POLICING IN CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE: Comparing Firsthand Knowledge with Experience from the West,
© 1996 College of Police and Security Studies, Slovenia


Ronald T. Stansfield

At first glance it may appear that public police are the only police and that community policing is a comprehensive set of programs delivered by public police to the communities they serve. Even a cursory review of the history of policing, however, reveals that policing is a differentiated social structure that has several forms of which public policing is only one example. This article attempts to reframe community policing within the developmental logic of the 'Spectrum of Policing'.

An analysis of the history of policing reveals that there have been at least three major forms of policing in the modern era. Beginning with vigilantes in the Agricultural Era, there followed public police in the Industrial Era and private police in the Information Era. While all of these police forms were in use during each of these eras, only one police form dominated and became the 'average mode' of policing during any single era.

Three factors determine which form of policing will dominate and become the average mode of policing during a particular era; the size of the economic surplus, the extent of private property and the complexity of the community structure. So, for example, during the Agricultural Era the economic surplus was relatively small, private property was relatively scarce and community structure was relatively uncomplicated, and vigilante or part-time, volunteer police dominated. Very simply, farming communities literally could not afford and did not need more sophisticated and expensive forms of policing. A full-time, mercenary or public police did not become the average mode of policing until the Industrial Era when, due to dramatic increases in the size of the economic surplus, availability of private property, and complexity of community structure, communities both needed and could afford this relatively sophisticated and expensive form of policing. Lastly, the Information Revolution has produced additional increases in the economic surplus, availability of private property and complexity of community structure, with the result that private police have become the average mode of policing in informational communities.

The ascendancy of private police during the Information Era has not signaled the end of public police or vigilantes. To the contrary, the stratification of information communities has ensured that while private police dominate, public police and vigilantes continue to be used to reproduce order. In particular, vigilante groups are the police of choice among the poor in many communities; public police are the police of choice among the middle classes; and private police are the police of choice among elites. In effect, informational communities are policed by several different police forms, only one of which - private police - dominates.

When viewed from the developmental logic of the Spectrum of Policing it can be seen that communities improvise the police forms they require to satisfy their security needs. This ensures that in stratified communities several police forms will co-exist although one will tend to dominate. This view is in sharp contrast to the conventional stereotype of who the police are and what the police do. Not only are public police not the dominant police form at present, but the community policing services they provide do not satisfy the safety needs of large parts of the community. True community policing is the result of the combined efforts of several different police forms.


At first glance it may appear that public policing is the only form of policing and that community policing is a set of programs developed by public police for the communities they serve. However, even a cursory review of the history of policing reveals that policing is a differentiated social structure, and that public policing is only one form of this structure.

If the usual stereotype of what policing is and who the police are is inaccurate or misleading, then our understanding of community policing may also be limited or flawed. This paper attempts to 're-vision' community policing within the developmental logic of the 'Spectrum of Policing'.


At one level, the psychological, policing is intended to satisfy a basic human need. Maslow (1970) notes that human needs are organized in a hierarchy that begins with physiological needs, develops through safety, belongingness, self-esteem and self-actualization needs, and reaches its zenith in the need for self-transcendence (Figure 1). One function of policing then is to satisfy the individual's need to feel safe and secure.

The need for safety is not limited to protecting the physical self. Wilber (1980) notes that at some levels of development (i.e., 'self-consciousness') the individual ego identifies not only with the physical self, but also with material objects or property possessed by the self. As a result, a threat to the individual's property may also be perceived as a threat to the individual. A practical result of this situation is that individual safety needs vary as a function of personal wealth: an increase in personal wealth produces an increase in individual safety needs and vice versa (Figure 2). If individual safety needs increase as a result of the acquisition of new forms of property such as VCR's, computers and camcorders, or by the acquisition of old forms of property on an unprecedented scale, such as theme parks, sports complexes and shopping malls, then new forms of policing may be required to satisfy the increased 'safety' needs.

