Sleiman and Lippert: Downtown ambassadors, police relations and ‘clean and safe’security
- This article investigates uniformed patrols called ‘ambassadors’ that are increasingly providing security in the cores of
Ambassadors are distant from police and private security selfdesignations, operations and appearances to the benefit of
police and downtown businessoriented associations, but not so remote as to lose vital benefits of these links.
Ambassador practices include acting as police ‘eyes and ears’ and governing ‘nuisance’ using indirect and unauthorised
strategies. In these arrangements ambassadors are not so much ‘steered’ by police as they are ‘anchored’, suggesting
notions of ‘networked governance’ and government ‘at a distance’ while otherwise valuable approaches are inappropriate
Making sense of ambassador practices and relations with police is better accomplished through reference to a lower level
‘clean and safe’ rationality that constitutes ambassadors as both its agents and targets.
According to one Canadian programme, ambassadors’ prime directive is to ‘welcome everyone’ to the downtown area
Ambassadors secure downtown consumption zones through an array of direct, oblique and occasionally unofficial
strategies. Prohibited by public police from acting or selfrepresenting as private security or public police, at times
ambassadors advantageously flirt with such appearances or feign direct communication with these authorities.
These efforts are typically intended to encourage panhandlers, ‘loitering’ youth and other street ‘nuisances’ to cease their
conduct or move on. Thus, ambassadors also do less than ‘welcome everyone’ to the city core.
Governance, Rationalities, Security
This article investigates the discourses, practices and institutional arrangements of downtown ambassador programmes
through a sociology of governance perspective.
‘Governance’ means ‘any attempt to control or manage any known object’
Ambassador programmes are closely associated with BIAs (or similar organisations), some of which are becoming more
involved in security provision
While a neoliberal or ‘advanced liberal’ rationality befits the private, entrepreneurial character of BIAs, reference to this
broad rationality alone fails to lay bare governing practices and arrangements of ambassador programmes, including their
links with the public police.
It is inadequate to suggest consistent with this rationality that ambassadors merely carry out the state’s wishes ‘at a
Within recent influential theories of ‘networked governance’ the public police (i.e. the state) are in principle not
necessarily involved in a given network. However, the public police are nonetheless often found to adopt a vital role in a
given security programme.
if public police are neither steering nor rowing to borrow the wellworn nautical metaphor, they may well be anchoring
others’ security supports and provision.
For these reasons police and the rationalities that shape their relations with other security auspices and providers such as
ambassadors warrants special empirical attention.
Rather than assuming the starting point of advocates of networked governance or of the ‘advanced liberal’ notion of
governing ‘at a distance’, with whom we otherwise share assumptions and objectives in seeking to understand security
governance, we prefer instead to seek out lower level and less grand(iose) rationalities of which we assert ‘clean and
safe’ is an exemplar that may better render these relations and practices intelligible.
The character of ambassador programmes and practices is secured to the discursive and organisational nature of relations
with public police. These relations are complex, distant and entail exchanging knowledge derived from street surveillance
for some degree of training, limited affiliation and tacit tolerance.
Ambassadors are imagined remaining distant and distinct from police and private security selfdesignations, operations
and appearances for reasons beneficial to police and to local business organisations that initiate these programmes, but not
so remote as to lose vital benefits upon which ambassador operations and practices depend.
clean and safe’ rationality is the governing logic in which ambassadors seek to provide security and transform the
physical reality and imaginings of city centres while avoiding, but never straying too far from, programmatic self
designation as police or security personnel.
This rationality’s scope is physical and social, and constitutes ambassadors as both its agents and targets. Accordingly,
‘clean and safe’ shapes ambassadors’ relations with police, patrols for crime and ‘nuisance’ conduct, mass media
communications and even personal appearance.
BIA and ambassador programs
ambassador programs in cities across modern west
1 BIA involves local business owners. Seek to encourage investment and consumption within a targeted urban area
usually a downtown core but also retail strips using funds generated from a mandatory charge on all area businesses
The three ambassador programmes studied are operative in small and midsized cities dependent on automobile and steel
manufacturing and commodity production, economic sectors in steep decline.
