0 downloads 0 Views 810KB Size Report
liberties are treated as technicalities that obstruct proper law enforcement and .... of the media, not to emphasize the discourse of crime control but to allow for ...... police violence in Toronto and New York over a 15-year time span, and case ...
CriminalJmUce Review Volume 26, Number 2, Autumn 2001

O2001 College of Health and Human Sciences Georgia State University

Book Review Essay: A PERFECT COMMAND OF POWER: MEDIA REPRESENTATIONS OF POLICE POWER AND ABUSE Cyndi Banks Cop Knowledge: Police Power and Cultural Narrative in Twentieth-Century America By Christopher P. Wilson (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. Pp. xii, 281) The Politics of Force: Media and the Construction of Police Brutality By Regina G. Lawrence (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. Pp. xiv, 254) Making News of Police Violence: A Comparative Study of Toronto and New York City By Jeffrey Ian Ross (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2000. Pp. xviii, 174) The very first set of instructions to constables, published in England in 1829, reminded new police officers that "there is no qualification more indispensable to a Police Officer than a perfect command of temper, never suffering himself to be moved in the slightest degree, by any language or threats that may be used; if he does his duty in a quiet and determined manner, such conduct will probably induce well-disposed by-standers to assist him should he require it" (quoted in Skolnick & Fyfe, 1993, p. 70). When set against the recent cases of Abner Louima and Amadou Diallo and the 1991 beating of Rodney King this exhortation to have "a perfect command of temper" seems especially pointed. Most recently, the conduct of a drunken police officer, Joseph Gray, who ran down and killed four people in his minivan after a marathon day of drinking, has again brought into question the degree of supervision exercised over police officers by their superiors, as well as the attitude of mind that could describe this incident, and those of Louima, Diallo, 233


Cyndi Banks

and King, as an "anomaly"—^the term used by the President of the Captain's Endowment Association in describing the Gray incident (Jones & Flynn, 2001). The appearance of these three books is therefore timely because they are concerned in one way or another with the standard of conduct for police as they interact with the public, as well as the relationship between abuse of police power and its depiction by the media. Only one of the books—that by Jeffrey Ian Ross—was actually authored by a criminologist; Christopher Wilson is a Professor of English, and Regina Lawrence is an Assistant Professor of Political Science. These incursions into the field of policing by other disciplines are to be welcomed and can only add to the stock of knowledge about this most intractable issue. This is not the place to enter into any sustained discussion about police use of excessive force and media coverage of such incidents. There are innumerable studies on the interaction between the police and the public as well as theoretical statements that demonstrate the centrality of the lawful use of force or threat of force to the policing function. As Skolnick & Fyfe (1993) put it, "police training continually reminds recruits that coercive power is a central feature of police life" (p. 95). The debate about what constitutes "excessive force" is now inextricably linked to media images of policing that perpetually inscribe the image of the unreal cop whose excesses may well be condoned in the interests of crime control, so long, of course, as his aberrations in conduct are visited on someone else. In terms of police excess, Carlson has shown how, in the world of prime time crime, civil liberties are treated as technicalities that obstruct proper law enforcement and benefit criminals (Carlson, 1985, cited in Perlmutter, 2000, p. 37). Interactions between the police and the public are potential sites for police indulgence in excess violence, inasmuch as research has shown that manifesting disrespect toward a cop strikes at the very core of both his self-image and his mediated image (they may be identical for some) and hearkens back to the days when policing the neighborhood meant keeping order through actual force and its threat (Haller, 1996, p. 21). (Interestingly, in their discussions of disrespect to police, none of the authors under review mentions the research showing that women police are less likely than men to incite a violent response and more willing to use reason rather than force or threats; see, for example, Martin & Jurik, 1996, p. 219.) Moreover, as is so often the case, there is a race issue here, as research has demonstrated that African-Americans who are regarded as suspects in a police-public interaction tend to be more disrespectful toward the police (Black, 1971, cited in Crank, 1998, p. 178; Walker, Spohn, & DeLone, 2000, p. 99). Ericson (1992) has revealed that police used excessive force routinely in the riots and disturbances of the 1960s, especially against African-Americans, and Skolnick and Fyfe (1993, p. 24) trace police brutality back to lynching and vigilante acts—^most often invoked, again, against African-Americans—revealing how police violence is yoked to notions of white supremacy and overt racism. At least one commentator on policing has warned of the dangers of paramilitary SWAT-type

Criminal Justice Review


police units, which he asserts are increasingly used for normal police functions (Crank, 1998, p. 72) and which "adopt the training, the language, the planning and the weaponry of warriors" (Kraska, 1996, cited in Crank, 1998, p. 73). There have been many studies of the media and their representation of crime showing how the media construct crime, including the seminal work of Hall, Critcher, Jefferson, Clarke, and Roberts (1978) on mugging in Britain, which analyzed the process of news production from the point of obtaining potential stories through to thefinishedcommodity of a news story. The role ofthe media in reflecting and upholding white middle-class values, especially in the face of violence (which is projected as showing a "fundamental rupture in the social order"), has been critically assessed by Hall et al. (1978, p. 68), and the media's contribution to the discourse of crime control has been the subject of a number of important studies (see, for example, Chesney-Lind, 1999; Websdale & Alvarez, 1998). The tension between crime control talk and the voices of those who offer competing and alternative definitions of events mirrors the tension that the police officer experiences between his roles as protector ofthe public and as aggressive crime fighter. It appears that police are enlarging their symbiotic relationship with the media, with whom they have long been on intimate terms. They have always been good providers of news for the media and have now developed remarkable competence in public relations, actively cultivating media attention for their projects and concerns. Recently, David Perlmutter in an ethnographic study of police work has suggested that cops employ a mediacentric framework, believing that "TV and movies are the standard to which other people hold them" (Perlmutter, 2000, p. xiii), and for a number of years now television reality programming has presented policing as a form of entertainment, where "everything is set to music; up tempo rock for chase scenes, piano/synthesizer sentimental pieces for the victim" (Donovan, 1998, p. 135). The potential for continuing or even increasing police abuse of force seems more likely as mediated images of incidents of expedient policing feed police attitudes toward the public and paramilitary SWAT units are used to clear the streets of those who are considered deviant. At the root of the problem is the discretion enjoyed by the patrol cop and the absence of significant oversight or review of his or her exercise of that discretion. Efforts to rein in that discretion have resulted in elaborate rule books that in practice cannot deal with all ofthe situations that a cop will encounter and that are therefore regarded as an impediment to real police work. Nevertheless, as Manning (1997, p. 295) points out, there is a considerable body of opinion that advocates making more rules, including judicial rules, to reduce the extent of street-level decision making and increase the possibility of review. In light ofthe power vested in police by the state to apply force to the public—^a right denied to all other persons—it is surely reasonable to expect some circumscribing of police discretion as one means of reducing the chance of abuse of those powers.