At another level, the social, policing is intended to reproduce order. Ericson (1982) notes: it is not the mandate of the police to produce a new order. On the contrary, their everyday actions are directed at reproducing the existing order (the 'normal and efficient state') and the order (system of rules) by which this is accomplished ... (t)heir sense of order and the order they seek to reproduce are that of the status quo. (p. 7)

Another function of policing then is to enforce laws that reproduce social order. It follows that if social order is transformed by the development of new forms of technology, then new forms of policing may be required to reproduce the new form of social order.

Lenski, Lenski, and Nolan (1991) among others (Drucker, 1993; Toffler, 1980; Naisbitt, 1984; Laszlo, 1987) have argued that social structure has been transformed by a series of technological 'waves' throughout the ages.1 Beginning with the Agricultural Revolution, there followed the Industrial Revolution and, most recently, the Information Revolution - which continues at present. Not surprisingly, changes in social structure have had important implications for policing.


Before the Industrial Revolution most people lived in small rural communities and subsisted by farming (Lenski et al., 1991). The basic unit of social organization at this time was kinship groups (Toffler, 1980, p. 28) and the basic unit of economic organization was the peasant- landowner relationship (Marx & Engels, 1947). Farming technology, based initially on the hoe and later the plough, produced a relatively small economic surplus that was distributed unevenly among the population producing a stratified social structure (ibid.). Typically, landowner elites, controlled the economic surplus and used it to satisfy their selfish needs including their safety needs (ibid.). The remainder of the population lived in poverty and consequently, were forced to improvise ad hoc arrangements to satisfy their safety needs.2

The poor in farming communities possessed little or no property and, as a result, their safety needs were limited to protecting themselves and their families. Given their modest safety needs, large numbers and limited access to material resources, the poor utilized their human resources to satisfy their safety needs. Critchley (1972) notes that in England this took the form of an informal and part-time system of volunteer policing that relied upon 'vigilance', 'hue and cry' (i.e., a vocal alarm), 'posse' (i.e., an assembly of men3) among other strategies to reproduce social order. In a word, the safety needs of the poor were policed by 'vigilantes' during the Agricultural Era.

In contrast to the poor, elites in farming communities possessed considerable property including real estate, domesticated animals, slaves and a variety of chattels. As a result, farming elites needed a form of policing to protect themselves, their families and their property. Lacking the human resources of the poor, elites used their extraordinary economic resources to hire full-time mercenaries or, more simply, private police, to satisfy their safety needs. In short, vigilante policing was the 'average mode'4 of policing during the Agricultural Era and private policing was a secondary police form.


Vigilante policing remained the 'average mode of policing' until the Industrial Revolution. Industrialization literally transformed society from a rural farming society regulated by kinship ties, into an urban industrial society regulated by the State. The introduction of mechanized farming tools dramatically reduced the number of people needed in the country to work on farms. As a result, cities swelled as displaced farmers relocated in search of employment. While many farmers succeeded in securing employment in urban factories, many more did not. As well, the kinship groups that formed the bases of communities during the Agricultural Era were destroyed as individuals and nuclear families relocated to cities. Lenski et al. (1991) note that the destruction of kinship groups had important consequences for the way industrial communities were organized:

... serious problems resulted from the disruption of social relationships. Long standing ties of kinship and friendship were severed and could not easily be replaced, while local customs and institutions that had provided rural villagers with some measure of protection and support were lost for good. Thus, it was an uprooted, vulnerable mass of people who streamed into towns and cities and were thrown into situations utterly foreign to them, and into a way of life that often culminated in injury, illness, or unemployment. A multitude of social ills - poverty, alcoholism, crime, vice, mental and physical illness, personal demoralization - were endemic. (pp. 243-244)

Another important effect of industrialization was a dramatic increase in the economic surplus. One result of this situation was that even the poorest industrialist had a higher standard of living than the average farmer had during the Agricultural Era (Lenski et al., 1991). In fact, the economic surplus was large enough to support not only an elite class and a large number of poor, but also, for the first time in history, a large middle class developed making industrial communities less stratified than farming communities (ibid.). The extraordinary wealth and proliferation of new forms of private property in industrial communities exacerbated individual fears about safety and security. Not surprisingly, these heightened safety needs became a catalyst for a new form of policing - public policing.

