How to study police change In the 1990s, policing in the USA witnessed a shift in perspective on how the police were to be effective. Throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, policing had adopted a ‘war on crime’ footing and ‘get tough’ strategies focused on deterrence and incapacitation were widely cast. By the 1990s, it became apparent that such strategies were not particularly effective for the police. At the same time these crime control strategies produced many downsides, especially further community alienation and distrust. What emerged was an overarching philosophy of community policing emphasising community engagement, problem-solving and organisational change. Such strategies were thought to be more effective in dealing with crime and disorder while improving police–community relations and police legitimacy. At the same time, such changes require a ‘re-engineering of police agencies’ often in profound ways. To be sure this was an important turning point for American policing to the extent that what had become a too distant and over-aggressive state presence in already alienated and marginalised communities in major cities – particularly communities of colour – did little to curb crime and disorder and was in need of reform. Crime fighting had taken a turn, at least philosophically, and what followed throughout the late 1990s and into the twentyfirst century was a struggle for a ‘proof of concept’ that such arrangements could actually Policing and Society 3 Downloaded by [University of Cambridge] at 01:25 23 October 2015 work. While many claimed to be community-focused, much rhetoric, white-washing and window-dressing preceded actual change. More often than not studies of the police rely on cross-sectional research designs wherein some aspect of policing (use of force, interactions with the public, and the like) are examined using a variety of research approaches (e.g. surveys, observation, official records analysis, and the like). Occasionally there are, of course, longitudinal studies of the police in one or a few jurisdictions, but in the main such analysis are difficult and expensive to sustain. So in many respects our knowledge of police tactics and behaviour, especially in the community policing era, has been limited by the research questions pursued and by the logistics (and costs) of such research. As a consequence, how we have come to understand the police, policing and institutional change is often de-contextualised, that is, absent a firm rooting in the places where policing ultimately occurs and with the organisational struggles necessary to change police service delivery. From the onset Skogan takes three important issues on in the analysis of Chicago’s experience. First, this research examines Chicago, its police and its communities over time. This tale is about more than a decade of developmental and institutional change, and on-the-ground policing in Chicago’s neighbourhoods. Second, this work situates police action in places identified by racial composition. Chicago, like many urban cities is racially and ethnically segregated; White, Black and Latino communities are often tightly grouped, demonstrating differences in city life. Third, this work is about police change in community settings and the complexities of negotiating such changes in a traditional bureaucracy like the Chicago Police Department. Taken together, the breadth and depth of this series of studies helps us to understand the antecedents to change in Chicago and their effects on neighbourhood crime safety issues. Rarely has a police agency been studied for more than a few years. Skogan’s work chronicles the development of policing in Chicago for over a decade. This is perhaps its most important contribution, as it watches the ebb and flow of change in a city and its police department, and how those changes affect police services at the neighbourhood and community perceptions of the police.
1. Policing and Society. An International Journal of Research and Policy. Jack R. Greene. Police and community in Chicago: a tale of three cities.
2. Police and community in Chicago: a tale of three cities, by Westley G. Skogan, New York, Oxford University Press, 2006, 344 pp., US$41.95 (hardcover), ISBN 9780195 154580.
3. Politics: Chicago model. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Lemann, Nicholas, 1991.
4. The promised land: the great black migration and how it changed America. New York: Random House. Pirsig, Robert M., 1974.