodologies. Having researched with different institutions and groups of people in national and international settings, Toby specialises in research with police organisations, national security agencies, international defence agencies, and diverse groups of people, and people categorised as vulnerable or hard to reach. He has conducted multiple research projects in collaboration with six police organisations around Australia as well as with the AFP, two police organisations in the UK, and three police departments in the US. Toby is interested in how institutions such as police and other national/international security agencies, respond to and engage with diverse communities when experiencing victimisation or when professional engagement occurs. His research and work in policing has been cited and discussed in key policing documents. Toby’s work and research has contributed to key areas on ‘Police Training’ and ‘Policing Diverse Communities’ within Australia, the UK, and the US. He is currently employed as an ‘Associate Professor in Criminology and Policing’ at Western Sydney University and is the ‘Discipline Lead’. He is also an ‘Adjunct Professor’ for the ‘Centre for Justice’ and the ‘School of Justice’ at QUT.


Dec 10 2021