Researcher of the month

Dr Darren Palmer

Associate Professor in Criminology

I want to briefly outline my ‘intellectual journey’ rather than focus solely on my most recent activities. I began my research thinking with a few basic questions related to what I was observing in my immediate surroundings some 25 years ago: why was a new double-story police complex being built in a relatively low crime country town? What impact would this have on police practice? Would this mean ‘overpolicing’ within this town and its surrounds? That was many years ago and although I was encouraged to pursue the research at Honours level by an Irish Professor visiting La Trobe University, I felt it was a topic far too demanding for an Honours thesis so shifted instead to a sociolegal analysis of the then Victorian Crime Compensation Tribunal. It was the first crimes compensation tribunal in the country and one of the first in the world though no research had been conducted into the workings of the Tribunal. So I spent many days sitting in the Old Treasury building in Spring Street, welcomed by the tribunal staff, able to observe select proceedings and conduct a document analysis of previous judgements.

One of the key findings from this research was that two groups dominated successful compensation claims. These were the victims of armed robberies at banks and members of Victoria Police. So, policing returned to my thoughts and I then proceeded to undertake a Masters degree researching a neo-revisionist account of the history of the Victoria Police, which I believed would take me back to the original research questions I had identified for my honours thesis.

As I embarked on archival research at the Public Records Office in Laverton, it became apparent that the rich vein of documents in the period prior to the introduction of legislation establishing the New Police (1852) warranted far more attention than I had originally intended. Thus my ‘history’ became a study of the different forms of police and the emergence of the colony-wide Victoria Police from 1835 to 1852. Though the travels to the then rather isolated Public Records Office were not so welcome, particularly during wet and cold winter days, I thoroughly enjoyed doing this archival research.

From there I decided to undertake PhD scholarship at Griffith University, which involved a comparative study of governing the police in Queensland and Victoria, approached from the standpoint of governmentality studies. Queensland had been through major change following the Fitzgerald Commission of Inquiry (1987), while in Victoria the government, police and many other commentators had persistently denied any systemic corruption and had successfully resisted the scrutiny a Royal Commission or the like brings in revealing many problematic and embedded ‘backstage’ practices. We now know where this ends.

I have since been working on several funded research projects on crime prevention and community safety in the Geelong region, many with a comparative focus, with particular emphasis on crime and safety the night-time economy. Over the past few years I have been involved in approximately $1.5 million of research grants including a major study on the use of ID scanners in licensed premises. While still subject to release from the funding agency, I think the report will have a significant impact on contemporary criminological and broader policy debates regarding the use of surveillance technology, privacy, and accountability. Other current research themes include examining the range of policing authorities that exist to police ‘anti-social behaviour’, the powers they possess and the different spatiotemporal techniques to govern people and places. Finally, one ongoing project involves examining the role of police memorials in shaping police legitimacy.

This research was formally acknowledged when I was recently (2010) a co-recipient of Deakin University Vice Chancellor’s Researcher of the Year Award for Outstanding Contribution to ‘Community Partnerships’.

Along the way, apart from writing individual and collaborative journal articles and grant applications, I had become involved in media commentating by writing Opinion articles and being interviewed for newspapers and on television. Deakin University and our Faculty and School have a very significant media presence and I am happy to play a small role in contributing to this reputation. Compressing your research expertise into what are often short interviews or Opinion articles refines your skill in being able to translate complex issues into relatively brief analysis or comment that is able to be clearly understood by a non-expert audience. It can be very demanding work, and at times requires tempering the enthusiasm of journalists who seek the sensational. However, you also need to be somewhat cautious when you are often talking about police corruption and links to organised crime.

I have also been involved in a number of community groups including being a member of the Victorian Council for Civil Liberties Executive, the Deakin University representative on the Geelong Local Safety Committee and Chairperson of the Geelong Drug Action Plan Committee. This type of activity is invaluable in terms of building community relations, providing expertise where appropriate, and gaining a ‘thick’ understanding of connections between research ideas and community perspectives of various problems or issues.

I am also on the National Executive of the Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology and recently co-convened (with Dr Ian Warren) the 24th Annual Conference at the Geelong Waterfront. This was a wonderful opportunity to showcase Deakin criminology research. The conference also had a full day postgraduate/early career researcher workshop attended by over 50 budding criminology researchers.

Additional academic activities include having been a member of the editorial committee of the Alternative Law Journal, editor of the Socio-Legal Bulletin and I am currently a member of the Editorial Board of the international journal Crime Prevention and Community Safety. I also act as a peer reviewer for a number of criminology journals. These types of activities are important for not only making a broader contribution to the discipline but also for the constant replenishing of academic curiosity and stimulation (OK not always).

Earlier this year I led a team in the successful application to form an Emerging Research Group with the title of Australian Surveillance Studies. We hope to build a Deakin University research program around surveillance studies and develop key links with like-minded groups in Australia and internationally.

I am also thrilled by the opportunity to participate in a new approach to research training and the development of academic careers. Late last year we introduced two new Teaching and Research Fellowships. These positions are somewhat of a hybrid between a scholarship and a grant-based PhD, with appointees required to undertake a PhD in criminology in areas already the subject of grant applications, while also having a funded half-time Level A teaching position. The objective is to work towards having the successful applicants be competitive for a Level B position at the end of 4 years. It is a ground-up approach to building criminology’s research capacity.

Finally, my most recent publications include State Police in a State of Change: Re-making the Entrepreneurial Officer (2009), two co-edited books Crime and Justice (2011) and The Global Environment of Policing (2012) and Crime risks of 3-dimensional virtual environments, Trends and Issues, AIC (2010 with Ian Warren) with two further books currently under consideration.

Associate Professor Darren Palmer


group photo taken at the conference at Deakin Waterfront campus

Photo of keynote speakers at the 24th Annual Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology Conference, 27-30 September 2011.

L to R: Dr Ian Warren (Deakin), Professor Reece Walters (Open University/QUT); Associate Professor Darren Palmer (Deakin); Professor Laureen Snider (Queens, Canada); Dr Adam Tominson (Director, Australian Institute of Criminology).


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