What do we call this new era of policing?

A month before 9/11, William Bratton took to the New York Times to bemoan the Cloudy Future for Policing. The LAPD (and before that, the NYPD) Chief of Police was, at that moment, the champion of community policing, combining CompStat’s ability to track crime statistics with broken windows theory to justify large numbers of arrests for “quality of life” and petty drug offenses. The intent was to let communities know the police were invested in them.

Yet, wrote Bratton, “many of the nation’s police forces face intense scrutiny and criticism for corruption, racial profiling, racial insensitivity, brutality, unresponsiveness to community concerns and professional incompetence.” Bratton warned that this kind of negative talk made it hard to recruit good officers. Nevermind the corruption, racially profiling, brutality, or incompetence.

Then 9/11 happened, and the public relationships problems disappeared.

Though no one knew it at the time, 9/11 also signaled the beginning of the end of the era of community policing. A consensus formed that the attack could have been prevented, and the failure to do so had been a failure of intelligence. The solution was more information – get more and share more.

Even though recommendations for change post-9/11 were directed primarily at the intelligence community, operationalizing the solution required the participation of local police departments: the FBI has only 14,000 special agents, compared to the 700,000 sworn officers working for city, state, and other police agencies around the country. (The CIA insists on keeping mum about its total number of agents.) In the interest of national security, policing entered a new era.

Intelligence-Led Policing.

The previous policing eras, according to experts George Kelling and Mark Moore, started with the bad old days of the Political Era, when police chiefs were more politician than peace officer.  That era was followed by the Reform Era, when reformers tackled corruption by professionalizing police departments. The Reform Era was in turn overtaken by Community Problem-Solving Era, a shining blossom of goodness when police officers maintained order, deterred crime through their presence, and acted as the neighborhood problem solvers.

But the ideals of community policing never matched up to the realities on the street, and even before 9/11 the cheerleaders for community policing had started to sound like they were selling snake oil.

Ten years after 9/11, the RAND Corporation took a look at the state of policing in the U.S. and concluded that post-9/11 shifts have put us in a different era altogether.  The RAND analysts calls it Intelligence-Led Policing.

At first glance, Intelligence-Led Policing (ILP) looks not much different than community policing, albeit dressed out in more military surplus combat gear and stocked with more technology.

But the big difference between ILP  and its predecessors is more than gear and smarts. The big shift is local police departments being encouraged to operate more like an intelligence agency, with cops acting more like spies.  The intelligence that’s gathered is often kept secret, to protect sources, rather than used to get a conviction in criminal court. Being forward leaning means assessing risk rather than merely responding to crime, so a good intelligence-leg police department is one that’s more up in your business and encouraging your neighbor to be all up in your business too.  And the Fourth Amendment? Oh, that old thing…

There are other names and characterizations for this new era of policing. In the United States, there has been a lot of buzz around the term predictive policing, suggesting what is now a specific computer program may soon became a general policing philosophy. Reporters like to call it Minority Report-style policing.  The term proactive policing has some fans. The London Metropolitan Police Service, while amping up its operations for the 2012 Olympics, decided to call it Total Policing (and then spent a pretty penny on the rebranding).

From the POV of those policed.

These terms – community policing, intelligence-led policing, etc. – describe policing from the point of view of the local police department. They tend not to resonate with the experiences of the people who are being most heavily policed.  Residents of Vine City in Atlanta recently had a good group laugh when a police rep told them that the past twenty years of “community policing” has been about maintaining order and acting as the neighborhood problem solvers.  The NYPD has gotten nothing but snickers in insisting that stop & frisk is a form of community policing, and that officers asking for ID and rummaging through your things is just a friendly way to deter crime through police presence.

Hubert Williams and Patrick Murphy’s The Evolving Strategy of Police: A Minority View makes this point well in a 13-pager published by the DOJ in 1990. (Evolving Strategies points out another huge blind spot in Kelling and Moore’s Political/Reform/Community history of policing: it neglects to mention – or understand the significance of – police departments in the United States having originated as slave patrols to maintain order and suppress slave rebellions.)

The challenge, and part of what this blog is about, is to find a term that describes, from the POV of people most heavily policed, this new era of policing. Some things the right term will reflect:

  • From this POV, “policing” means something more than the day to day operations of the local police department. Beat officers from the local police department are engaged in policing, yes, but so are FBI agents, ICE agents, Border Patrol, sheriff deputies, private security, probation officers, corrections officers, and parole officers.
  • The size of the United States’ overall policing apparatus is simply astonishing. The growth of mass incarceration over the past forty years means this new era of policing is one that functions with very different norms around the possibility of lengthy detention for minor infractions, whether criminal or immigration related.
  • There is something intentionally mysterious about this new era of policing. We are not sure whether we are being watched or monitored at any particular time. Nor do we really know what the threat is that we are being protected from.

Help me out here – what do we call this new era of policing?

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