To Protect and Serve Themselves: Police in US Politics since the 1960s

Police Death, Minneapolis, United States - 30 May 2020

by Stuart Schrader  – Public Culture (2019) 31 (3): 601–623 PDF

The police in the United States were once subject to control by political machines. The professionalization process freed police from this control, but it had an unexpected result. Professionalization meant that police answered primarily to themselves, which enabled them to become self-interested. This process transformed the police into a new type of authoritative political actor. This article examines the history and organizational sociology of the transformation of the police since the 1960s, investigating how, through groups like the International Association of Chiefs of Police, police have advocated on their own behalf and interacted with larger political and economic trends. Separate from their role in crime control, police have become entrepreneurial and resistant to fiscal austerity. This article offers a new characterization of the effects of the “war on crime” and “law and order” politics of the 1960s, while paying attention to the surprising Cold War roots of the political autonomy of police.

 

(see also: Origins of the Police by David Whitehouse; The End of Policing by Alex Vitale)

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