Cyndi Banks

In this context it is therefore important to understand how to harness the power of the media, not to emphasize the discourse of crime control but to allow for alternative voices and critical viewpoints about police and policing to be heard. If these critical voices can invade the crime control talk and gain increased media attention, there is some hope that accountability (a word hitherto sanctified only in crime control discourse) might also be visited on the police for their acts and defaults. Critical to gaining access to the media is the ability to satisfy the media's values, including the notion of "newsworthiness." Hall et al. (1978, p. 54) suggest that this notion is constituted generally by items that are out ofthe ordinary, that concern elite persons or events, that are dramatic, and that can be personalized to manifest emotions such as sadness and humor, as well as events that have negative consequences. According to Surette (1992, p. 62), newsworthy crime stories are determined by "the type of crime competitively interacting with other potential news, a reporter's time and interest, the willingness of sources to provide information and the quality ofthe information being provided," and Chermak (1994, pp. 116-124) suggests that crime stories are graded by their characteristics into "Tertiary, Secondary, Primary and Super Primary," the spectrum ranging from space fillers in the first category to stories with the potential to become important, to stories that have actually become important, through to the very highest level of newsworthiness where celebrities are involved and follow-up stories are imperative. Extrapolating from this analysis, it seems likely that where the "Super Primary" story must continually be fed with fresh material there is a greater likelihood of alternative voices being heard. Adding to the stock of knowledge concerned with getting media attention is a valuable exercise when, as in the case of police abuse of force, there exist no definitive or comprehensive data on the nature and frequency of such incidents, there is little intemal accountability within police forces, and alternative accounts of alleged abuses are rendered illegitimate or invalid or are discounted by the overpowering force of crime control talk. The works of Lawrence and Ross have something in common, as they are both concerned with the use of police force and both present specific studies ofthe use of force—or violence, as Ross calls it. Wilson, however, in his elegantly written and somewhat whimsical book, concerns himself with what he terms a series of literary encounters with police authority in urban USA. Disarmingly, Wilson declares early in his book that he has no illusions that his "analysis will register within contemporary criminological debates" (p. 8), asserting that his book is for cultural historians and literary critics. However, I believe that criminologists can gain something from his work, especially in the way that it mines both literature and the news media for historical and contemporary representations of police. The material presented in the texts by Lawrence and Ross will be more familiar to criminologists (and perhaps for most of us more accessible), but those texts are in many respects less challenging and stimulating than Wilson's work. Perhaps this is a function ofthe sameness of many criminological projects.

Criminal Justice Review


COP KNOWLEDGE In Cop Knowledge, Wilson sets out to address police power and its exercise. He is careful to warn us that he rejects the arguments of those who see power only in terms of Foucauldian notions of power and discipline, explaining that projects that rely on Foucault's theoretical underpinnings are suspect because they ignore the concrete reality of police and citizen interactions and the power relations within which they occur. Importantly for criminologists, Wilson reminds us that our popular understanding of crime comes from the knowledge economy that has the police at its center, pointing out that the power of police to legitimately name and pronounce upon acts is rarely challenged. This echoes Peter Manning's comment that policing involves a structural dilemma; as a result of their experience with criminals, police believe that they are able to decide on guilt or innocence before making an arrest, even though issues of guilt or innocence are matters properly for the courts, judges, and juries (Manning, 1997, p. 108). Wilson's interest is with municipal policing, as opposed to Foucauldian surveillance, and with questions concerning the form that municipal policing power has taken and the eifect that police reforms have had on that power—^the kinds of power that writers, journalists, and novelists see in the police—and with the extent to which the news media have shaped an understanding of police authority. This is not an institutional history of police; rather, Wilson's analysis centers on the symbolic authority of cops as it is revealed through the telling of stories and engagement with the media, and he moves between institutional history and media forms throughout his work. The text presents a series of historical and contemporary engagements with police power, each intended to explicate something about the relevance of police power in cultural terms as it influences and shapes political thought about modem democratic society. Thus, Wilson makes use of authors such as Stephen Crane and movies like The Naked City, as well as the author Joseph Wambaugh (a former police officer turned novelist and screenwriter) and writers in the genre of "true crime," as well as criminal events in the city of Boston (his home), to link cultural developments with issues of police power. Criminologists will be familiar with much of the material in the chapters on "Professionalism and the Police Procedural," which has a focus on the institutional professionalism of the police, and "Blue Knights and Brown Jackets," which discusses the culture of policing in Los Angeles in the 1960s. Generally, the author shows familiarity with many academic studies of policing and police power as well as with institutional police history, and consequently criminologist readers will find, among the literary and cultural references, discussions of the work of such criminologists as Skolnick (1975), Skolnick and Fyfe (1993), Reiss (1972), and Fogelson (1977) and the work by Hall et al. in Policing the Crisis (1978). Wilson points out that he attempts in each chapter to link police power with institutional police history and with cultural and media representations of police.


