Home > Research > Security & Policing
Ongoing Research at The Centre of Criminology

State & Non-State Security & Policing

State & Non-State Security & Policing

It is difficult to imagine a modern state without a police force. The presence of public or state police has become an unquestioned part of the contemporary, particularly urban landscape. Publicly funded, uniformed police officers are part of our common sense and popular culture. We imagine them as a counterweight to the threat of crime and terrorism, so that while many are uncomfortable with their intrusion into daily life, their presence is demanded nonetheless.

Despite these assumptions and demands, the origins of modern state policing are less than two hundred years old. In South Africa and many other African states, democratic policing is still a new, often incomplete project.

Before the creation of state police, indeed before the creation of the state itself, order was policed and maintained by a range of means actors including elders and noblemen, watchmen and prefects, soldiers, slaves, chiefs and untitled members of groups living in community. In many parts of the world, non-state police actors still have more impact and legitimacy han state police.

Nearly half the world’s population lives in rural areas into which states and their police often struggle to reach. Some areas within major metropoles are also off limits to state authorities. This is particularly pronounced in many parts of Africa where infrastructure and governance can be weak. In some areas, non-state, both formal and informal policing and justice practices function in the absence of state systems. But in other instances, non-state policing actors, including traditional authorities, private security, community volunteers, vigilante groups and gangs work to bring particular visions of order to select spaces. Sometimes these visions are pursued in collaboration with state police, while at other times they directly oppose the state project.

Researchers at the Centre are engaged in work relating to both state and non-state policing, including how the two are, and can be networked together to promote efficient, fair, respectful practices that make African states safe. 










Berg, J. and S. Howell (2015) Running the Gauntlet: Police Strategies and Responses to Strike Action. In Hepple, B., Le Roux, R. and S. Sciarra (eds) Laws Against Strikes: The South African Experience in an International and Comparative Perspective. FrancoAngelli: Rome, pp. 185-204

Berg, J. with C. Shearing (2015) New Authorities: Relating State and Non-state Security Auspices in South African Improvement Districts.  In Albrecht, P. and H. Kyed (eds) Policing and the Politics of Order-making. Oxon and New York: Routledge, pp. 91-107

Faull, A. (2015) ‘Fighting for respect’ in Beek, Göpfert, Owen & Steinberg’s (eds.) Rethinking Policing in Africa, Hurst.

Faull, A. (2013) ‘Policing, taverns and shebeens: observation, experience and discourse’, South African Crime Quarterly No 46, pp. 35-48

Van der Spuy, E. 2012. “Crime and Justice in South Africa.” In Oxford Bibliographies Online: Criminology. Ed. Richard Rosenfeld. New York: Oxford University Press

Van der Spuy, E. (2011) 'Police and the Policing of Conflict Reflections from Africa', African Security Review, 20(4): 1-4