Want to Know 'What The Police Really Believe'? Don't Read Vox

July 7, 2020

Vox has published an explainer on "What The Police Really Believe." It purports to take the reader "inside the distinctive, largely unknown ideology of American policing—and how it justifies racist violence" and paint a "deeply disturbing picture of the internal culture of policing."

In order to adequately explain the secret racial-violence-justifying ideology of America's cops, senior correspondent Zack Beauchamp interviewed "more than a dozen former officers and experts on policing." It is unclear how many experts Beauchamp consulted before claiming that Gaza and the West Bank were connected by a massive bridge.

Ten people are quoted in the explainer on "police ideology." As you might expect, the roster is light on "former officers" and heavy on so-called "experts on policing." All but one of the interview subjects are university professors, who are renowned for their dispassionate rejection of political ideology and steadfast devotion to the facts.

Two former officers, Arthur Rizer and Peter Moskos, provide anecdotes and commentary. The former is currently a senior fellow at the R Street Institute, a D.C. think tank. The latter is an associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the author of In Defense of Flogging.

Four of the interview subjects are affiliated with Yale University's Justice Collaboratory, a network of criminal justice scholars dedicated to combating "persistent inequality" and creating "new models for understanding bias":

  • Tracey Meares, law professor and founding director of the Justice Collaboratory
  • Michael Sierra-Arevalo, incoming assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Texas at Austin
  • Phillip Atiba Goff, professor of policing equity at John Jay College and CEO of the Center for Policing Equity
  • Vesla Weaver, Bloomberg Distinguished Associate Professor of political science and sociology at Johns Hopkins University

The remaining experts on police ideology are as follows:

  • Eugene Paoline III, criminologist at the University of Central Florida
  • Laurence Ralph, professor of anthropology at Princeton
  • Peter Kraska, professor of justice studies at Eastern Kentucky University
  • Shannon Portillo, "scholar of bureaucratic culture" at the University of Kansas-Edwards

Several paragraphs in, Beauchamp admits that "the beliefs that define police ideology are neither universally shared among officers nor evenly distributed across departments" and that "speaking about such a group in blanket terms would do a disservice to the many officers who try to serve with care and kindness."

Well, sure, apart from the blanket claim that a Vox writer who talks to some university professors can explain "what police really believe," which makes for a good headline. Or that "Police officers today tend to see themselves as engaged in a lonely, armed struggle against the criminal element." And so on.

At the same time, perhaps we can draw sweeping conclusions, since "the officer corps remains overwhelmingly white, male, and straight. Federal Election Commission data from the 2020 cycle suggests that police heavily favor Republicans. And it is indisputable that there are commonly held beliefs among officers."

And who better to help ordinary non-experts understand these commonly held beliefs than members of two of the least ideologically diverse professions in the country?

Published under: Police , Vox