Cyndi Banks

There is also a political subtext that the author says "involves broaching how the police have come to dramatize some of the central issues of twentieth-century liberalism" (p. 14) and a foray into police culture as the author discusses the theme of the ethnic subculture of policing, especially its whiteness, as expressed through the Irish, German, Italian, and Polish makeup of many municipal police departments. Finally, Wilson also canvases the issue of class as it is linked to the police ideal of the beat patrol. The historical period covered in the book is a complete century, but this is not a linear study of the history of the reform of policing in the U.S. Wilson's work is properly located in the borderlands of criminology, culture studies, and history and his presentational strategy makes for a dense read. Essentially, the book is a series of essays, each of which can stand alone. Wilson's first chapter on Stephen Crane, Theodore Roosevelt, and the police is a good example of the strategy that he follows throughout his study as he connects policing and police power with Roosevelt's reforms and uses Crane's experience in the Tenderloin district of New York as a portal into media representations of the police and the police power to name events. He reviews the police reforms of the later 1800s promoted by Roosevelt and others and asserts that reforms such as the introduction of the patrol wagon and the rogues gallery had the effect of making the police more proactive because officers were now trained to be suspicious. He narrates an incident involving Crane (who was seeking to study the life of a policeman in New York) and a prostitute, arguing that, in arresting the prostitute for soliciting after an interview with Crane, when two men had simply passed her on the street, the police in the Tenderloin area of New York were able to exercise power and force simply by narrating events; that is to say, only their version of what occurred held authenticity. He follows this with a discussion of how the incident was reported by Crane himself, and this leads to a detailed exposition of 1890s journalism as it depicted the events involving Crane and to an analysis of police power as it was narrated by Crane and the news media. Police propaganda is one of the many subjects of chapter 2, which is largely concerned with the development of professionalism within the police. The police procedural, exemplified in the movie The Naked City, emphasizes detached, impersonal investigation of crime—^the "just the facts ma'am" school of policing. Wilson argues that the conventions and ethos of the police procedural can best be understood as part of a broader reformation of political consent to police power—a blend of procedure and public relations. It is at this point, he asserts, that the police discovered the value of public relations in terms of emphasizing their crime fighting rather than their social work role. He argues, interestingly, that police tended to emphasize the labor of being a police officer in order to identify with the workers whom they were protecting and that this gave them a human face. In a discussion about the reforms that began with Volmer and led ultimately to the Wickersham Report of 1931, he notes how the Depression allowed for more selective hiring, so

Criminal Justice Review


that, for example, the FBI was able to draw on a pool of unemployed college graduates to establish its professionalism. It was at this point that the police argued that the criminal had become a professional and they needed to be the same. AlAough he touches on the question of whether police professionalism is in reality bureaucracy, Wilson does not debate this issue in any depth. It is of course a staple of policing studies; see, for example. Manning (1997, p. 170). From The Naked City, Wilson moves on to a brief discussion of the work of Ed McBain, writing in the police professional genre. Wilson illustrates how McBain's work emphasizes the tedium of police work and the dependence of police on the cooperation of the public. The cultivation of dispassion is seen as a crucial component of the genre, which represents the police as masters of their trade and depicts the public as naive and unschooled in crime. In his extensive discussion of the events of the 1960s with particular reference to Los Angeles, Wilson describes the new paramilitary style of aggressive policing that was pioneered in that city—"the cop was a soldier of what was called •proactive' law-and-order maintenance" (p. 95)— and he stresses that police saw themselves as moral agents in their fight against crime. As Skolnick and Fyfe point out (1993, p. 12), it was this philosophy of aggression that would ultimately result in the Rodney King incident. It was about this time that academics became interested in police-citizen interactions and ethnographies of police explored these issues in such seminal works as those of Reiss (1972) and Skolnick (1966,1975). Here, Wilson explores how the policing power ofthe LAPD found itself represented in popular culture in the work of Joseph Wambaugh, a former LAPD police officer tumed writer. Wilson points out that Wambaugh's focus in his description of police work is the white ethnic blue-collar, and he believes that Wambaugh challenges popular understandings of police power when he lampoons the elite paramilitary code of the LAPD. Wilson is critical of Reiss's work on police and citizen interaction, believing that Reiss's model reinforces that of the police themselves, essentially blaming the citizens for it all, and that very little in his study shows that citizens have any power to contain the discretion that police officers exercise on patrol. Wilson draws a number of conclusions about the representation of the police from Wambaugh's work, including the gap between academy training and street learning, a fact often noted by researchers of police culture, in that policing itself creates a fraternity that views itself as far superior to the communities that are policed. Moving on to the "true crime" genre, Wilson explores the representation of the police in this genre and shows how it constructs the police as urban heroes burdened with huge workloads in a largely indifferent metropolis. During this period, says Wilson, the already close relations between police and crime reporters became even more symbiotic. He notes that criminologists have exposed the falsity of the "true crime" genre's portrayal of violence in the U.S. and demonstrated how it is a murder-based genre that overemphasizes female victims. The popularity of the


Cyndi Banks

genre in the 1980s derived from the moral panic about crime then prevailing. The genre appeals, he says, to readers* appetites for villains and monsters. However, Wilson argues that there is a paradox—at the time when this new visibility was being afforded to metropolitan crime fighting, actual law enforcement reached a new low point in terms of effectiveness and public esteem. The books in this genre, says Wilson, speak to a growing malaise in the cities about policing. The novelists of "true crime" were crime reporters, many of them liberals, who, through their experience as crime reporters and the pressure to publish what is considered newsworthy, abandoned liberal causes for the demands of the tabloid so that anything went as long as it made good copy. Asking what these books tell us about police culture, Wilson argues that skepticism about policing among the cub crime reporters gave way to grudging admiration or outright awe for police and that there is a strong current of empathy for police, no doubt developed during the times that the reporters were protected by the police aura while on the streets. At the political level, Wilson finds that politics always intrudes into these books and he gives the example of a department that values the quantity of cases solved over the quality of its work. He notes the absence of much comment about social and economic issues as the books repeat the tendency of police, and of the news media, to see crime as a by-product of pathology. Bringing his study into the present period, Wilson concludes with events in Boston in the 1980s and 1990s and the notion of community policing, a concept that the author is somewhat cynical about, calling it no more than a police public relations strategy and a folkloric reconstruction of the streets. He attempts to illustrate how the dialogue about community policing in Boston has been matched by the desire of the print media there to claim a dominant civic voice. He notes another paradox in that, at the moment that the idea of community policing was being introduced into the city, juvenile street crime was being subjected to ever harsher police and judicial treatment. Discussing James Q. Wilson's "Broken Windows" essay, the author argues that James Q. Wilson regarded communi^ policing as a form of democracy in action and read local business and authority figures as constituting the community. The author contends that the approach in Boston was to aggressively police the community and that this finally led to a stopand-frisk policy and—following James Q. Wilson's approach—a strategy ofpicking up persons for minor offenses before they could commit serious crimes. This review essay has focused more on the criminological aspects of this book than on the literary or media aspects, but it would in any event be impossible to give more than a brief taste of this book's complexities and richness. Each chapter contains a wealth of argument, analysis, and historical and cultural exposition, but the book is not purely a criminological project. Exploring police power in a cultural and historical matrix that embodies accounts of cop power on the streets can illuminate the actual exercise of that power as well as the specific representations of cops as they appear in literature and film and in the news media. Of course, there

