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.
To Protect and Serve Themselves: Police in US Politics since the 1960s
Stuart Schrader teaches Africana studies and sociology at Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of Badges without Borders: How Global Counterinsurgency Transformed American Policing (2019), and his writing has also appeared in Humanity, Journal of Urban History, and NACLA Report on the Americas, among other venues.
Stuart Schrader; To Protect and Serve Themselves: Police in US Politics since the 1960s. Public Culture 1 September 2019; 31 (3): 601–623. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/08992363-7532667
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