Policing at a Coventry City of Culture event (Photograph: West Midlands Police)
Report and Webinar
The report was released in March 2023. It is one of a series of focus study reports.
The research team presented its results via a webinar on 14 March 2023.
West Midlands Police (WMP) was a principal partner of the City of Culture Trust in the delivery of Coventry UK City of Culture 2021 (UK CoC 2021).
In addition to the obvious community safety aspects of running a city-based cultural mega-event (from policing large audiences, to licensing venues and outdoor spaces), this partnership sought to explore the potential for police partnerships around arts and culture to have a positive impact on police-community relationships.
Its intention was to shift mutual perceptions and to build public trust and confidence in policing, particularly amongst seldom heard communities and people in areas of multiple deprivation.
The benefits of arts and culture in social, civic, health, and economic terms are widely researched, but until now, police forces have seldom engaged with creative endeavours in a sustained and systematic way.
The University of Warwick (Centre for Operational Police Research) research into the WMP−Trust partnership sought to understand the benefits and challenges of police engagement with a cultural mega-event, and to explore the potential for arts-based interventions to build trust between communities and the police in the context of a widespread crisis in police legitimacy.
How can the police use Coventry UK City of Culture as a platform to engage the public and improve public perceptions of policing, whilst simultaneously helping to manage crime and protect event attendees?
The research asked a number of salient questions:
- To what extent did the model of partnership with the Trust enable WMP to contribute to the design and delivery of Coventry City of Culture 2021 in order to make positive impacts in the city?
- What were the benefits to WMP and to the Trust in investing in a partnership in the delivery of a cultural mega-event?
- (How) did the WMP−Trust partnership enable WMP to build relationships with members of the public, in particular young people, seldom heard communities, and those in areas of multiple deprivation?
The research involved over 100 semi-structured interviews and focus groups with a wide range of stakeholders to investigate the nature of the partnership and its benefits and limitations, and to explore the wider impact of police-community engagement through arts-based interventions.
Participants in the research included: members of the City of Culture Trust, WMP officers and staff, Coventry City Council staff, charity and community organisations, artists and creative practitioners, and members of the public.
- Engage with institutional police culture change.
- Build strong, long-term relationships with organisations and networks.
- Establish shared objectives.
- Discuss ethical commitments.
- Consider remit of police influence.
- Consider police practice and police presence.
- Respect organisational difference.
With overlapping priorities, WMP and the Trust were able to provide mutually beneficial support both when managing the safety and security of events and supporting access to some of the more marginalised or seldom heard communities.
The partnership initiatives were broadly well-received by participants, and there is evidence that engagement through arts and culture can help to increase mutual trust and understanding between police and communities.
Arts and culture as a medium can offer benefits which may not be found through other channels. In particular, there can be a levelling opportunity with power more equitably shared by participants, if principles of co-creation are followed.
There remains, however, a sense of distrust and anxiety around working with the police amongst many community organisations, artists/creative practitioners and members of the public. Building trust between participants is central and cannot be forged without transparency, shared objectives and self-reflection on the part of the police force.
This relationship-building is resource intensive and requires long-term funding, beyond that of a single event. It also requires a high level of commitment from officers at all levels of the force, and an awareness that broad institutional culture change is widely desired by the public.
Chief Inspector Helen Kirkman and Cat Stock, both West Midlands Police, along with Mark Scott, Josie Bamford, and members of the senior leadership team at the Coventry City of Culture Trust, worked with the university team in the development of this research study.