Criminal Justice Review


are no studies of the kind that Lawrence and Ross undertake in Wilson's book; rather, the author attempts to tease out police power and its exercise through cultural narratives of many kinds falling broadly within the historical, reform, and modem stages in policing. There is as much, if not more, literary exegesis as criminology in Cop Knowledge, and in interweaving criminology studies and analysis with his literary and media analysis the author might be seen, so far as a criminologist reader is concerned, to lose the plot. The author's style is dense and, because he ranges over so many fields of inquiry in each chapter, it sometimes becomes difficult to pinpoint the focus of the author's scrutiny of police power and interactions between police and the public. The author's wide-ranging strategy tends to diffuse his arguments and make less explicit the specificity of his analysis. Nevertheless, a reader's persistence will be rewarded by an appreciation of the scholarship, richness, and originality of the author's work. Unfortunately, women are almost invisible in this book. It is as though they did notflgurein the institutional history of policing or do not write or produce cultural narratives about policing because they are not present in the author's literary, news media, or film collection. Yet there are crime writers of the caliber of Patricia Comwell, Sue Grafton, and Sara Paretsky and characters like V. I. Warshawski who might have been selected for illustration and debate. In fact, the only woman in the book who earns a mention of any consequence is the alleged prostitute in the chapter dealing with Stephen Crane, and this incident between her and Crane presents a telling image of how gender and crime are portrayed by the media of the period, by the police, and, through omission, by the author himself. THE POLITICS OF FORCE in The Politics of Force, Regina Lawrence presents a content analysis of the media coverage of police use of force together with case studies to develop an understanding of how some incidents of police use of excessive force become major news stories and how those events influence and shape the discourse about policing. Lawrence asks how some unexpected events become designated as "problems" within the public sphere, what the political strategies are, and who the actors that influence these designations are. She argues that the news journalist is a key mediator in the struggles experienced by social groups to designate problems, including the problem of the excessive use of force by police. Her inquiry is concerned with the question of who is allowed to. speak in the news and who is relegated to the margins and with the way in which news confers legitimacy on certain perspectives of reality. The author follows a social constructionist approach in that she views the social construction of news as part of a larger political competition designating and defming public problems. In her view, news should be thought of as a site of struggle where problems are defined for public consumption and one such problem


Cyndi Banks

is that of police abuse of force. She points to journalists' reliance on public officials, and therefore to the role that officials play in defining events, and she examines how, in this way, news reflects the views of political elites. Non-officials may find it difficult to have their views heard at all or may receive only minimal news coverage and become marginalized. This "official dominance model" ofnews production is challenged by Lawrence, and she argues that news is best seen as the result of a struggle between competing news sources pressing their differing claims and that a key factor in the outcome of these struggles, and therefore in the shaping of the news, is the appearance and use of unplanned news events. Her research strategy includes a content analysis of the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times coverage of police use of force from 1985 to 1994. She also analyzes the coverage of the Rodney King beating using a broader group of national newspapers and supplements that analysis with interviews of police experts and journalists. She points to the difficulty of obtaining other information about police use of force because police departments do not maintain such specific records. In her general discussion of police use of force, Lawrence makes the point tfiat the use of force is nearly always ambiguous and the boundary between excessive and sufficient force is difficult to establish. Whether force is excessive or not must depend on the context in which the force is used, and even the presence of witnesses does not resolve the issue. Lawrence discusses perceptions about police use of force, pointing out that Gallup polls show that 60 percent of African-Americans believe they are treated less fairly by police and that African-Americans fear violent crime as well as the police response to it. She argues that police legitimacy is sustained by the news media and that it is only infrequently eroded when scrutinized. Critical voices are outweighed by official voices and critical perspectives have no lasting place in news coverage unless an incident has the kind of profile enjoyed by the Roidney King beating. A key question for the author is. Who gets to participate in mass-mediated conversations about issues like police brutality? Lawrence conducts a sustained discussion of the role of the media in their representation (or lack of it) of police force and asserts that the media decide whose reality wins out. The media frame an issue, and this may involve individualizing a use-of-force incident—^that is, treating it either as an anomaly (which is often the police strategy) or as a systemic problem (an approach that is often urged by non-officials). It is only when use of force is seen as systemic that it becomes a public problem. Since the most common voice on use of force is that of the police, this often means that police expound simple narratives that play down the complexity and ambiguity of an incident involving use of force. Police often adopt this form of damage control, and even when non-officials are heard they may not allege a systemic problem (and this generally means that they will not be heard for long). Lawrence identifies the kinds of claims that "critical non-officials" make about systemic police brutality, such as problems resulting fiom leaders within the police failing to control police actions, existing checks within the police failing to

