Is my mother-in-law a criminal threat?

Is my mother-in-law a criminal threat?

AIPM Living Leadership

The age of securitisation.

Yesterday I attempted to write a short article about securitisation. The topic seemed too conceptual and remote. Why would anyone be interested?

This morning on the radio, I listened to some of the latest thoughts about the Australian currency crisis. Somewhere along the way, too many of our Australian $100 notes have gone missing. The latest proposal is to track the notes using a nano-chip. The rationale for such a move – Chinese tourists taking notes back to China and Australian pensioners hiding money under their beds.

As it happens, my mother-in-law, Hanna, hides her money in a shoe box underneath the bed. Even after someone broke into her unit, and stole the shoe box, she still rationalises the shoe box is safer than the banks. So based on this morning’s discussion, my mother in law, rather than being a victim of crime, would be the perpetrator of crime.

Within the radio interview, I could see the creeping trend of securitisation - the process by which issues are framed as a national or state security threat and to which extraordinary measures are offered. Over the last three years, the case of the missing $100 notes has transformed from a mystery, to a threat to hardworking Australians through the limitation of the government to raise revenue and pay for services. I may be cynical, but I am pretty sure in 1998 we agreed to the introduction of the GST to counter the exact same threat posed by my ’cash in the hand’ cake baker.

In the 16 years since 9/11, we have framed terrorism as an existential threat, not just to the public, but now to the whole of western civilisation. But think back beyond 9/11, to 18 years ago when the IRA bombed Omagh, Northern Ireland or 22 years ago when right wing terrorists bombed Oklahoma City, or 24 years ago when the Aum Shinrikyo tested their deadly sarin gas bombs on Western Australian sheep, or 39 years ago when members of the Ananda Marga bombed the Hilton Hotel in Sydney. Consider how the 1999 FBI forecast for future terrorism predicted chemical, biological, radiological terrorism, agro-terrorism, cyber-terrorism as well as sound and electro-magnetised weapons. It's 43 years since Brian Jenkins first referred to terrorism as a new kind of theatre, and through all those years, western civilisation has continued to prosper, while terrorists have been constrained to the simpler tools of trucks and knives to achieve their goals.

Securitisation manifests itself in the amplification of threats, alongside the commitment of government agencies to control or mitigate such threats. Securitisation walks hand in hand with the hyperventilation of the 24 hour news cycle and social media. It's not limited to terrorism, the same processes are arguably at play in how we frame, approach and respond to natural emergencies.

Since 9/11, researchers have been questioning if law enforcement is increasingly susceptible to the process of securitisation, firstly through the paradigm of counter terrorism, then immigration and border security, and then through organised crime and drugs, and most recently, cybercrime. For law enforcement, some of the research includes Christopher Murphy ‘Securitizing Canadian policing’, Jasmin Tregida ‘The Securitization of routine policing?’ and Mike Kings ‘The impact of securitization of policing in England and Wales’.

In the US, there seems a preference to examine the trend through the term – militarisation. In 2015 Brian Kingshott argued US policing has entered an era of militarisation as defined by its uniforms, equipment and tactics. The militarisation trend being seen through the adoption of black coloured uniform by some US law enforcement agencies, the transfer of military equipment from the US Department of Defence to State and local law enforcement (worth $5.1 billion since 1997, US$450 million in 2014 alone). The focal point for the militarisation discussion was the 2014 civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri where the relationship between the police and the public caused some to reflect if policing was now more akin to an occupation force rather than a service protecting the community through the Peelian principles.

So where does Australian law enforcement stand with securitisation? There is a cluster of research focusing heavily of the securitisation of Australia’s borders and migration policy, a process which has seen the creation of Australia’s newest law enforcement body – the Australian Border Force. Otherwise there seems to be only limited research into the securitisation of policing in Australia. Rebecca Ananian-Welsh’s ‘The New Terrorists: The Normalisation and Spread of Anti-Terror Laws in Australia' provides an interesting analysis of the extension of counter terrorism measures to address other criminal threats.

Meanwhile Victoria and South Australian police have changed their old blue uniforms to a darker, not quite black colour. Robert Johnson’s research into the psychological impacts of the colour of police uniforms suggests darker uniforms emphasise power and strength, and potentially encourage the wearers to be more aggressive, and the public to feel more threatened. In the five years since the uniforms changed, the potential perils of dark police uniforms have not emerged as an issue.

Likewise the introduction of Bearcats (Ballistic Engineered Armoured Response Counter Attack Truck) into Australia’s State police, funded by the Commonwealth government, to enhance our national security capabilities, and their subsequent use in non-counter terrorism operations, has not raised a concern. On two of Kingshott’s three steps towards militarisation – uniforms and equipment – Australian policing is partially following the US trends – but without a corresponding crisis of confidence.

Perhaps there are more forces at work here. Tregida argues securitisation is aided by the participation of senior police executives not being ‘simple bystanders’ to the process, but as ‘active participants’. But this is consistent with the development of senior police executives, where their political acumen, engagement and agility are highly regarded. Tregida also argues the impact of securitisation is limited by resistance, with frontline police responding to the rhetoric and planning by senior officers with ambivalence. This is unsurprising given the well documented capabilities of police to resist change (Guyot’s 1979 description of ‘bending granite’). A possible third force is maybe what Rebecca Ananian-Welsh calls normalisation, through which incremental steps by Australian law enforcement, parliaments and the judicial system have created capabilities well beyond their original intention. Ananian-Welch argues normalisation has been aided by the ongoing political contest for the mantle of ‘toughest on crime’, and by a lack of evidence as to the effectiveness of the introduced measures.

And maybe it is this last point we need to consider further. Without an actual crisis on the scale of 9/11, how do we know if Australian counter terrorism systems, measures and approaches are effective enough? We are left to consider their effectiveness in the context of small scale crises and wonder what could be next. In the absence of knowing what is effective, the incrementalism and normalisation of securitisation continues. And without a public backlash, such as Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 or England in 2011, at what point do our law enforcement, political and judicial systems consider if securitisation has gone too far?

In the meantime, I wonder about the future fate of my mother-in-law with her cash stashed shoe box under her bed. How long before there is a digital detection of a suspicious cluster of $100 bills somewhere in Sydney’s eastern suburbs? How long before there is a knock on the door, an armed team of police dressed in black move in quickly, ready for any threat? Good thing Hanna now lives in a nursing home in the fog of dementia. She has already had that knock on her door, back in 1944 Europe – once was enough.

Source: Singh, A. (2017). AIPM Living Leadership.