In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Third Party Policing

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Background
  • Regulation in Policing
  • Civil Remedies in Crime Control and Prevention
  • Third-Party Dimensions, Roles, and Examples
  • Factors for Successful Third-Party Policing Partnerships
  • Assessing Third-Party Policing Outcomes
  • Unintended Consequences and Ethics of Third Party Policing

Criminology Third Party Policing
Janet Ransley
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 May 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0267


The major premise of third party policing is that police on their own cannot succeed in reducing many crime and disorder problems. Instead, they need to draw on the social control mechanisms held by other government and community actors. Third party policing occurs when police leverage the powers or legal levers held by those other actors or partners to help control or reduce crime or disorder. The move for police to work through partners has accelerated due to trends in governance, the increasing scope of government regulation, and the expectation that communities will help co-produce public safety. At a time when many police agencies face budget restrictions, encouraging others to assume some crime control responsibility becomes especially important. These trends have expanded how crime can be regulated and prevented in ways that do not rest only on traditional criminal law or justice processes. Typical police partners include regulators, businesses, property owners, and schools. Legal levers include property or fire codes, liquor regulation, rental contracts, and school suspension or discipline powers. Police seek to activate or escalate their partners’ use of these non-criminal powers, either cooperatively or coercively, so as to extend the range of policing influence over problem places, people, or situations. Therefore, third party policing is both proactive, in that it is focused on addressing and reducing the causes of crime and disorder, and problem-oriented, in that it seeks to do so by analyzing and resolving recurrent, underlying problems. The focus on places, people, and situations also aligns with situational crime prevention techniques, such as hots spots policing and focused deterrence. But third party policing is differentiated from these other approaches through its reliance on the legal levers of partners. The first section in this entry outlines how third party policing has developed over the past twenty years. There are also sections on the role and use of regulation in policing, the contribution of civil remedies to crime prevention, descriptions of the multiple contexts in which third party policing has been adopted, factors that promote successful partnerships, assessments of outcomes and effectiveness, and issues to do with ethics and accountability.

General Overviews and Background

Since the 1990s, scholars have observed a transformation in policing driven by broad trends in governance, regulation, and approaches to crime and its control. Bayley and Shearing 2001 describes this as the multilateralization of policing, where government is no longer solely in charge of either the auspice or supply of policing services. For Shearing 2005, the new nodal governance means the monopoly of policing by public police has evaporated. At the same time as the pluralization of policing there has been a growth in governments’ regulatory agendas, and the development of agencies with extensive non-criminal powers. According to Crawford 2006, this shows that far from withdrawing from formal social control, states have extended their range and armory of powers with new ways to control citizens. Against this background, Buerger and Mazerolle 1998 first introduced the concept of third party policing, defined as occurring when police form partnerships with others, often regulators, to access their legal and regulatory powers to achieve crime control purposes. Buerger 1998 situates third party policing at the convergence of new forms of crime analysis, the application of civil remedies in crime control, and a developing focus on crime at places. Mazerolle and Ransley 2005 and Mazerolle and Ransley 2006 more fully articulate why third party policing emerged and its operational dimensions including how it relates to broader trends in governance. Cherney 2008 shows how third party policing is fundamentally a problem-solving approach, while Ayling, et al. 2009 provides an analytical framework for understanding roles in the multilateralized policing environment. Mazerolle, et al. 2016 gives a succinct overview of the theory and logic model of third party policing, including the continuum between cooperation and coercion used to engage third parties. The National Academies of Science 2017 classifies third party policing as a problem solving, proactive approach to crime reduction.

  • Ayling, Julie, Peter Grabosky, and Clifford Shearing. 2009. Lengthening the arm of the law: Enhancing police resources in the twenty-first century. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    The book analyzes how public and private resources can be mobilized to enhance police crime control efforts. Different approaches are categorized as using coercion, sale, or gift. Third party policing is discussed as coercion, where a third party is mandated to either take action, or report to police. The possibility of cooperative actions is discussed, but is not the book’s focus. It concludes that multilaterilization is now embedded in policing.

  • Bayley, David H., and Clifford D. Shearing. 2001. The new structure of policing: Description, conceptualization and research agenda. National Institute of Justice Research Report. Washington, DC: United States Department of Justice.

    Policing is undergoing a historic restructuring, involving the separation of those who authorize policing from those who do it, along with the withdrawal of government from both functions. This multilateralization of policing is changing the role of the public police as they are joined by other public and private providers of policing services.

