Bultema’s (Guardians of Angels, 2013) book collects photographs from a century-and-a-half of American law enforcement culture.
Police forces in the United States have changed forms over the decades, from loosely organized pawns of 19th-century urban politicians to the more professional organizations of the Progressive Era to the high-tech operations of today. As Bultema points out, photography had a parallel history—from the laborious processes of the 1800s to the ubiquitous 35 mm film of the 20th century to today’s digital cameras. Here, he collects more than 300 images from American police history and organizes them into a pictorial account. The high-quality reproductions range from 19th-century daguerreotypes and tintype portraits to 21st-century images of police departments and memorials. There are, of course, the expected images of groups of white policemen posing together with weapons and vehicles, but there are also less-common photos of western Native American police forces and early policewomen, as well as stirring shots of crime scenes, violent altercations, and arrests. In one of the book’s most unforgettable images, for example, New York City police officers stand beside victims of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. There are also more nuanced photos, such as one of officers lining up down the block in 1930s Boston to take a sergeant’s exam. This is by no means a critical history of policing; Bultema, a former member of the Los Angeles Police Department, writes that he firmly believes that a police officer’s role is “order versus chaos, cop versus criminal, good versus evil.” Readers won’t find any insight into the origins of America’s current policing crisis here, and the book handles historical moments of social upheaval, such as the 1965 Watts riots in LA, without much nuance or context. However, one could argue that the photographs largely speak for themselves and that the immediacy of the images of strikes and riots—many of them full-page bleeds—will allow readers to draw their own conclusions. Anyone perusing this volume, whether a police buff or not, will find photos that spark curiosity and interest.
A comprehensive collection of archival, police-related images.