The End of Policing

by Alex S. Vitale

Paperback, 2018


Verso (2018), Edition: Reprint, 272 pages


Law. Politics. Sociology. Nonfiction. Recent years have seen an explosion of protest against police brutality and repression. Among activists, journalists, and politicians, the conversation about how to respond and improve policing has focused on accountability, diversity, training, and community relations. Unfortunately, these reforms will not produce results, either alone or in combination. The core of the problem must be addressed: the nature of modern policing itself. This book attempts to spark public discussion by revealing the tainted origins of modern policing as a tool of social control. It shows how the expansion of police authority is inconsistent with community empowerment, social justice-even public safety. Drawing on groundbreaking research from across the world, and covering virtually every area in the increasingly broad range of police work, Alex Vitale demonstrates how law enforcement has come to exacerbate the very problems it is supposed to solve. In contrast, there are places where the robust implementation of policing alternatives-such as legalization, restorative justice, and harm reduction-has led to a decrease in crime, spending, and injustice. The best solution to bad policing may be an end to policing.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member magonistarevolt
Whereas this book does a fantastic job in showing where the police are utterly ineffective at solving the problems they purport to solve, there is a fundamental flaw. Coming from the perspective of a social democrat, the author does not challenge the command and control mentality of the police, but
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the police within a context of neoliberal capitalism and the dismantling of the welfare state. Political repression could be better performed by other means, he reports in a later chapter.

Vitale provides an invaluable resource in his debunking of police's strengths, but ultimately it appears his mission is to strengthen the state rather than build popular power outside of the state. I would much rather live in a world that he describes than our current neoliberal hellhole, but the rationalization of the drug war or the war on sex trafficking or the political repression of violent activists is not my project. Abolition of the police is.
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LibraryThing member lavaturtle
This is a compelling and well-written book about the major problems in (primarily American) policing today, how they got that way, and what might be done to fix them. Some of what was covered was stuff I'd already heard about from following relevant news, but Vitale does a great job of tying it all
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together and providing a depth of historical background. The writing style is quite accessible -- I was able to finish it in just a few days.

I would absolutely recommend this to anyone who's concerned about police reform or racial and economic justice in America.
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LibraryThing member ASKelmore
Best for: People who know that there’s a deeper problem with the police than most of our society will acknowledge, but don’t have all the evidence at their fingertips.

In a nutshell: Sociology professor Vitale offers a logical and thorough examination of the many different areas where police are
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seen as necessary but are, in reality, making things worse. And, more importantly, offers alternatives to police involvement in those areas.

Worth quoting:
“At root, they fail to appreciate that the basic nature of the law and the police, since its earliest origins, is to be a tool for managing inequality and maintaining the status quo.”
“A kinder, gentler, and more diverse war on the poor is still a war on the poor.”
“We must break completely with the idea of using police in schools. They have no positive role to play that couldn’t be better handled by nonpolice personnel.”
“We must move beyond the false choice of living with widespread disorder or relying on the police to be the enforcers of civility.”
“They need stability, positive guidance, and real pathways out of poverty. This requires a long-term commitment to their wellbeing, not a telephone referral and home visits by the same people who arrest and harass them and their friends on the streets.”

Why I chose it:
I know that the police (in general) in the US are not helping. But even suggesting that perhaps their power needs to be tamped down is often greeted with disbelief and the suggestion that they are necessary. I wanted a book that would provide me with the facts I needed to counter the disbelief.

This is a well-researched, well-sourced, well-written discussion of the state of policing in the US. Author Vitale starts with a history of policing to redirect readers from the idea that the police were created to protect people. He then breaks down policing into eight areas where they are often seen as ‘necessary:’ police in schools, police as responders to people in mental health crisis, police sweeping up those experiencing homelessness, police “saving” sex workers, the war on drugs, police in gang areas, police at the border, and police silencing political opponents.

My favorite part of this book is that Vitale offers not just descriptions of the problems, but also attempted reforms (and why they aren’t sufficient), and then offers ALTERNATIVES. That is what, I feel, is missing in so many books that take on this topic. They share important information and outline the problems, but then sort of throw up their hands in a ‘yup, it sucks’ manner. Vitale instead points out what will actually work, and it’s often much better (and cheaper) for the community.

The best examples of this are in the sections on police in schools, police and homelessness, police and those with mental illness, police at the border, and police as political silencers. The solutions offered in the police and sex work and police and the war on drugs sections require a bit more on society’s part, but are definitely do-able. The solutions offered on gang violence, however, admittedly require a much larger shift in how we provide support to our communities than many people accept.

The section on the border patrol was especially poignant given what is going on in the United States right now; I know many of us would like to see ICE abolished, and this book certainly helps make that case.

The only thing that was missing, and that I would have liked to see, would be a discussion of the need (or not) for police to investigate crimes. Does Vitale think that in situations where murders have taken place, we could have a small police squad? Or does he think the community could manage that as well? I’m unsure what that could look like, but would enjoy reading his thoughts on that.
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LibraryThing member arewenotben
Essential reading for this current moment. Although I've seen most of these arguments elsewhere in various forms (e.g. it's far cheaper to house and support a homeless person than to consistently jail them), seeing the facts pile up against how modern policing is done becomes quite staggering. A
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system clearly not fit for purpose.
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LibraryThing member arosoff
This was a good and useful book, but a bit frustrating. The basic thesis is solid and I agree: the police are doing tasks they are not suited to do and that would be better done by others. There's a series of chapters on specific issues (schools, homelessness, drugs, mental illness, sex work,
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border policing).

The basic issue I had is that Vitale is sometimes a little sloppy on details and that his arguments are at points nakedly political. For example, his section on border policing becomes about his beliefs on immigration. It's not possible to separate the issues of policing from politics, but he straight up offers his opinions on immigration policy and US intervention in central America. His interest in the history of policing is solely in its function as a means of racial and political control, which are huge issues, but his presentation is completely one sided. He's also occasionally dismissive of objections or potential objectives--for example citing "alcohol culture" in France and Italy. (In fact, DUI is a significant issue in France.)

I'm not mentioning this because I disagree with him--for the most part, I don't. My issue is that it makes the book less compelling and convincing to those who aren't already signed up to his politics. I would love to be able to recommend it more widely because it gets into a lot of the issues that many of us who want a changed model of policing grapple with, but I'm not sure it would be convincing.
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LibraryThing member Kavinay
It's not like we didn't see his coming.
LibraryThing member greeniezona
I'd been trying to read more book on abolition, so when I saw this on sale at Verso, it seemed like an obvious choice. Most of the abolition books I had previously read focused on prisons, and not much on policing itself, so this filled some holes for me in helping to unlearn a lot of bullshit I
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was still holding onto despite lots of evidence to the contrary.

This book's whole thesis is that it is the basis of policing itself, not overpolicing, not a few bad apples, not a lack of oversight, not a lack of "diversity training," not something are can fix with another reform bill or more body cameras, that is the problem. From the historical origins of policing to the way it exists on the ground today, it has always been used as a tool to criminalize and control the poor, minorities, anyone upsetting to those in power, all in the name of "safety," without ever saying out loud whose.

All that said, this book should not displace the works of Black feminist and anti-capitalist activists, whose work is more intersectional and rooted in justice and healing.
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Original publication date



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