Trials of loyalty: Ethnic minority police officers as ‘outsiders’ within a greedy institution

AuthorSara Uhnoo,Abby Peterson
Publication Date01 Jul 2012
DOI10.1177/1477370812447266
SubjectArticles
European Journal of Criminology
9(4) 354 –369
© The Author(s) 2012
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DOI: 10.1177/1477370812447266
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Trials of loyalty: Ethnic
minority police officers as
‘outsiders’ within a greedy
institution
Abby Peterson and Sara Uhnoo
University of Gothenburg, Sweden
Abstract
In this article we interrogate how ethnicity interfaces with the police culture in a major Swedish
police force. While addressing administrative levels, in particular police security officers’ screening
of new recruits, we focus on the role that loyalty plays in defining how ethnicity interacts with
mechanisms of exclusion and inclusion in the structures of rank-and-file police culture. The
police authorities, perceived as ‘greedy institutions’, demand and enforce exclusive loyalty. We
argue that ethnic minority officers are rigorously tested as regards their loyalty to their fellow
officers and to the police organization, and the demands made on their undivided loyalty and the
misgivings as to their unstinting loyalty act as barriers to inclusion in the organization.
Keywords
ethnicity, greedy institutions, loyalty, police culture, processes of exclusion, voice
Introduction
In this article we will interrogate how ethnicity interfaces with the police culture in a
major Swedish police force. While we address administrative levels, in particular police
security officers’ screening of new recruits, we focus on the role loyalty plays in defining
how ethnicity interacts with mechanisms of exclusion and inclusion in the structures of
rank-and-file police culture. Within the Anglo-American sphere of policing, there has
been a concerted drive to recruit minority officers in order to better reflect the populations
they are policing (Cashmore, 2002; Foster et al., 2005; McLaughlin, 2007; Walklate,
2000). Sweden is no exception, and the police authorities have instigated various
programmes to encourage ethnic minority officers to apply to the police academies.
Corresponding author:
Abby Peterson, Department of Sociology and Work Science, University of Gothenburg, SE 405 30
Gothenburg, Sweden.
Email: abby.peterson@sociology.gu.se
447266EUC9410.1177/1477370812447266Peterson and UhnooEuropean Journal of Criminology
2012
Article
Peterson and Uhnoo 355
Although these programmes have met with only limited success and the police force
in Sweden is still heavily dominated by ethnic Swedish officers, the ambition is to
increase the numbers of ethnic minorities within the force. Loftus (2008) emphasizes the
pressures the police forces in Britain are under to manage the questions of diversity in
new ways, which has resulted in a top-down drive in Britain, as in Sweden, to produce
cultural change and enforce tolerance towards minorities within the police force and
non-discriminatory treatment of ethnic minorities among the citizenry (see Holdaway,
1997; Marks, 2000). Despite the top-down directives of police management and their
obligatory police ethics programmes, we have found that ethnic minority officers in
Sweden are still often met with suspicion, as well as subtle forms of exclusion and
discrimination (Uhnoo and Peterson, 2011). In particular, we found that their ‘loyalty’ to
their group and the police organization was put into doubt. Much in line with Loftus’s
research, we found that ethnic minority officers risk being repositioned as ‘outsiders’
within (Loftus, 2008: 769).
Brown (1988) succinctly describes how loyalty towards colleagues protects those
who share in the police culture from the strains and hazards of their working environment,
such as potential on-the-job dangers and the unique coercive powers officers possess,
and from the strains and hazards of their organizational environments, that is, their
ambiguous role as crime fighters, service providers and order maintainers and the
potential punitive scrutiny of their superiors.
The police culture demands of a patrolman unstinting loyalty to fellow officers, and he receives,
in return, protection and honor: a place to assuage real and imagined wrongs inflicted by a
(presumably) hostile public; safety from aggressive administrators and supervisors; and the
emotional support required to perform a difficult task. (Brown, 1988: 83)
As a reward for ‘unstinting loyalty’, police officers are offered protection, honour and
emotional support. When doubts are cast on officers’ unstinting loyalty, they are a priori
excluded from this support net.
Paoline (2003: 203–4) depicts the traditional occupational police culture as ‘widely
shared attitudes, values, and norms, which serve to manage strains created by the nature
of police work and the punitive practices of police management and supervisors’. He
subsequently emphasizes that the cultural mandate of loyalty is a function of both the
occupational and the organizational environments. Officers must depend on one another.
Hence, the norm of loyalty to the peer group is a powerful imperative. Loyalty is the
underlying codex for the police culture. We will argue in this article that ethnic minority
officers are rigorously tested as regards their loyalty to their fellow officers and to the
police organization, and the demands made on their unstinting loyalty and the misgivings
as to their unflagging loyalty act as barriers to inclusion in the organization.
Theoretical framework
The police as a greedy institution
Lewis Coser (1974) developed a conceptual framework for understanding institutional
demands of ‘total commitment’ in his classic work Greedy Institutions. Although

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