The Limits of Community Policing: Civilian Power and Police Accountability in Black and Brown Los Angeles.

AuthorLongazel, Jamie

The Limits of Community Policing: Civilian Power and Police Accountability in Black and Brown Los Angeles by Luis Daniel Gascon and Aaron Roussell (New York University Press, 2019)

POLICE POWER IS NOT LIMITED TO STRONG-ARM STREET TACTICS. As this book reminds us, police departments also incessantly and quite effectively engage in public relations work. These efforts enhance their legitimacy and justify the power they exert on the ground, especially in poor Black and Brown communities. With a very Gramscian conception of power, Luis Daniel Gascon and Aaron Roussell argue convincingly against the criminological orthodoxy that community policing is part of some new era of enlightened law enforcement. Rather, they see it as the latest in a long line of reformist measures typically initiated following uprisings against racist brutality that offer the false promise of a truce. Promissory vows to work with the community are plentiful, but under that half-heartedly constructed veneer, hardline policing tactics accelerate in the streets.

The authors skillfully execute a fascinating paired ethnography in South Los Angeles, conducting their fieldwork in the years just before the rise of the Movement for Black Lives. The book in this way foreshadows debates in subsequent years. It provides an important critique of reformist policing just in time for a movement-initiated national conversation about police abolition and why simple reforms are never enough. In this way, The Limits of Community Policing makes a welcome contribution to popular debates as well as to a rapidly growing field of critical police studies.

One thread of this critical literature looks at racist policing and how it shapes people's lives. This is of course in addition to a robust public conversation about brutality and police accountability. The ways in which police manufacture consent are less often discussed, however, and academics and popular commentators who take this less traveled path talk about the widespread popularity of the police and their ability to propagate a seemingly impenetrable pro-police ideology (e.g., Loader 1997). This line of inquiry is important. Without it, we lack an understanding of why--even despite widespread protest--there still exists a lack of political will to make meaningful changes to policing in the United States.

What I think the authors of this book do especially well is bring these two lines of inquiry into conversation, demonstrating that...

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