Protect Then Serve
This article focuses on the efforts of executives and their organizational cohesion, rather than the rank and file and the effects of unionization. For executives organized extrajurisdictionally, professionalism enables political autonomy. For rank-and-file officers, political autonomy enables professional insulation. Internal conflict and variegation within police, however, must further be analyzed in terms of macro-level changes in political economy. A key component of the rescaling processes shaping urban finances and governance in the period under examination has been what David Harvey characterized as the shift from managerialism to entrepreneurialism.
US police organizations have also been caught in this shift. Political demands for crime control in this period have had great affinities with the economic turn toward urban entrepreneurialism, as city governments compete with each other, using crime rates as proxies for consumer desirability. But less appreciated has been the way that this condition has pushed police departments to become entrepreneurs themselves. They have advocated for their own interests, within a matrix of urban competitiveness shaped by racialized fears of crime.
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At the national scale, organizations like the IACP have pushed for greater sector-wide fiscal endowments. At state and local scales, police departments have competed with each other and competed with other administrative state agencies for resources. This intrastate competition is nestled within locational competition among municipalities for mobile capital investment.
Police have frequently won this competition, which helps explain why fiscal austerity has not been applied uniformly within and among the fifty states and their municipalities. This research reveals the surprising convergence between orthodox Marxist and liberal theoretical approaches to police.
Both remain ahistorical and inattentive to the shifts across the twentieth century in policing charted here.
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Both often fail to grasp the state itself as complex and contradictory, presuming rather than demonstrating that state legitimacy is achieved and uniformly shared across state apparatuses. Neither theorizes how actors within the state instrumentalize legitimacy for their own purposes. The orthodox Marxist approach posits the police as an instrument of class rule, a conduit for exogenous forces to impinge, mainly through coercion, upon exogenous objects, from dominating to dominated.
The police consistently aid class rule by acting according to external dictates transmitted from an often monolithic-seeming capitalist class. Again, class and other forms of conflict occur outside the police, but occasionally police take a predictable side.
If the police can devise procedures that enable them not to take a side, then their neutrality will be preserved, and fairness will be within reach. The alternative approach developed here understands the police as possessing a specific institutional materiality and a scale-selective mode of operations. Building on the insight of Nicos Poulantzas that the state is a social relation—a material condensation of a balance of forces expressed in a specific form—the police too might be understood as a social relation, in addition to the rationalizer of social relations that exist beyond them.
The state, for Poulantzas, comprises social relations expressing and realizing dominant and subordinate forces through specific agencies or branches. These branches contend strategically with each other within the state for ideological and resource primacy. Policing is also an internally contested field, but police are endowed with material interests and political wherewithal to realize those interests.
Such inwardly directed action is semiautonomous from what police outwardly do to secure the conditions for capital accumulation and enforce and perpetuate racial inequality. Police are not neutral or frictionless vessels that transmit exogenous forces. Nor are police the thin blue line, as they have historically understood themselves: the bearers of reason and virtue, against the chaos of civil society.
Rather, police are institutionally striated, with officers and units channeled in competing directions technoscience is one, manual labor is another. Police self-organize according to this contestation, with capital-intensive professionalization as one expression. But police action in the current era represents not simply the reassertion of the power of the dominating classes but the police acting as a type of dominating class for itself, inscribing its power on the state and civil society.
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Police action to rationalize social relations is their downscaling prerogative of governance; police action to endow themselves with resources and institutional autonomy from onerous oversight is their upscaling prerogative. This perspective suggests a superordinate unity behind contending popular understandings of the current era of policing, such as militarized, order maintenance, data driven, or community policing.
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All entail organized police activity to bolster their own power, independence, and resources, conditioned by a macro-level political economy of interjurisdictional and intrajurisdictional competitiveness. The conditions of the current moment of politically self-interested advocacy by police grew out of contradictions of the earlier professionalization moment. The IACP has been at the center of both. Police have never spoken with a unified voice. Leaders of the IACP, however, attempted to speak on behalf of the profession.
This move was successful in creating institutional, if not ideological, coherence among police, even as it created new divisions and challenges for purposeful and unified action. As a private, membership-based organization and publisher of a major magazine, The Police Chief , the IACP advocated on behalf of police as a whole. Yet it did not actually represent them because it was not a democratically accountable organization.
In general, police have been happy to accept the resources since the s but have been less willing to accept the demand for professionalization. In effect, a divide opened between the top echelon of police executives and the rank and file.