  • Buerger, Michael E. 1998. The politics of third-party policing. In Civil remedies and crime prevention. Edited by Lorraine Green Mazerolle and Jan Roehl, 89–116. Crime Prevention Studies 9. Monsey, NY: Criminal Justice Press.

    Third party policing is said to be a product of the convergence of computerized crime analysis, the application of civil remedies to crime control, and the legitimization of police emphasis on quality of life issues. Together these gave rise to a new focus for police on place, the expanded role of regulators as guardians, and an increased range of community expectations of the police role.

  • Buerger, Michael E., and Lorraine Green Mazerolle. 1998. Third-party policing: A theoretical analysis of an emerging trend. Justice Quarterly 15.2: 301–328.

    DOI: 10.1080/07418829800093761

    This foundational paper introduces and defines third party policing as occurring when police, cooperatively or coercively, induce non-offending third parties to use civil law controls to reduce crime or minimize disorder. The concept is linked to crime prevention theory, especially the place management and guardianship components of situational crime prevention which seek to reduce opportunities for crime. Guardians are induced to exert their informal controls to reduce problem behaviors.

  • Cherney, Adrian. 2008. Harnessing the crime control capacities of third parties. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies and Management 31.4: 631–647.

    DOI: 10.1108/13639510810910607

    Police increasingly harness the crime control capacities of third parties. This is third party policing, but is mostly used within the framework of a problem-orientated approach. It sees police act as effective brokers of public safety by expanding their sphere of influence over locations, systems, or conditions that facilitate crime. Research on illicit synthetic drug control and regulation is reviewed to highlight key implementation issues and the costs of co-production.

  • Crawford, Adam. 2006. Networked governance and the post-regulatory state? Steering, rowing and anchoring the provision of policing and security. Theoretical Criminology 10.4: 449–479.

    DOI: 10.1177/1362480606068874

    Networked governance theories are examined in the British context to suggest that far from state withdrawal, trends to multilateralization are part of a new deployment of command and interventionism leading to new forms of behavioral control. Third party policing is seen as part of a “steering” model of security governance, where police seek to govern-at-a-distance through others.

  • Mazerolle, Lorraine, Angela Higginson, and Elizabeth Eggins. 2016. Protocol: Third party policing for reducing crime and disorder: A systematic review. The Campbell Collaboration Library of Systematic Reviews 9. Oslo, Norway: The Campbell Collaboration.

    The protocol sets out the background and framework for a systematic review of third party policing initiatives. The review is intended to evaluate the impact of initiatives on crime and/or disorder problems. The paper starts with a synopsis of what constitutes third party policing, including a logic model of the components and processes involved. A detailed methodology for the review is included.

  • Mazerolle, Lorraine, and Janet Ransley. 2005. Third party policing. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    A comprehensive analysis of the topic, the book argues that third party policing is both a growing trend and a unique strategy operating alongside problem-oriented approaches. The book puts third party policing in the context of global transformations in governance and security, spells out its theoretical and practical dimensions, and assesses evidence on the strategy’s effectiveness and outcomes. The book also addresses possible side effects, unanticipated outcomes, and inequities.

  • Mazerolle, Lorraine, and Janet Ransley. 2006. The case for third party policing. In Police innovation: Contrasting perspectives. Edited by David Weisburd and Anthony A. Braga, 191–206. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511489334.010

    Third party policing is identified as one of eight key policing innovations of the 21st century. The strategy expands the capacity of police to target crime and disorder by creating partnerships that harness partners’ resources and social control powers. Key dimensions of third party policing are described, and the evaluation evidence is summarized.

  • National Academies of Science. 2017. Committee on proactive policing: Effects on crime, communities, and civil liberties. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

    Third party policing is classified as a problem-solving policing strategy that leverages third parties and their capacity for social control as resources to prevent crime and disorder. Third party policing efforts can target people, places, or situations, to solve recurrent problems and prevent future crime.

  • Shearing, Clifford. 2005. Nodal security. Police Quarterly 8.1: 57–63.

    DOI: 10.1177/1098611104267327

    In the new policing paradigm, police are only one node in a network of auspices and providers of security. There has been a profound re-shaping of what policing occurs, by whom, and at whose bidding. The monopoly by public police of policing, built up during much of the 20th century, has evaporated and the contemporary question is how the various security governance nodes can best be funded, coordinated, and integrated.

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