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On October 1, 2017, robust exchanges took place when the Catalan police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, blocked officers from Spain’s national force, the Guardia Civil, as they attempted to prevent people from entering polling stations to vote in the Catalan independence referendum. These scenes publicly exposed a quiet transformation: under Spain’s autonomous community system, Catalonia, like the Basque Country, has gradually developed its own regional police force with large numbers of well-equipped officers. Conversely, in Scotland and the Netherlands, regional police forces disappeared in 2013 and have been replaced by national organizations (Police Scotland and the Korps Nationale Politie respectively) in a move that observers would have thought impossible just a few years earlier. These two examples point to an important phenomenon that has been the subject of little systematic analysis: the diverse range of ways in which the levels of power are being reformed in contemporary police systems.
The challenge is a sizable one, as police forces have to resolve opposing pressures: the pressure to centralize in order to pool human and logistical resources against a background of budgetary constraints, but also to decentralize in order to tackle specific local issues; to cooperate in order to respond effectively to crime and terrorism, but also to hold onto information in order to protect sources. These demands thus pull the organization of police systems in opposite directions…


Whether it is a matter of incentivizing partnerships, implementing performance indicators, developing regional police forces, or, on the contrary, nationalizing police organizations, the contemporary transformations of European police systems have rarely been analyzed from a comparative perspective. Looking at the reform trajectories of three different countries (one country with a Napoleonic tradition [France] and three countries that display moderate pluralism [England/Wales and the Netherlands]), this article shall identify the major trends of reform along two axes: centralization/decentralization and integration/fragmentation. It will highlight the juxtaposition of attempts at centralization with the conflicting implementation of new managerial reforms, as well as the different forms of politicization associated with issues of policing and delinquency.

  • police
  • reforme trajectories
  • politicisation of security
  • new public management
  • cross-national comparison
  • centralisation
Jacques de Maillard
Jacques de Maillard is a professor of political science at the Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-En-Yvelines (Université Paris-Saclay) and Sciences Po Saint-Germain-En-Laye, and director of the Centre de recherches sociologiques sur le droit et les institutions penales (CESDIP) (Sociological Research Center on Law and Criminal Institutions). His research focuses on public security, managerial reform of police services, comparative police research, and local management of urban disorder. His publications include Sociologie de la police: Politiques, organisations, réformes, coauthored with Fabien Jobard (Paris: Armand Colin, 2015), Policing in France, coedited with Wesley G. Skogan (Abingdon: Routledge, 2020), and Comparative policing (Abingdon: Routledge, 2022) (CESDIP, Immeuble Edison, 43 boulevard Vauban, 78280 Guyancourt).
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