Criminal Justice Review


work properly, the clannish police subculture encouraging police hostility, the erecting of a "blue wall of silence," and the use of excessive force as an expression of racism. The systemic perspective is not often explored in the news media, and indeed critical non-officials, such as academics, are, Lawrence argues, among the most marginalized of the alternate voices about police violence. Like Wilson, Lawrence believes that police have learned how to "do" public relations. She contends that they are media-sawy, protect their information, provide it selectively, euid attempt to control the news. Without wishing to deny the main argument advanced by Lawrence, it is worth noting, as Schlesinger, Tumber, and Murdock have pointed out in "The Media Politics of Crime and Criminal Justice" (1991, p. 404), that the definitions of those who feed the media with content, such as the police and other criminal justice agencies, are themselves at least partly fashioned by contacts and negotiations with marginal groups, and "the question of where 'primary definitions' originate and the ultimate authorship of policy discourse may therefore be less obvious than would appear from studying media content alone" (pp. 404-405). In addition, journalists also have to negotiate with others within news organizations over what should be printed, and so the process of news selection and news making is hardly seamless. As Ericson, Baranek, and Chan (1991, p. 17) put it, "news-rooms are characterized by resistance and conflict over control of the news process." Within journalism, there are forces that match the police desire to set the news agenda, and Lawrence sees one such force as the norm of professionalism under which journalists transmit information to the public in a supposedly neutral manner. This image of the independent neutral journalist is a powerful one in U.S. society but, in practice, this presumed neutrality is actually a representation of official sources of information.' The author points to the persistence of the crime control discourse and emphasizes that any claims of police misuse of force must overcome this discourse.^ Since the discourse of crime control possesses the competence to overwhelm alternative discourses, Lawrence argues that police have leeway to act as the main definers of the amount of force that is appropriate in the war against crime. The alternative discourse of civil rights and due process, under which police power is suspect rather than celebrated, clashes with mainstream notions of crime being committed by evil people, and police versions are accepted by the audience of middle-class whites. The author might also have noted that mainstream notions of what constitutes "crime" vary over time, and care should be taken not to reify the prevailing notion of crime control, acknowledging it as a historically specific Ericson, Baranek, and Chan in Representing Order {1991, p. 12) argue that journalists, like law enforcers, are in fact agents of social control, and Kasinsky (1994, p. 226) believes that the media "have become part of the policing apparatus of our society." 'With regard to this discourse, Welch, Fenwick, and Roberts (1998) performed a content analysis of statements made by state managers and others in the criminal justice system and quoted in the media in order to determine how those statements conveyed notions of crime causation and crime control. Their study revealed that a high proportion of the statements of state managers were concerned with crime control rather than crime causation.


Cyndi Banks

conception. In relation to the police and the media, research has shown that the police attitude toward the media may vary according to the type of media with whom they are negotiating. Ericson, Baranek, & Chan (1991, p. 41), for example, found that police see quality news outlets differently from the tabloids and, in fact, regard them as a threat to police, because of their propensity to seek more sources and to present material in a discursive rather than a dramatic manner, as is more common with the tabloid or popular press. A similar point about the complexity of police media relations is made by Kasinsky (1994, p. 208), who criticizes the view that the police are always in control of the police-journalist relationship, noting that this view is grounded in the perspective ofjournalists rather than in the police view and that police are also restricted and controlled by the media, especially in seeking to avoid negative coverage. In her analysis of the Rodney King incident, which she employs as a case study in her explanation of how critical voices can gain passage to the media, Lawrence explains the significance of the video of the King beating and argues that the reason the incident enjoyed such a high profile was its ability to tap into a set of story cues that permitted journalists to engage with the issue of police brutality. Essentially, therefore, she seeks to demonstrate how the incident satisfled the journalistic value of newsworthiness. She also argues that accidental news events like the King incident can become weapons for marginalized social groups, giving them a media platform and a degree of legitimacy. The author does not mention the coverage of the incident by the Los Angeles Sentinel or any other newspapers aimed specifically at the African-American reader, even though, according to Jacobs (1996, p. 1243), the Sentinel is a major newspaper serving the African-American community in Los Angeles and would certainly have constituted one of those critical and marginalized voices to which she refers. In his discussion of the narratives of the Sentinel and the Los Angeles Times about the King incident, Jacobs (p. 1238) points out how the narrative constructions of these newspapers shaped the interpretation of events and how they influenced expectations about closure. His explanation of significant differences in the construction of the reality of the incident by the two newspapers would have added a useful dimension to the author's analysis. Following a discussion of the coverage of police brutality before the Rodney King incident (showing only 4 thematic news stories on this subject between 1985 and 1990, in contrast with 23 after the King incident in 1991), the author identifies three factors that contributed to the coverage of the incident: the narrative power of the video, the official and political response to the beating, and the intense public reaction that it aroused. In her detailed exposition of the video itself, she points out that TV audiences saw its middle section and not the blurred and rough 210-second portion at the beginning or the portion after the beating had ended and King was being handcuffed. At that point, the video clearly revealed a beating evocative of racist oppression—^the image of white men beating a black man on the ground. The video also made great television that was beamed around the world every five

Criminal Justice Review


minutes, and this intense publicity gave journalists the incentive to present critical voices so that official accounts were on the defensive. A critical point is that the video had such a huge impact not simply because it provided a pictorial narrative of the incident (there have been other videos of police beatings that have not had the same impact) but because of the "way that film portrayed the altercation and in the way it was used by television stations" (p. 70). Lawrence discusses the official responses, pointing out that Police Chief Danyl Gates called the incident an aberration, whereas Mayor Tom Bradley hinted that Gates' leadership would become a relevant issue and released police radio transcripts revealing racist banter between the ofHcers who took part. As is well known, following the incident, the Christopher Commission was set up to investigate allegations of systemic brutality and racism in the LAPD, congressmen began calling for Gates' resignation, and African-American political figures like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton became involved. In this case, then, the activists' voices received a hearing in the media because of dramatic events that had accidentally arisen. This is contrary to the normal arrangement, where activists must provide reporters not just with ideas but also with packaged events that are unusual and dramatic in order to achieve news attention. It is worth noting that, as a counterpoint to the media attention that the video aroused. King himself became invisible at the subsequent trial of the police defendants and, as Skolnick and Fyfe put it, "remained an abstraction" during those proceedings (1993, p. xii). In pursuing her explanation of critical story cues that influence whether such incidents make the news, Lawrence analyzes SS2 use-of-force incidents that were reported in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, first theorizing about the journalistic norms that guide news gathering and influence news writing decisions. Essentially, as many commentators have noted, the news media are preoccupied with order and disorder, and they monitor socially defined boundaries of conduct for transgressions, rendering them as news ifthey are discovered. In this way, the news focuses on the out of place and the deviant and articulates public morality. The story cues that journalists are most likely to respond to involve those that permit them to challenge official claims while still allowing the media to appear responsible and objective. Such cues can include cases where victims are willing to tell their story and physical evidence supports their claims, and those cases where the race of the victim and the race of the police differ. The author identifies competing accounts, legal proceedings, anomalous events, race, citizen action, and the response by officials when they make concessions as critical story cues. She examines 114 use-of-force incidents reported in the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times between 1985 and 1994 for evidence of these cues and finds a positive association between the cues and the amount of news coverage granted to different incidents. She concludes that story cues do not provide an exhaustive explanation of what is perceived as newsworthy, because of factors relating to news organizations and journalists and their subjectivity, but she suggests that qualitative research of the kind that she conducts can help to locate and explain these factors.


