The Effect of Paramilitary Protest Policing on Protestors' Trust in the Police: The Case of the “Occupy Israel” Movement

Published date01 September 2017
Date01 September 2017
The Effect of Paramilitary Protest Policing on
Protestors’ Trust in the Police: The Case of the
“Occupy Israel” Movement
Gali Perry
Tal Jonathan-Zamir
David Weisburd
The use of paramilitary methods in civil policing tasks has become common in
Western police agencies. Despite propositions that such methods should
undermine the relationship between the police and the public, the effect of
paramilitary policing on public trust in the police has not been empirically
tested. In the present study,we e xamine this questionin the conte xt of protest
policing, which has become a major concern for Western police agencies.
Using a survey of 470 protesters who participated in “Occupy” protest events
in Israel in 2012, we find that the perceived use of paramilitary methods has
an independent and negative effect on trust, stronger than that of police effec-
tiveness and the “neutrality” component of procedural justice. In-depth inter-
views suggest that the significance of paramilitarism may be the result of a
sense of alienation and criminalization it elicits among protesters who gener-
ally perceive themselves as law-abiding citizens.
Paramilitary policing is defined as the use of military methods
by civil police agencies for civil policing tasks, and may include
using paramilitary policing units (PPUs), or providing officers
with military training, equipment, weaponry, and uniform
(Kraska 2007). It is frequently argued that this policing style has
become common in Western police agencies (Balko 2006; Kraska
and Cubellis 1997; Kraska and Kappeler 1997; McCulloch 2001;
Rantatalo 2012; Vitale 2005). While the police in Western democ-
racies have emphasized community-oriented policing since at
least the early 1990s (Willis 2014), paramilitary methods, which
in many ways appear to conflict with community policing, are
often perceived as the efficient answer to problems such as orga-
nized crime, terrorism, and social protests (Kraska and Kappeler
1997; Murray 2005).
Please direct all correspondence to Gali Perry, Institute of Criminology,Faculty of Law,
The Hebrew University, Mt. Scopus, Jerusalem 91905, Israel; email: gali.perry@mail.huji.
Law & Society Review, Volume 51, Number 3 (2017)
C2017 Law and Society Association. All rights reserved.
The growing prevalence of paramilitary policing has stimu-
lated a large body of literature in political science, sociology, crimi-
nal justice, and criminology, which mostly addresses its definitions,
origins, and expressions in the field (e.g., Den Heyer 2014; Hills
2009; Perito 2004; Rantatalo 2012; Salter 2014). As for the effects
of this policing style on police-community relationships, scholars
have argued that it alienates police officers from the citizens they
serve and undermines procedurally-just treatment, including
transparency and accountability (Hill and Beger 2009; Kraska and
Cubellis 1997; Pino and Wiatrowski 2006). At the same time, the
effects of paramilitary policing on public views of the police, and
specifically on trust, have not been tested empirically. This ques-
tion is critical because of the growing use of paramilitary policing
practices, and because of the critical implications of trust in the
police in terms of public compliance and cooperation (e.g., Gal-
lagher et al. 2001; Murphy 2014; Reisig et al. 2007; Tyler 1990,
2004). What is more, understanding the effect of paramilitary
policing on trust can contribute to our broader understanding of
the predictors of public trust in the police.
In this study, we address this question in the context of pro-
test policing, using demonstrations organized by the “Occupy
Israel” movement in 2012. By “protest policing,” we are referring
to the variety of tactics used by police at protest events, including
selecting the best unit to handle the specific crowd, evaluating
the potential for violence, negotiating with protest leaders, inte-
grating undercover officers in the crowd, and conducting arrests.
It is considered a complicated and potentially dangerous task,
and thus often involves some level of paramilitary response (e.g.,
Della Porta and Tarrow 2012; Gillham 2013; Rafail et al. 2012).
What is more, in the last decades scholars have documented a
significant rise in both the number of protest events and in the
heterogeneity of citizens participating in protests (B
edoyan et al.
2004; Norris et al. 2005). Thus, protest policing is an important
and useful arena for examining the effects of paramilitary polic-
ing on public trust.
We begin by reviewing the concept of paramilitary policing
and its specific application in protest policing. We then review the
literature on public trust in the police and hypothesize about the
potential effects of paramilitary policing on trust. Our study con-
text, sample, survey, and main variables are described next.
Using survey data collected in the 20 largest protest events orga-
nized by “Occupy Israel” in 2012, we find that the perceived
extent to which the police used paramilitary methods at the event
has an independent, negative, and relatively strong effect on pro-
testers’ trust in the police. Based on in-depth interviews with pro-
testors, we suggest that the employment of paramilitary methods
Perry,Jonathan-Zamir, & Weisburd 603
elicits feelings of alienation and criminalization among citizens
who are used to viewing themselves as normative and “on the
same side” as the police.
Paramilitary Policing—Background
Police agencies are often characterized as quasi-military
organizations (e.g., Bittner 1970; Murray 2005), but in the last
few decades, the term “paramilitary policing” has been used to
describe a more specific phenomenon: the employment of PPUs,
military methods and equipment by civil police organizations for
civil policing tasks (e.g., DeMichelle and Kraska 2001; Hills 1995;
Kopel and Blackman 1997; McCulloch 2001; Weber 1999). Peter
Kraska, arguably the most prominent scholar discussing paramili-
tarism in American policing, refers to paramilitary policing as a
continuum, ranging from zero to full paramilitarism. This contin-
uum is expressed primarily by the integration of PPUs in civil
police organizations. These units are easily distinguishable from
“regular” police due to their martial gear and weaponry, military
jargon, and excessive use of force (Kappeler and Kraska 2015;
Kraska 1997, 1999).
Data suggest that the employment of paramilitary methods in
American policing has expanded: while in 1982 only 59 percent of
American police agencies had PPUs, this figure rose to 78 percent
in 1990 and to 89 percent in 1997 (Kraska and Cubellis 1997). In
2014, Kraska estimated that PPUs are used about 50,000 times per
year in the United States.
Moreover, paramilitary methods are
employed by “regular” patrol units and small-town police agencies
(Crank et al. 2010; McCulloch and Pickering 2009; Pickering and
McCulloch 2010). Several reasons for this trend have been identi-
fied, including police involvement in counterterrorism in the post-
9/11 era (Kennison and Loumansky 2007; McCulloch 2004; Per-
liger et al. 2009), private market manufacturers’ encouragement of
“dual-use” of technologies and weaponry by both military and civil
agencies, agencies’ motivation to off-load military surplus onto
local law enforcement
(Katsineris 2016; Maguire 2015), and police
attempts to bolster their self-esteem and public image by using
“prestigious” military weaponry (Kraska 2007).
While most of this literature discusses American policing, stud-
ies suggest similar developments in other Western democracies,
Interview with Peter Kraska, The Economist, March 22, 2014.
Given this trend, in 2015 president Obama issued an executive order banning cer-
tain military weapons from being sold to the police (
604 Effects of Paramilitary Policing

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