It was not new but became exacerbated as leaders tried to insist that their officers undertake new approaches to patrol, investigation, and emergency and special-event preparedness. The rank and file saw professionalizing reforms as a form of undue control over them. These cops used the newfound legitimacy of police to make fiscal demands on the state. The push to delink the quest for resources from the quest for reform has been largely successful.
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Resources flowed, but the money was not conditional on reforms IACP leaders also wanted, thanks to the design of the funding infrastructure and to long-standing conservative nostrums, as well as the architecture of federalism. Two major impediments to the organization of police as a coherent political force have characterized the decades since the s. The first preexisted the era of professionalization: geographic unevenness.
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Compared to big-city police executives, small-city and rural police executives faced dramatically different social situations, crime profiles, demographics, and, most importantly, resource availability. Further, small-city chiefs have long tended to be more politically conservative and beholden to local political interests than big-city chiefs, especially after the IACP in the s and s successfully advocated new hiring practices for police chiefs that would enable the appointment of individuals who had not risen through the ranks of a given force he or she was to oversee.
To lessen the impediment of unevenness was a target of the very political intervention that ushered in the war on crime. It was a struggle to garner greater shares of the fiscal pie for law enforcement. Lawmakers designated how LEAA funding could be used and kept it from offering direct infusions of cash to pay full salaries of new police hires, buy new equipment, or purchase land for building new facilities. Police chiefs may have desired such infusions in the s, but Congress did not allow such federal funding until the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act.
Geographic unevenness was not impervious to federal outlays. In contrast, a divide between police chiefs and rank-and-file officers, also pre-existing, grew as professionalization became dominant. In general, the leading professionalizers of the mid-twentieth century saw the route to reform and modernization of policing as the institutionalization of a more military-like hierarchy, with greater controls on the activities of patrol officers.
These controls would be ensured not only by more extensive training requirements but also by explicit procedural codes. The particular modality of the war on crime, which made most funding contingent on innovative research-intensive measures, heightened hierarchical tensions. These measures often required new everyday routines among officers. Many chafed at such requirements. Moreover, this division overlapped with geographic unevenness, as few small-city chiefs were deeply interested in innovation, though some realized that innovative and experimental reforms might raise their own professional profiles while additionally garnering new revenue streams Schrader This new orthodoxy has earned a range of labels.
Some of them would resist the form professionalization took. Professionalization was supposed to claim external legitimacy, but this organizing principle corroded from the inside. The generation of police leaders associated with professionalization was aging out over the course of the s Bittner By the beginning of the s an upstart generation was challenging it, including academic figures like George Kelling and police executives like Daryl Gates of Los Angeles and Clarence Kelley of Kansas City Tafoya The fiscal infrastructure to at last achieve professionalization came into being in with the commencement of the federal war on crime and the creation of the OLEA.
At this moment, professionalizers were accomplishing their goal of political independence for police, in reaction to the preceding politicized version of policing. Yet political independence was not enough because police legitimacy was fragile. Protests against racialized injustice, including police killings of Black people, spurred nearly all the civil unrest of the s. These destructive events troubled the hope for slow but steady achievement of professionalism, and persistent corruption in many big-city forces seemed impervious to professionalization.
For police executives, professionalization would help bolster legitimacy, but the demands it placed on rank-and-file officers were high. Routinization, methodical planning, and military-like adherence to standards, which professionalizers ordered, provoked rank-and-file revolt. These conditions created the structural context for police to embody a new type of authoritative political actor. In the period while fiscal austerity shaped government budgets across the United States and union density shrank, police in most locales managed to buck these two major trends, in part because union or union-like activity dovetailed with police-managerial efforts to resist austerity even as rank-and-file demands clashed with managerial efforts to reform work routines.
In the contemporary moment of precipitously declining crime rates in most areas of the United States, the capacities police developed in their entrepreneurial or rollout efforts have now become surplus. Rather than allow these capacities to evaporate, police protect them. Police have become unwilling to let go of their competitively realized gains, placing their self-interested advocacy at an increasing distance from achieving their nominal mission of crime control. The initial impetus for police to issue greater demands on the federal government had an unlikely origin: a forgotten Cold War effort to prevent communist revolution across the globe.
Police from Iran, South Vietnam, Somalia, Chile, and many other countries visited stationhouses in US cities and towns, as well as a range of other destinations, including colleges, manufacturers of technical policing implements, military bases, prisons, and so on. The idea was to demonstrate the US model of professional policing, as well as to cultivate relationships between these police officials and US intelligence agencies.
At its peak, the program brought upward of three hundred foreign police officials to the United States annually. Although the IACP admitted there were inefficiencies in its coordination of the program, the program still entailed a lot of work. Around sixty thousand days of local police work went into hosting, orienting, and training visiting police officials.
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