Industrial elites, like farming elites, used their control of the economic surplus to organize private police to satisfy their considerable safety needs. Similarly, the poor in industrial communities, like the poor in farming communities, organized themselves into vigilante groups to satisfy their modest safety needs. The middle class however, was another matter entirely. The middle class had safety needs similar to the safety needs of farming elites (i.e., considerable private property), but not the economic resources. As a result, the State authorized the creation of full-time, formalized, mercenary police with extraordinary powers or, more simply, public police, to satisfy the safety needs of the middle class. In short, public policing was the average mode of policing during the Industrial Era and vigilante policing and private policing were secondary police forms.


A consensus (Toffler, 1980; Naisbitt, 1984; Laszlo, 1987; Drucker, 1993) has emerged that a third 'wave' of technological development began to sweep over the world in the middle decades of this century. The information society,5 as it has become known is characterized foremost by the automatic production of data. Whereas agricultural societies were based on the manufacture of food, and industrial societies were based on the manufacture of goods, informational societies are based on the manufacture of data. As well, just as agricultural technology transformed hunting and gathering society, and industrial technology transformed farming society, informational technology is transforming industrial society. Laszlo (1987) notes:

The technologies of the second industrial revolution (i.e., the information revolution) are truly revolutionary. Not only are they major advances over previous technologies, but they also require major transformations in the societies that make use of them. A post-industrial society based on abundant and dense energy resources and on information, robotics, and automation reaches new heights in autonomy: it progressively detaches itself from geographic constraints. It generates its own energies and produces its own raw materials with less and less dependence on the endowments of its milieu. This could lead to a brusque rupture of geocultural ties which evolved over centuries ... (p. 155)

While it is too early to know the precise details of the informational order, a general outline is beginning to emerge. Preliminary indications are that the Information Revolution, like previous technological revolutions, will dramatically increase the economic surplus (Naisbitt and Aburdene, 1990). In the past this has produced a large increase in the standard of living (Lenski et al., 1991, p. 271). Industrialists were more affluent than agriculturalists and agriculturalists were more affluent than hunter-gatherers: if this pattern continues, informational communities will be the most affluent communities ever (Figure 3).

The continued growth of the economic surplus in informational communities has supported large increases in both the size and the wealth of the elite classes. Much of this new wealth is being used to privatize what were formerly public spaces. Condominiums, stadiums, arenas, shopping malls, and theme parks are private spaces that formerly did not exist or were public. The privatization of more and more space is having profound implications for individual safety needs and therefore, policing.

The emergence of a post-modern, informational order has made the development of a new form of policing inevitable. Many individuals and groups in the new order have realized that public police cannot satisfy all of their safety needs and, as a result, they are developing alternatives (Naisbitt, 1984, p. 171; Stenning, 1989, p. 181). The precise form these 'alternatives' have acquired has depended on, among other things, the resources available to the individuals and groups that develop them.

Simultaneous increases in the size of the elite class and the intensity of their safety needs has resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of private police. For example, by 1991 private police outnumbered public police in Canada by more than 2 to 1 (Figure 4). Similar increases have been recorded in other countries also (Spitzer & Scull, 1977; Naisbitt, 1984: 171). The safety needs of the middle class in informational communities continue to be satisfied by public police and, lacking the material resources to do otherwise, the poor continue to organize themselves into vigilante police. As a result, private policing is the average mode of policing in informational communities and public policing and vigilante policing are secondary police forms.