Their downtowns exhibit boardedup and empty storefronts and have experienced difficulty retaining retail and other
small businesses. A key way BIAs attempt to respond to such conditions and foster increased consumption is through
image improvement via ‘streetscaping’ enhancements, marketing events and more intensive security provision
Ambassador programmes are consonant with these mostly cosmetic developments, with one BIA representative
remarking in an interview that ambassadors would help endow the downtown with a ‘new face
The mission statements of ambassador programmes declare cleanliness and safety as central goals
Programmes imagine ambassadors patrolling transitional urban spaces of consumption as a peculiar blend of
‘hospitality’ and security provision.
Ambassadors are to guide visiting consumers and provide services to local businesses while actively patrolling for crime
and ‘nuisance’ behaviour.
Police-- ambassador relations
Policeambassador relations are distant and complex. Police seek to ensure ambassadors avoid representing themselves
or appearing as police or private security, which is to say, the distinction between police and security personnel and
ambassadors is itself policed. To limit misperceptions, prior to police approving one ambassador programme, a police
representative demanded uniform restrictions
The primary prohibition was from wearing shirt styles smacking of authority or similar to those worn by police and
private security personnel. One ambassador programme went as far as to instruct ambassadors ‘never [to] leave anyone
with the impression that they are [police] or they may be subject to criminal charges for impersonating a police officer’
(Manual 2). Police seek to protect symbolic territory. Yet, as discussed later, ambassadors are able to exercise authority
through their uniform’s ambiguity and feigning direct communication links to police.
Ambassador programme supervisors also vehemently deny the programme is a form of security, yet suggest ambassadors
police cooperation remarked distance as vital for ‘liabilityrisk issues for the City, for the BIA, and for the ambassadors
themselves. It was important that they understood that security was not a component of their duties’ (Interview 15).
Distance is established, then, due to direct police demands but also the secondary benefits of avoiding at least in the
jurisdictions studied governance through private security regulation and broader private insurance requirements
impinging onBIAs to avoid liability exposure.
Eyes and Eears Surveillance
Policing and security provision is characterised by information gathering and sharing.
A rationale for public police to forge cooperative relationships with ambassadors, then, is to gather information about
spatial and temporal patterns of activity on downtown streets. As with policedominated prevention programmes such as
Crime Stoppers and Neighbourhood Watch that encourage the relay of risk knowledge to police, ambassadors are oft
constituted through the bodily metaphor of ‘eyes and ears’. Information produced through visual and audio surveillance is
to be transferred to, presumably, a police body and brain.
Ambassadors transfer knowledge about identified problems quickly and consequently allow police to respond with
enhanced efficiency, thereby potentially benefiting both police and the
In exchange, ambassador programmes provided with police support in varying degrees. Police grant corporate approval
for ambassador programmes, which is antecedent to establishing ambassador operations. Thus, ambassadors conduct
surveillance for police and are listed in police texts and websites either as official ‘partners’ or affiliates.
Police also provide training to ambassadors and occasionally consult with supervisors before special events. In
addition to such general agreements, specific police rationales for relying on ambassadors as ‘eyes and ears’ surveillance
include ambassadors’ citizenship obligation
As citizens, ambassadors assumed responsible to report unlawful occurrences to police, which from a police perspective
justifies withholding the bestowal of special legitimacy to ambassadors to act. One police representative remarked that
since downtown residents are especially apathetic about reporting crime, establishment of ambassador programmes was a
hopeful turning point
Thus, police acknowledged the need for citizen and community assistance in reporting crime to respond to downtown
2 Typically ambassador supervisors establish stronger connection with police than do ambassador patrols. Yet, aside from
occasional consultation on an oncall basis, personal supervisionpolice dealings are few. Police have no official
oversight of ambassador operations (as might be expected