Monday, October 30, 2006

The Craft: A Lost Possibility in American Policing

One strand in police sociology has long emphasized the reform potential of a craft conception of policing. As used by these scholars, the phrase “craft of policing”, is most often used in contrast the practical and experienced based knowledge of the police to the rule based imperatives of either law or scientific models of policing (see, e.g., Bayley and Bittner 1984, [requires access to JSTOR]). While he never used the craft of policing language, no figure in modern police expertise was a more forceful advocate of this view that Fred Inbau,(1909-1998). Professor of law at Northwestern University, co-author of the leading textbook on police interrogation, director of the leading forensic crime laboratory of the period and the editor and chief of the Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology and Police Science (as it was pertinently called in his period), Inbau became the chief advocate of the view that greater police training and skill rather than judicial limitations, were the best way to eliminate abuse and miscarriages of justice.

The only real, practically attainable protection we can set up for ourselves against police interrogation abuses (just as with respect to arrest and detention abuses) is to see to it that our police are selected and promoted on a merit basis, that they are properly trained, adequately compensated, and that they are permitted to remain substantially free from politically inspired interference. ... And once again I suggest that the real interest that should be exhibited by the legislatures and the courts is with reference to the protection of the innocent from the hazards of tactics and techniques that are apt to produce confessions of guilt or other false information. (Inbau 1961, 26)
In retrospect we can see how Inbau’s interest in the truth value of confessions got lost in the increasingly bitter debate on the Warren Court’s criminal procedure jurisprudence. In that context, talk about truth seemed a way of rationalizing the admission of evidence collected in violation of the constitution (although Inbau did not deny the Court’s power to reject such evidence even if probative). Both the Court and its critics increasingly ignored the problem of wrongful conviction. By the time the more conservative Burger Court began to roll back doctrine’s viewed as hampering police, they did so with no apparent consideration as to whether the underlying police practices were in fact “means which risk the conviction of the innocent.”

The craft conception had a natural fit with the dominance of labor and occupational ideas of governance in the mid-20th century. Professionalizing police through raising hiring standards and training viewed policing as body of knowledge and practice best rationalized through the evolution of internal substantively rational reflection rather than external judicially imposed rules. But whatever potential might have existed in the 1960s to reduce abuse and miscarriages of justice through improved training and fostering of the craft of policing was washed out by the War on Crime and the transformation of policing it led to. From the skilled worker, the police officer was reconfigured in two directions. One was as a symbolic stand in for the citizen crime victim, the official vigilante (think Die Hard), the target of armed assailants facilitated by defense laywers and liberal judges. The other was as a highly militarized and technologically enhanced cyborg ---RoboCop-- who could confront armed and violent criminals in a battle field like setting using special weaps and tactics (SWAT). In neither the vigilante or SWAT mode does the contemporary police officer draw on the kind of craft conception that Inbau championed with its emphasis on the protection of the innocent from wrongful conviction. Ironically, the proponents of a craft approach today are scholars and advocates like Richard Leo, Gary Wells, and Barry Scheck who are precisely the ones calling for taping of all police interrogations. Were Fred Inbau alive today, he'd be on their side.



Post a Comment

<< Home