Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology

2022 ANZSOC Awards: Best Honours or Masters Thesis in Criminology Award

Maegan Miccelli was awarded the Best Honours or Masters Thesis in Criminology Award for her Honours Thesis ‘‘They Did Their Best’ Resilience Policing During the Black Summer Bushfires‘.

Penning down an idea and really seeing it come to life is probably the most individually rewarding aspect of research. Personally, my research came to life because of three things: excellent supervision, the time and effort taken by participants to share their stories, and a real dedication to an important narrative. My dearest thanks reach out to Dr. Jarrett Blaustein, Dr. Kate Burns and Dr. Ross Hendy for their invaluable support and insight throughout the process.

My Honours project principally engaged with a nodal perspective that re-imagines ‘policing’. In today’s world, we take for granted the assumption that policing and police work is primarily concerned with crime prevention and reaction. In a context that battles with surges in mental health crises, climate change and social discord, policing must be ready to face challenges beyond the strict boundaries of crime. We find ourselves in a world where (social, economic, political, etc.) harms – both in the form of crime and beyond crime – are our greatest risks. Taking on this perspective, policing is about more than simply upholding the law; it’s about collaboration, social cohesion and harm reduction.

My thesis uses this ‘governance-through-harm’ paradigm (Berg & Shearing 2018) to explore what harm-centric policing looks like in response to climate change. Utilising the Black Summer Bushfires in 2019-20 as a case study, I travelled to a rural Victorian community to chat with local Victoria Police officers and community members about police roles and responsibilities in response to the fires. Three key findings emerged:

  • We must listen to local knowledge and perspectives to enhance police legitimacy, inform a more effective emergency response, and ensure communities receive what they need pre- and post- emergency;
  • Policing is about more than the police; governing through harm requires contributions from multiple webbed actors, and these actors should be positioned to communicate and collaborate with each other outside of silos if we want to protect our communities; and
  • As a more blue sky point, if we, as human beings, are to negotiate our way through the dawn of the Anthropocene, we need to reconsider the assumptions that underlie traditional security governance.

There are obvious caveats to my research. The most important is that unequal power relations are not considered in the thesis, which is a real problem as a diverse range of voices are not included. As a result, my PhD research at ANU is going to focus on the perceived legitimacy of the police in ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ communities in the context of emergency management. 

Nevertheless, there is much research and practice to be developed as we navigate through the multiplying risks we face today. I hope that my ongoing research that re-imagines policing through a harm-centric perspective can contribute some direction to how we might approach this complexity and uncertainty.