Cyndi Banks

In pursuing her search for the subjective journalistic factors, the author examines the news coverage ofthree high-profile use-of-force incidents in New York City and draws from these case studies evidence of how newspaper coverage shifted as it responded to news sources and story cues, how police tried to regain control of the news by casting doubts on the credibility of competing accounts, and how journalists manifested a sense of professional unease in presenting alternative voices. This fine-grained analysis of news shaping and production is a valuable contribution to our understanding of this most complex process. Returning to the King incident, Lawrence asserts that some accidental events are of such magnitude that they spark prolonged political and rhetorical struggles and bring to the fore political and cultural concerns. In other words, they become news icons, like the image of the Vietnamese soldier executing another soldier by shooting him in the head, which was seen as a representation of the whole Vietnam War, and tfie grounding of the Exxon Valdez, which became a synecdoche for the need to protect the environment. The author examines media coverage of the King incident from across the country in an attempt to tease out the meanings that it produced and to explore how problem definitions emerged. What did the incident symbolize? As a news icon, the King incident tapped into the civil rights struggle, evoking images of batons and the police in the south, and this was bolstered by activists claiming that the incident reflected historical patterns of oppression. By framing the incident in this way, activists were able to present police use of force not as a legitimate response to public order but as an instrument of oppression. The author might also have noted that countering these images were contrary representations of King as an African-American undisciplined and unrestrained and as "black sexuality out of control" (Gabriel, 1998, p. 146), for as much as the incident tapped into images of the civil rights struggle it also encoded fears of black bodies, black sexuality, and what Skolnick and Fyfe (1993, p. xv) call the '^superhuman strength" with which black men are viewed as naturally gifted. What remains to be assessed is the extent to which allegations of police abuse of force against African-Americans are not pursued by the media because of deeply held fears and images of black violence held by many whites. Although the incident evoked tensions associated with race and civil rights and was able to supersede the discourse of crime control, Lawrence explains that one critical issue could not be overcome. This was the inability of the non-official voices to define police brutality as a serious public problem. Lawrence identifies as one reason for this failure the absence of any statistical proof of systemic brutality that journalists could reveal. Addressing again the power of the Rodney King video, she makes the important point that King was already being termed a victim by many observers even before police accounts had been made public. This is most unusual because most abuse-of-force stories never depict the complainant as a victim. However, the inability of the media to quantify the problem of police abuse through a statistical presentation meant that critical voices failed to win the struggle over meaning. In a discussion of policing post-King, the author argues that

Criminal Justice Review


the popularization of community policing derives in part from the King incident, in that in its aftermath community policing was represented as a means of improving police £md community relations. However, she also points out that the notion of community policing was endorsed by many ofHcial sources, including police chiefs who wanted this change in policing strategy and who used the King incident as impetus for it. Later the Christopher Commission and the Clinton campaign also advocated community policing as a solution to problems of police misuse of force, and this came to be set against the LAPD policing style as its desirable opposite. In the overall context of police use of force, it is easy to sense uneasiness about community policing as a panacea for bad policing. For example, in her study of community policing in a police department that had practiced this form of policing for more than a decade, Susan Miller noted that the community policing approach "rests on a powerful assumption that 'the community' is on board and indeed desires closer contact with police," and she referred to the "legacy of racial discord and distrust between citizens and police" (Miller, 1999, p. 186) and to a perception that the beating of King simply validated perceptions of institutional racism within the LAPD. In terms of the police culture in the police department that Miller researched, patrol officers believed that community officers did less real police work and saw their role as service- rather than police-related (Miller, 1999, p. 171). Generally, a good deal of cynicism exists about the notion of community policing and, like Lawrence, Peter Manning (1997, p. 15) sees it more as a "presentational strategy," by which he means a way to highlight "some changes in urban policing while suppressing information about others." Essentially, Manning argues that community policing does not produce structural and institutional change and often operates within police departments as a form of "window dressing." Tracing notorious incidents of police violence into the present, Lawrence introduces the cases of Louima and Diallo in New York, pointing out the racial aspects that were involved. In her conclusion she articulates her conviction that the King video did no more than generate a shallow consensus around the reform of policing and failed to supplant the crime control discourse. In this she is in agreement with Barak (1994, p. 144) and Kasinsky (1994, p. 226), who from their assessment of the case argue that the personality conflicts between Chief Gates and Mayor Bradley and others soon supplanted the themes ofracism and police brutality and that, although the video did permit the media to be more critical than usual, this questioning "did not extend to a serious exploration of the underlying causes of police brutality and racism" (Kasinsky, 1994, p. 226). One reason cited for this failure was that "the media did not print the full texts of the police reports, including the verbatim accounts of police radio conversations and the complete texts of witnesses" (p. 226). Lawrence puts forward the view that, so long as a large part of the public is willing to give police the discretion that they want, incidents such as that involving Rodney King can always be rationalized by police and others as collateral damage in the war on crime. Nevertheless, ending on a hopeful note, the author suggests that the media are now more inclined to treat news events as