The preceding analysis has several important implications for our understanding of policing generally, and community policing more particularly. Contrary to the usual stereotype of what policing is, and whom the police are (i.e., public police), clearly policing is a differentiated social structure that has at least three different forms, which, when combined, constitute a 'spectrum.' The Spectrum of Policing begins with vigilante policing, continues with public policing and culminates, at present, with private policing. (Figure 5).

Not only is public policing not the only form of policing, it is not even the dominant form of policing at present. This suggests that community policing programs delivered by public police services will not satisfy all the safety needs of informational communities. Indeed, evidence (Garofalo & McLeod, 1993, p. 72; Rosenbaum, 1993, p. 84; Walker, Walker, & McDavid, 1993; Hornick, Burrows, Phillips, & Leighton, 1993, p. 330) from North America indicates that community policing programs there have produced mixed results at best.

If the community policing programs delivered by public police agencies are not the answer to the safety needs of informational communities, then, what is? The answer appears to be that communities are 'organic' insofar as they improvise the police services they require to satisfy the safety needs of their individual members and reproduce social order. Generally, individuals and groups that have few economic resources (i.e., the poor) and very modest safety needs, opt for vigilante policing because public police do not effectively satisfy their safety needs - witness the world-wide growth of vigilante groups such as the Guardian Angels in Europe and North America, the I.R.A. in Northern Ireland, the Nation of Islam in the United States, and Otag in South Africa.6 At the other extreme, individuals and groups that have extraordinary economic resources and prodigious safety needs (i.e., elites), opt for private policing because public police cannot provide the specialized and comprehensive police services they require. Finally, groups that have considerable safety needs but only modest economic resources (i.e., the middle class), opt for public police because they cannot satisfy their safety needs themselves and they cannot afford more expensive private policing (Figure 6).

From the foregoing analysis it can be seen that effective community policing requires a 'blend' of private, public, and vigilante police services that satisfy the unique safety needs of elites, middle classes and the poor respectively. Fortunately, it appears that if left unfettered, a community will spontaneously improvise the police services it requires to satisfy the safety needs of all its members.


At first glance the community policing programs developed by public police agencies appear to be an original policing solution crafted to satisfy the safety needs of modern informational communities. However, upon closer examination it can be seen that these programs are rooted in the vigilante police form that was used by traditional farming communities to reproduce social order. Clearly, the individuals who inhabit modern informational communities have a range of safety needs beginning with the modest needs of the poor, progressing to the considerable needs of the middle class and culminating in the prodigious needs of elites, that cannot be satisfied by a single form of policing. To the contrary, what is required, is a subtle blend of police forms - vigilante, public and private- that cover the entire Spectrum of Policing.


  1. While some (Toffler, 1980; Naisbitt, 1984) identify three waves and others (Lenski et al., 1991) four and still others (Laszlo, 1987) six, all agree that technological innovation is the engine of social transformation. For the purposes of this discussion we limit ourselves to consideration of just three technological eras.

  2. There was no significant middle class at this time.

  3. Critchley (1972) notes that only males were required to participate in policing at this time.

  4. The 'ave rage mode of policing' is the form of policing that predominates during a particular technological era.

  5. The new social order has been described variously as a "knowledge society" (Drucker, 1993; 1994), "the fourth phase of the Industrial Revolution" (Lenski et al., 1991), an "information society" (Toffler, 1980; 1990; Naisbitt, 1984; Naisbitt and Aburdene, 1992), and "the second industrial revolution" (Laszlo, 1987). In this discussion we will adhere to the emerging convention which is to refer to the present technological era as an "information society".

  6. Not surprisingly, public police in some jurisdictions have resisted the introduction of vigilante police (Carriere & Ericson, 1989, p. 25; Toronto Star, January, 20, 1992, p. A18). Indeed, the hegemony of public police at the end of the Industrial Era is so great that the term 'vigilantism' has acquired a pejorative connotation despite its auspicious origins.

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