The Crime Conundrum: Essays on Criminal Justice

By Lawrence M. Friedman; George Fisher | Go to book overview

8
Some Thoughts about Police and Crime

Richard A. Leo

The central theme of the Conference on Crime and Criminal Justice at Stanford Law School in October 1995 was the relationship between crime and criminal justice. The conference and its participants examined this theme as it related to a range of criminal justice questions, issues, and institutions. When the discussion turned to police, the obvious question for the conference was: To what extent do police prevent, deter, and control crime? It is this issue with which the rest of my brief essay will be concerned. In the 1990s the criminological community still does not have any good answers to this question. The frank acknowledgment of our ignorance on this fundamental issue repeats one of the central themes that emerged from the two-day Stanford conference. As Friedman and Fisher1 note in their introductory remarks:

Among the great lessons of this conference is how little we know about crime and how little we know about the impact our criminal justice system has on crime. . . . We must somehow get this message across -- this message of ignorance. We must persuade the public that it should be shocked as well -- that nobody knows the answers, and that the platitudes that pass for policy lead us nowhere.

Despite our ignorance, the American public, the police, and political leaders all assume that police do, in fact, prevent and deter crime. As the frontline agents of the criminal justice system (and its most visible institution of social control), the police have promoted crime control as their major function for most of the twentieth century, if not longer. The

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