Cyndi Banks

points from which to explore social issues. This may be so, but one may question the quality of that exploration and one may deplore the tendency of the media to follow the conventions of the literary narrative and invoke closure on contentious incidents like police violence, forestalling the exhaustive contextual and factual scrutiny that they demand. MAKmG NEWS OF POLICE VIOLENCE In Making News of Police Violence, Jeffrey Ian Ross presents a four-stage political process model for understanding police violence and responses to it. His concern is with the "effects" of police violence, by which he means the ways in which the media, the community, victitns, government agencies, and police respond to these incidents; for example, he asks, do they remain passive, seek change, or lower their opinion of the police? His explanatory model is applied to evidence of police violence in Toronto and New York over a 15-year time span, and case studies are provided of three cases of police violence from each city. The conclusion of the study is that most persons do not respond to police use of excessive violence, and whether they respond or not depends on the context of that violence. Ross, like Lawrence, acknowledges that little is known about police violence or use of excessive force. The author does not dwell on the definitional issue of just what constitutes excessive force, although his discussion might have benefitted from referring to Skolnick and Fyfe's explanation of the gradations of police use of force from verbalization through impact techniques (Skolnick & Fyfe, 1993, p. 3 8) to add some substance and context to this important issue.^ He stresses the importance of the context of the violence and opts for a public and private contextual dichotomy, reading public acts as those that are widely regarded as having a significant impact on society (and including acts of excessive force that are detected by the police themselves or others) and private acts as those that are not so readily detected. After discussing why so few acts of police violence gain the attention of the public, citing reasons such as the ability of the police to conceal them and the decision of the victim not to complain, the author moves on to a literature review of the outcomes of police violence, showing that public perceptions about this violence vary according to ethnicity and noting that the Rodney King incident generated more disdain for the police among African-Americans than it did among Hispanics. The author suggests that there are few studies of "police perceptions of extra-legal force." This may be true, but the culture of policing, the crime control discourse, and the role of the media in their representation of crime and policing all contribute to police perceptions. In terms of responses to police violence, the author dismisses the worth of government sources such as reports of commissions (he mentions ^An illustration of the difficulty ofjudging whether particular acts involving force are excessive appears in Blowingthe Whistle on Police Kjotence by Louise Westmarland (2001). During her research study, the author was attached to two separate police forces in England and observed specific acts of police violence that she evaluates, suggesting the complex definitional issues that are involved.

CriminalJustice Review


specifically the Wickersham Commission but not the Christopher Commission in Los Angeles that reported on the Rodney King incident), even though the documents and evidence that generated these reports, as well as the reports themselves, are primary and valuable sources for the subject of his argument and his study might well have gained from an analysis of such material. On a theoretical level, Ross points to the absence of theory concerning the outcome of excessive violence or excessive force even though its existence is acknowledged to be a problem. Different actors clearly see the "problem" in contrasting ways, and Ross gives examples of police departments, who see the issue as one of organization, training, or personnel, and of regulators, who see it as a policy issue. Ross argues that it is best viewed as a social problem. Seeking some theoretical underpinning, he canvases a number of theories in various disciplines and ultimately adopts a four-stage political process model, adapted from social problem research, to explain the outcome of police violence. The four stages are "media initiation, arousal, reaction and outcomes" among "the community of concern" (that is, those groups that respond to police violence). Each stage in the political process model is explored. The discussion of "media initiation" covers much the same ground as Lawrence, with the author making the same points about the nature of the relationship between police and journalists, arguing that police have a clear channel to determine the news and that the media are the primary agenda setter. The author is able to identify 10 different factors that influence media initiation in the form of articles or broadcasts about police violence, which he ranks in order of importance. These factors include those that are peculiar to the journalists themselves, such as the gender of the journalist, the status and number ofjournalists, and the nature of the news organization. There is no discussion of the notion of newsworthiness and the ways in which it might be satisfied. In a similar fashion, Ross works through the other three parts of his process model, identifying types and factors for each stage. He states that the process model "is a general sketch of possibilities that can unfold alter an incident of public police violence" (p. 33). Generally, the author's strategy is to attempt to fix multiple and complex issues concerned with police violence and responses to it by the media, by the public, and by others through the identification of factors, stages, and substages, leaving an impression that all complexities have succumbed to his analysis. This is in marked contrast to the more nuanced approach of Lawrence, which, while thoroughly exploring salient issues, acknowledges the difTiculties in arriving at any hard and fast conclusions on material that is fragmented, ambiguous, or just not available in a form adequate for definitive analysis. Having established his model, the author now tests it in the context of reactions to public police violence in Toronto and New York. After brief descriptions of the cities of Toronto and New York, including some discussion of policing and police violence in each city and the reactions of communities of concern to that violence, Ross uses data from organizations in each city that record incidents of police


Cyndi Banks

violence to examine events of public police violence. In the case of Toronto, he assesses 51 such events occurring during the period 1977 to 1990, and for New York he examines 65 events covering the same period. In both sets of data, as the author acknowledges, there was no information about many of the aspects of each incident of police violence. For example, in both sets of data, factors such as the race of the participants, their ages, and whether or not the victims put up resistance, carried weapons, or were passive were missing for a high proportion of cases. The author is able to conclude that the most frequent internal control outcome against police involved in such incidents was, in the case of Toronto, an internal affairs investigation and, in New York, suspension of the officers who were involved. The most common external control act was, in Toronto, an inquest initiated by the government and, in New York, a grand jury investigation. However, both internal and external controls operated in only a very small percentage of cases. Significantly, in one half of the cases in Toronto, there was no follow-up story by the media, and this clearly sets limits to this kind of study. The author seeks to partially make up for the shortcomings ofthe data by supplementing the information with case studies (described as intensive) of three actual cases of police violence that occurred in Toronto and New York, and he applies his process model to these cases. In summarizing the quantitative data, the author concludes that there is little police, community, or government reaction to the majority of acts of police violence but that some of the variables show similarities between the two cities, for example, in relation to the number of actors who become involved and the time that elapses between the first and last media articles on a particular event of police violence. Drawing on the case studies, the author concludes that, for each type of police violence, reactions are similar in terms of the groups who get aroused, their reactions, and the outcomes. Finally, the author suggests that the implications of his study are significant for a number of overlapping areas of research that he lists in order of importance. These include organizational theoty and public administration. This study of police violence might be criticized for trying to achieve too much, in the sense that it relies for its conclusions on a small number of reported cases of public police violence from the cities of Toronto and New York and on six case studies based on newspaper reports and some interviews. Although the case studies are said to be intensive,* only a couple of pages are devoted to each and they are essentially only descriptive. Perhaps more might have been gained from a larger number of such case studies analyzed in greater depth with a variety of methods, especially given the inadequacy of the quantitative data. In this short study, the author has only marginally explored many of the issues with which he engages. For example, there are only brief discussions of how police violence is constituted and how the media represent that violence, and there is no discussion of police culture.

