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"Proposing a Sociological Solution to Problems of Policing" - Richard Ellefritz, Ph.D. | December 2020

Assistant Professor of Sociology
University of the Bahamas

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In an opinion piece written for the New York Times, Sociologist Neil Gross suggests joining law enforcement as one possible solution to the problems associated with policing. Law enforcement officers are granted a license to use their judgement or discretion when dealing with the myriad situations they encounter daily. Gross sees this as an opportunity for those most concerned with the abuse of police powers. By joining law enforcement, change can occur one person at a time through the dedication of individuals’ efforts to use their own judgments of how best to handle situations that others might approach much differently. Bestowed with critical thinking skills imparted by liberal education, progressive-minded officers might be able to better self-analyze and callout behaviors in others that have, over time, led to thousands of people being brutalized and killed. Progressive-minded individuals might work as detectives, prosecutors, and in other positions that have the time and resources to consider exculpatory and exonerating evidence, as well as Constitutional Rights, that might otherwise go overlooked in cases with disempowered and disadvantaged defendants.

Gross points out that the policemen (88%) and policewomen (12%) of state and local law enforcement officers throughout the U.S. (about 700,000 total) are comprised of about 27% minority and 73% white individuals, 84% of which favored  Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in a 2016 survey by Police Magazine. Progressives might find it difficult to change the system from within, at least at first, but over time could make progress in their daily decisions of how to interact with coworkers and those who might otherwise end up as convicts or worse. In addition to a pattern of excessive use of force is a pattern of punishing those police officers who speak and act out against abuses. However, the fact that there are already officers speaking out against their colleagues’ abuse of force shows that there are already opportunities to join their ranks. Moreover, there are many progressive prosecutors to align with as well. This should give an optimistic view of changing the system from within.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Would you be willing to join law enforcement in order to try and remedy its many problems? If not law enforcement, what other social institutions might need to be changed from within, or is this not the right approach to solving institutional problems?
  2. What do you think law enforcement would look like if it were comprised mostly and mainly by individuals with more left-leaning and progressive values and beliefs? Since the laws are clearly written by legislatures, how do you think their communities would react if and when police officers exercised discretionary powers that represented more liberal perspectives?

 


References:

Gross, N. (2020, July 13). Want to Abolish the Police? Consider Becoming an Officer Instead. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/13/opinion/police-reform-progressives.html?auth=login-google

About the Author

Richard G. Ellefritz, Ph.D., is currently an assistant professor of sociology at the University of The Bahamas. He completed his Ph.D. in sociology at Oklahoma State University in 2014, where he stayed on as a visiting scholar until taking his current position in 2017. His scholarly interests and publications are in the areas of pedagogy, popular culture, social movements, and political and economic sociology. He has done consulting work with McGraw-Hill since 2013 as a Digital Faculty Consultant, textbook reviewer, blog author, and in-house advisor.