Race, Ethnicity, and Policing: New and Essential Readings

By Stephen K. Rice; Michael D. White Roberts | Go to book overview

21

Democratic Policing
How Would We Know It If We Saw It?

Matthew J. Hickman

At the heart of any discussion about race, ethnicity, and policing is the issue of fairness. Fairness in law enforcement is a cornerstone of democratic policing, marked by the fundamental expectation of equal treatment under the law regardless of one's race or ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or other extralegal factors. The purpose of this chapter is to reflect on democratic policing in the United States, and to ask some very tough questions regarding how much we really know about fairness in law enforcement. In brief, the problem is that the United States strongly advocates democratic policing abroad, but is not itself fully committed to democratic policing domestically. I discuss these ideas in three parts.

In part I, I explore the nature of democratic policing. I identify themes in discussions of democratic policing, and offer that a common thread is the need for information. I suggest that police behavior is the principal concern of democratic policing and, importantly, the public perception of police behavior. In part II, I discuss the need for national indicators of fairness in policing. It is my belief that fairness in law enforcement can only come to light through systematic and widespread data collection, analysis, and dissemination. The federal government will not be the leader in this regard, for as I will discuss, the process of government data collection with regard to race, ethnicity, and policing can (and has) at times become mired in contradictory political concerns. In part III, I discuss how we can invest in democratic policing through a restructuring of the federal investment in justice statistics, and more importantly, how local police departments can lead the way by exploring the utility of place-based policing, and embracing data collection and public reporting.


I. What Is Democratic Policing?

Discussions of democratic policing generally walk down one of two paths: one path involves discussions of political theory, the nature of democracy, and the role of police in a democracy. This path tends to be more retrospective and concerned with the evolving nature of democratic policing (i.e., democratic policing as a process). Another path generally involves discussions of the core principles or foundations of

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