Why better training of police officers is inadequate to reduce strained relations between law enforcement and minority or impoverished communities and why it is necessary to completely rethink the role of police in America.
In a tightly constructed monograph filled with reform suggestions, Vitale (Sociology/Brooklyn Coll.; City of Disorder: How the Quality of Life Campaign Transformed New York Politics, 2008, etc.) decries the evolution of police agencies as tools of the white establishment to suppress dissatisfaction among the have-nots. The author understands the role of police in trying to solve violent crimes such as rapes and homicides, but he believes police should no longer serve as the chief combatants against narcotics use, street gangs, border patrol, prostitution between consenting adults, homelessness, mental illness, and misbehaving adolescents. Instead, Vitale suggests either decriminalization of certain behaviors or non–law enforcement solutions, such as government agencies and private organizations that could, for example, work with the homeless to provide them with permanent shelter. The author explains how, during Prohibition, a heavy-handed law enforcement approach to alcohol use and the outlawing of gambling led to counterproductive outcomes. As police agencies arrested alcohol sellers and purchasers, organized crime thrived, numerous police officers accepted graft, and violence involving sales increased—and yet the availability of illegal alcohol remained steady. Vitale realizes that none of the reforms he offers would eliminate violent crime. A reduction is quite likely, however, if governments and philanthropic entities make concerted efforts to reach out to troubled neighborhoods to provide improved education, creation of local businesses, meaningful job training, and actual jobs that pay above minimum wage. Whether society’s wealthy or police themselves are willing to back down from the warrior mentality is debatable, but Vitale maintains that a complete reset of the role law enforcement agencies play in rural and urban areas would be beneficial and is worth an attempt.
A clearly argued, sure-to-be-controversial book.