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Colonial and Postcolonial Policing

Archived: The Colonial and Post-Colonial Policing Research Group was a network created by Dr Georgie Sinclair and Dr Chris A Williams, which is now inactive. This page is preserved as a record, and to help other researchers pick up the baton. Contact details and affiliations are likely to be increasingly out of date. If you would like to be on the mailing list of the parent research centre, click here.


The Colonial and Postcolonial Policing Group (COPP) was a global network of academics, policy-makers and practitioners with a shared interest in British colonial and postcolonial policing and its legacy and the active promotion of research into international policing today. COPP was hosted by The Open University through its International Centre for Comparative Criminological Research (now Harm and Evidence Research Collaborative).

Aims and Objectives

The COPP group was a principal outcome of an international workshop on British colonial policing held on 16 – 17 September 2009 at The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes. This was the first in a series of four workshops to be convened by the Open University and the GERN group in 2009 – 2011 which focussed on the policing of the European colonial empires (initially Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Portugal ) in response to the growing interest in and awareness of this field of enquiry.

COPP was an interdisciplinary group with members drawn from a range of backgrounds, both within and outside academia. It promoted research within the field of colonial and postcolonial policing: to further an understanding of connectivity, continuity and change of policing of empire and how that legacy connects to the study of international policing today.


Policing Empires: Social Control, Political Transition, (Post-)Colonial Legacies
December 2013, Brussels, Belgium

After years of academic neglect, colonial policing has recently attracted increasing attention. New historical insights on colonial security strategies and on their postcolonial vestiges (in the global South as well as in the former metropoles) testify to the dynamism of this field of research. The 2-day international conference Policing Empires: Social Control, Political Transition, (Post-) Colonial Legacies, held in Brussels in December 2013, was the last in a series of events convened by the GERN Working Group on (Post-) Colonial Policing.

The conference was organized along three major themes: social control, political transition and (post-)colonial legacies. These will provide a flexible framework allowing to explore a wide range of topics.

Fourth GERN (Post)colonial policing workshop: ‘Reflections on Colonial and Postcolonial Policing in the (Former) Portuguese Empire.’
14-15 April 2011, Escola de Criminologia, Faculdade de Direito da Universidade do Porto

The principal objective of this interdisciplinary workshop was to bring together both established and early-career scholars with research interests in the areas of police history, colonial history, crime, justice and security regarding the Portuguese Empire. Its focus was upon the organisational forms, methods and structures of Portuguese colonial policing, consolidating knowledge of the Portuguese colonial state and reflecting upon its postcolonial legacy.

Workshop on Counterinsurgency and Colonialism: ‘Negotiating with the "Enemy": perspectives past and present’
Friday 24 September 2010, University of London School of Advanced Study, Institute of Commonwealth Studies/ Open University Empire and Postcolonial Group

Third GERN (Post) Colonial Policing Workshop: Policing, surveillance and political transformations in the (former) Dutch and Belgium Empires
16-17 September 2010, KITLV, Leiden & Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL)

This workshop focused on the organization, methods and effects of policing, surveillance and incarceration in the (former) Dutch and Belgium empires, in the context of (post)colonial state formation, local political transformations and international security politics.

Workshop – ‘Policing and the Policed’: An International Workshop
29 – 30 April 2010, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, London

Publications by Members

Aart G. Broek, The History of the Police Force on the Dutch Caribbean Islands (1839 – 2010) Bound  by Power and Powerlessness

Ellen Klinkers, De geschiedenis van de politie in Suriname, 1863-1975, Van koloniale tot nationale ordehandhaving (The history of the police in Suriname, 1863-1975: from colonial to national law enforcement.)

Emmanuel Blanchard, ‘La Police Parisienne et les Algeriens 1944 – 1962’, Noveau Monde Editions 2011

Jakob Zollman, ‘Koloniale Herrschaft und ihre Grenzen. Die Kolonialpolizei in Deutsch-Südwestafrika 1894 – 1915’, (Kritische Studien zur Geschichtswissenschaft, Band 191), Göttingen 2010

Ben Bowling, Policing the Caribbean, Clarendon Studies in Criminology (May 2010)

Richard Hill, Maori and the State: Crown‐Maori Relations in New Zealand/Aotearoa, 1950‐ 2000

Marieke Bloembergen, De geschiedenis van de politie in Nederlands-Indië. Uit zorg en angst (Amsterdam: Boom, Leiden: KITLV 2009) [The history of the police in the Dutch East Indies. Out of care and fear.]

Contributions to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Chris Williams and Georgina Sinclair were associate editors for the specialist advisers and contributors to the2010 update to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. They have added biographies of forty individuals who shaped the history of policing in Britain and overseas territories under British rule. Chris Williams says:

“The idea of the British police was one of Great Britain’s most distinctive contributions to the world of criminal justice. The ODNB has always reflected noteworthy people who have shaped the British past. For most of the twentieth century, police officers have been taken for granted: always there, always in the background. Towards the end of it, though, an increased prominence of policing led to more interest in the present and the history of the topic. It’s only right that this important group of people have their stories told and their achievements published.”

Affiliated Research Centres

COPP established links with the following institutions:

Groupe Européen de Recherche sur les Normativites (GERN)
ARC Centre for Excellence in Policing and Security (CEPS)
The Institute of Commonwealth Studies
Policing Studies Forum, Hong Kong (PSF)


Policeman photo

Contact us

Please direct enquiries about the Centre, including its facilities and access to its resources, to Dr Chris A. Williams:

Department of History
Faculty of Arts
The Open University
Walton Hall
Milton Keynes

Telephone: +44 (0)1908 652477
Fax: +44 (0)1908 653750