People and police in leafy Surrey

Guest post by Sean Carey

Surrey County, one of the so-called Home Counties, had an estimated population of 1.1 million in 2009.

Surrey is predominantly white — 95 percent of the population according to the 2001 census.

But the other five percent of Surrey offers interesting ethnic diversity. For example, in the town of Woking, the Shah Jahan Mosque, the oldest purpose-built mosque in the UK (1889) built by Gottleib Leitner, is currently used predominantly by worshippers of Pakistani-Kashmiri heritage, who mainly live in one area of Woking.

Wikipedia/Shah Jahan Mosque
Wikipedia/Shah Jahan Mosque

Also, a recent number of African arrivals, some of whom are refugees (Zimbabwe) but most are workers in care homes for the elderly in the big towns in the county — for example Redhill and Guildford.

Conducting research on the Surrey police, I found some fascinating data. Middle-class groups of all ethnicities, it turned out, wanted a technically efficient police service. For example, if they were victims of a crime, they wanted a rapid and efficient police response. They were not especially bothered about the location of a police station. If it was around the corner fine, but if it wasn’t no matter.

On the other hand, working class communities of all ethnicities were definitely concerned about the location of a police station, because they couldn’t envisage having a “proper” relationship with the police without knowing them personally. Their relationship with the police was an extension of their concept of community, based on face-to-face meetings.

In other words, middle-class groups defined their relationship to the police by time and technical efficiency, whereas working class groups defined it more by space and personal recognition.

This is also noteworthy from a practical point of view, as it means that with cuts to the police budget, Surrey is looking to close down a number of police stations in the county. The research has alerted them to the importance of relationships with working class groups so they will have substations at, say, local authority/government buildings.

Sean Carey obtained his Ph.D. in social/cultural anthropology from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. He is currently research fellow at the Centre for Research on Nationalism, Ethnicity and Multiculturalism (Cronem) at Roehampton University. He writes for the Guardian, Mauritius Times, New African and New Statesman.

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