'The author also refers to his qualitative material as a "thick description," a contention that Clifford Getitz might have some difficulty with.

Criminal Justice Review


The author has chosen to present his quantitative and qualitative data within a restricted framework of meaning, opting not to cany out the kind of extensive exploration of the many categories of relevance to police violence such as is undertaken by Lawrence. The book is said to be a comparative study, but the value of comparing New York and Toronto in terms of reactions to police violence is not clear. The author explains that in his view "Canada generally promotes the interest of the community while the United States stresses the rights of the individual." Moving fTom this statement (which does not include further argument or support), the author asserts that Canadians would be less likely than Americans to protest against police misconduct. This rather breathtaking conclusion seems to conflate such factors as race, class, and gender as well as the economic, social, and political histories of both countries and their historical relationships with police organizations. Lawrence and Ross both seek to explain the process whereby police violence is made public and the constraints that operate to prevent it being revealed, and both studies contribute to the subject. Lawrence's engagement with so many aspects associated with the publication of police violence is extensive and absorbing. Her treatment of the themes of newsworthiness, the process of news making and news production, and journalistic choice in problem definition builds on the work of Hall et al. as well as subsequent researchers. Ross's study is more limited, more tightly structured, and in the end relies more on the case studies that are themselves circumscribed. Nonetheless, Ross's four-stage process model is a useful tool with which to address the subject of responses to police violence and can be conceived as an appropriate starting point for a deeper exploration, not only of the various stages of his own model but also of the complex relations between the media, the police, and the public. REFERENCES Barak, G. (1994). Between the waves: Mass-mediated themes of crime and justice. Social Justice, 31(3), 133-148. Chennak,S. (1994). Crime in the news media: A refined understanding of how crimes become news. In G.Barak (Ed.), Media, process, and the sociat conslruciion ofcrime: Studies in newsmaking criminology (pp. 95-130). New York: Garland. Chesney-Lind, M. (1999). Media misogyny. In J. Fenell & N. Websdale (Eds.), A/atmg froaWe; CuZ/ura/ constructions of crime, deviance, and control (pp. 115-140). New York: Aldine de Gruyter. Crank, J. (1998). Understanding police culture. Cincinnati: Anderson. Donovan, P. (1998). Aimed with the power of television: Reality crime programming and the reconstruction of law and order in the United States. In M. Fishman & G. Cavender (Eds.), Entertaining crime: Television reality programs (pp. 117-137). New York: Aldine De Gruyter. Ericson, R. (1992). The police as reproducers of order. In K. R. E. McCormick & L. A. Visano (Eds.), Understanding policing (p^. 163-208). Toronto: Canadian Scholar's Press. Ericson, R. V., Baranck, P. M., & Chan, J. B. L. (1991). Representing order: Crime, law, and justice in the news media. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Fogelson. R. M. (1977). Big-city police. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Gabriel, J. (1998). Wiitewash: Radicalized politics and the media. New York: RouUedge.


Cyndi Banks

Hall, S.,Critcher,C., Jefferson, T., Clarke, J.,& Roberts, B. (1978). Policing the crisis: Mugging, the state, and iaw and order. New York: Holmes & Meier. Haller, M. (1996). Historical roots of police behaviors: Chicago. 1890-I92S. In S. Brandl & D. Barlow (Eds.), Classics in policing (pp. 7-26). Cincinnati: Anderson. Jacobs, R. (1996). Civil society and crisis: Culture, discourse, and the Rodney King beating. American Journal of Sociology, 101, I238-I272. Jones, R.L.,&Flynn,K. (2001, August 9). Seventeen police officers disciplined after deadly accident. NewYork Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.coni/2001/08/09/myregion/09DRUN.html. Kasinsky, R. (1994). Patrolling the facts: Media, cops, and crime. In G.Bar^ (Ed.), Media, process, and the social construction of crime: Studies in newsmaking criminology (pp. 203-236). New York: Garland. Manning, P. (1997). Police work: The social organization of policing. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland. Martin, S.E.,&Jurik,N.C. (1996). Doingjustice, doing gender. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Miller, S. (1999). Gender and community policing: Walking the talk. Boston: Northeastern University Press. Perlmutter,D. (2000). Policingandthemedia:Streetcopsandpublicperceptionsofiawenforcement. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Reiss, A. J. (1972). The police and the public. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Schlesinger, P., Tumber, H., & Murdock, G. (1991). The media politics of crime and criminal justice. British Journal of Sociology, 42,397-419. Skolnick, J. (1966). Justice without trial: Lent enforcement in democratic society. New York: John Wiley and Sons. Skolnick,J.H. (I97S). Justice without trial: Law enforcement in democratic society. New York: John Wiley and Sons. Skolnick, J., & Fyfe, J. (1993). Above the law: Police and the excessive use of force. New York: Free Press. Surette, R. (1992). Media, crime, & criminalJustice: Images and realities. Pacific Giove, CA: Brooks/Cole. Walker, S., Spohn, C , & DeLone, M. (2000). J%e color ofjustice: Race, ethnicity, and crime in America. Belmont, CA: Wadswoith. Websdale, N., & Alvarez, A. (1998). Forensic journalism as patriarchal ideology: The newspaper construction of homicide suicide. In F. Bailey & D. Hale (Eds.), Popular culture, crime, and justice (pp. 123-142). Belmont, CA: West/Wadsworth. Welch, M., Fenwick, M., &. Roberts, M. (1998). State manners, intellectuals, and the media: A content analysis of ideology in experts' quotes in feature newspaper articles on crime. Justice Quarterly, 15, 219-241. Westmarland, L. (2001). Blowing the whistle on police violence. British Journal of Criminology, 4 l,52i-SiS.