Book Review: Policing in America: A Balance of Forces (3rd ed.). By Robert H. Langworthy and Lawrence F. Travis, III. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2003, 492 pages.

AuthorGregory D. Russell
Published date01 May 2003
Date01 May 2003
Subject MatterReview
REVIEWJournal of Contemporary Criminal Justice / May 2003BOOK REVIEWS
Policing in America: A Balance of Forces (3rd ed.). By Robert H.
Langworthy and Lawrence F. Travis, III. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice
Hall, 2003, 492 pages.
DOI: 10.1177/1043986203251078
Reviewing a text book is, in my view, a difficult and treacherous task. Why?
Because, you not only must make inquiry about the overall intellectual value of the
book but also, at a far more instrumental level,must inquire as to its serviceability in a
plethora of programs, courses, and institutions, all of which differ in substantial ways.
That said, this review considers both sets of questions, with an emphasis on the latter
set of questions.
The authors are both highly respected researchers in their field. Accordingly, one
would expecta book in its third edition to be written well, organized in a fashion that is
meaningful to a wide range of readership, and relatively consistent to the plan of the
book. That is certainly true here. Generally speaking, the plan of the book is set on the
premise that policing is an organizational process that balances a set of competing
forces in American society and culture, some legal and formal and others social and
informal. In addition, the process of balancing is explained by the “correlates of polic-
ing” or those sets of social, institutional, and human attributesthat produce varieties in
police behavior.Although this paraphrases the author’s objectives, it fairly represents
the intent of the text—to discuss the formation, evolution, and operation of policing
organizations in the United States by reference to sets of social and political forces (to
which I would add institutional and economic, which the authors do eventually in an
offhand manner) that gave rise to and influence the operation of policing organiza-
tions. This is at least a reasonable setting within which to nest their discussion. But
again, this depends on the audience.
This is the primary issue with this text. I will say at the outset that I had not read the
second edition and that this is a good improvementover the first. So, in many respects,
given the interveningyears, this is a review of first impression. My initial observation
is that this book is heavily based in theory—social theory, organizationaltheory and
behavior,bureaucratic politics, and to a degree, criminological theory roughly stated.
I applaud the effortat basing a text so deeply in theory and find it useful in a number of
circumstances, but this comes with some critical observations as well. First, let us
examine the most appropriate setting for its use.
I think this text would be useful in an undergraduate course that focuses on social
interactions with police—police and society,in most programs. It would not be useful
in a program with multiple policing courses in which no single course examined the
overarchingevolution and practice of policing. I am not aware of any empirical analy-
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, Vol. 19 No. 2, May 2003 253-258
© 2003 Sage Publications

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