Could police officers inform our understanding of terrorism? To examine the way police officers conceptualise ‘terrorism’ and “counter-terrorist” policing

Research Institution / Organisation

University of Derby

In Collaboration With

Derbyshire Constabulary

Principal Researcher

Russ Barlow

Level of Research


Project Start Date

April 2014

Research Context

​Could police officers inform our understanding of terrorism?

  1. To examine the way Police Officers conceptualise ‘terrorism’ and “counter- terrorist” policing
  2. To gather from police officers currently working, or who have worked within or with the Police service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) & Belfast Harbour Police, their thinking and experiences in relation to counter terrorism policing. 
  3. To use the results from 1. To critically examine how officers conceptualise ‘terrorism’ and “counter- terrorist” policing.                                                             

Context of study

  • Police officers serving and retired are represented in most academic literature as a collective in terms of their actions and responses to the problems of terrorism in society. Where individual voices are heard there is a strong tendency for those to be the voices of senior officers only. There is a significant missing narrative on the experiences, thoughts, strategies and interactions of other serving and retired officers in relation to their conceptualisation of terrorism. 
  • Much of the academic work on policing changes in Northern Ireland has tended to omit the “crucial internal dimension” (Murphy 2013) pertaining to processes within the police as an organisation, leaving the narrative spaces of individual officers largely unfilled.
  • Current literature in Terrorism Studies strongly suggests that most research relies on secondary sources (Young et al 2011). Very little primary research material is available on the experiences, thoughts, and ideas of police officers working in counter terrorism. It is this empirical ‘knowledge gap’ that this study will concentrate on. 
  • Northern Irish policing has been chosen as the context for this study as the problems of terrorism have in the last four decades been incorporated into the lived experiences of police officers to a much greater degree than in mainland U.K. This study’s findings will examine counter terrorist policing and terrorism through the lens of officer’s experiences both within and outside of their profession. It will utilise the thoughts and experiences of serving and retired officers, spanning the R.U.C through to the PSNI and the Belfast Harbour Police, who are deeply embedded within Northern Irish culture and society.


Updated January 2017: The pilot research on police perceptions of the contemporary risk and threat in Northern Ireland has now been completed with Belfast Harbour Police and is being written up as a research paper. The next phase, which is the primary research for the PhD, concerns concepts and experiences of procedural justice in the N.I. context.

This research will focus on local Policing Teams (LPT) and Neighbourhood Policing Teams (NPT) with the PSNI in Belfast.
The intention is to utilise police officers' experiences in implementing procedural justice in  Belfast.

It is hoped that this research will aid PSNI understanding of the issues still outstanding in moving to a normalised policing model in Belfast.

Research Methodology

​The overall strategy will encompass: semi-structured in-depth interviews and focus groups in order to obtain the richest possible qualitative data exploring the narratives as described above.

Interim reports and publications

​Not available

Date due for completion

February 2022
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