ABOVE THE LAW by Jerome H. Skolnick


Police and the Excessive Use of Force
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 Using as a starting point the acquittal of the cops accused of beating Rodney King, Skolnick (Law/Berkeley; House of Cards, 1978) and Fyfe (Criminal Justice/Temple Univ.) explore the reasons for, and suggest some solutions to, police brutality in America. Digging into police culture, the history of police departments, and the polarization of American society into criminal and noncriminal classes, the authors find several explanations for police brutality. Among them are: the narrow outlook of police executives; the insularity of police departments; the emphasis in police culture on military metaphors; and the handing down of the value of violence by higher-ranking cops to street officers. Few would quarrel with Skolnick and Fyfe when they contend that police ``are obliged to acknowledge the law's moral force and to be constrained by it,'' and few will be unconvinced by the authors' demonstration of how vulnerable Americans of all races and classes are to abuses of police power. Encouragingly, though, they conclude that brutality has diminished over the last 20 years as a result of greater minority representation on police forces nationwide. Skolnick and Fyfe make suggestions for reform (like ``community- oriented policing,'' a concept that already seems to have been implemented in many forces) that generally are intended to enhance community participation in policing. They also suggest videotaping police conduct as ``a technical tool deriving from a larger principle of police reform, which is that anything we can do to reduce the insularity of police is a good thing.'' An excellent history and analysis that balances sympathy for the dangers of police work with concern for its victims and with persuasive, if not profound, suggestions for reform.

Pub Date: March 3rd, 1993
ISBN: 0-02-929312-X
Page count: 264pp
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1993


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