The two-day workshop will explore the concept of police professionalism in Australian Police Services. In doing so it will bring together established researchers and leaders in their areas of expertise and police practitioners for the first time in this debate. A strong inter-disciplinary element is reflected in both the researchers and the practitioners. There is no research in Australia on police professionalism, what it is, how it is attained and how it is measured – the workshop addresses this gap. The emphasis will fall on four questions:

  • What is professionalism and to what extent it relevant to policing in Australia?
  • What are the political, managerial and governance consequences of pursuing police professionalism?
  • To what extent can police self-regulation replace state regulation? What are the accountability issues posed by such a move?
  • How does the concept of police professionalism ‘fit’ with current policing trends

The issue of police professionalism matters for four reasons:

  • There are competing definitions of professionalism. The defining characteristic of a profession is its capacity to control its own labour market through access accreditation via a professional body. Other core criteria (discussed below) are defining elements of that task. If police were to pursue such a path there would be consequences for regulation and accountability. For example, to what extent would the establishment of a professional body undermine existing accountability mechanisms such as Ombudsmen and external oversight agencies?
  • There would be consequences for governments (policy and administrative questions); police management, police officers (and their police organizations) for example at present a certain amount of control is exercised by governments through the dispersal of funds, legislative authority and the appointment of the Chief Police Officer. Would such control be diminished under a system that encouraged professional self-regulation?
  • New institutional forms of policing are developing rapidly in Australia (and elsewhere). The growth of private security for example cannot be ignored. It matters whether particular jobs can only be done by professional police officers. Private security institutions and police critics generally may well view the substitution of government control with self-regulation as self-serving and a bid for monopoly control of the labour market.
  • Despite its political and social importance the professionalisation debate is confined largely to police practitioners. To date elected politicians and community groups have been excluded from the relevant discourse. We seek to broaden the debate.