The ambiguity of illegality

How police officers in the Dutch Aliens, Identification and Migration Crime Unit cope with conflicting logics.
Dr. Kim Loyens Assistant professor, Utrecht School of Governance, Utrecht University

In January 2013, in each of the ten police region an Aliens police, Identification and Migration Crime Unit (‘Afdeling Vreemdelingenpolitie Idenfiticatie en Migratiecriminaliteit’ or AVIM in Dutch) has been installed as part of the Dutch National Police. Its main tasks are (1) enforcement and surveillance of persons with an illegal status, (2) identification of these people and (3) investigation of migration crime and human exploitation in which illegality might not necessarily be an issue. The police region management decides whether or not these tasks are performed by separate teams. AVIM units include detectives from the former Aliens Police and previously separate human exploitation, organized crime and vice units. While being part of the same unit within a region, one might expect differences in (value) orientation or work ethos between individuals as a result of their different background and experience. Moreover, the various tasks might also imply different orientations. Enforcement and surveillance is oriented towards safeguarding social order performed by illegal criminals (Reiner, 2000), whereas identity control can be linked to the inspection orientation that implies an attitude of suspicion when foreigners’ ‘stories’ about their background do not match the documents they provide. In the migration crime and human exploitation task a traditional crime fighter orientation might be expected (Brown, 1981; Reiner, 1985) in which exploiters are perceived as criminals and those exploited (possibly persons with an illegal status) as victims. These (and possibly other) orientations will in this study be perceived as within-organizational logics (Alford & Friedland, 198; Freidson, 2001; Noordegraaf, 2007), referring to patterns of assumptions, values and rules that provide meaning and guidance to organizational practices. Empirical studies have shown how multiple institutional logics can create tensions or value conflicts within organizations (e.g. Reay & Hinings, 2005; Marquis & Lounsbury, 2007) that can be dealt with by making trade-offs (Bozeman, 2010), by ‘cycling’ between particular values over time (Thatcher & Rein, 2004), by separating values in different institutional structures (Stewart, 2006), by resisting new values or by replacing existing values (Westenholz, 2011). More research is, however, needed on the respective effects of each of these strategies in specific organizational settings. This study thus aims to address the following research question: “Which strategies do police officers in the AVIM use to deal with conflicting within-organizational logics and what are the effects of applying these strategies?” A qualitative case study will be conducted in the AVIM in three Dutch police regions (that show maximal variation concerning relevant factors), by means of participant observation and in-depth interviews.