This past weekend I visited Detroit’s 2011 North American International Auto Show, where Ford used the opportunity to show off its new police Interceptors (check out Ford’s site complete with siren loading graphic and nationwide tour dates).  Seductively displayed in front of a slogan proclaiming, “Protecting Our Community. Securing Our Future,” and the message, “Ford salutes first responders. The heroes you depend on depend on Ford,” the cars were hard to miss.  There was something rather striking about the Interceptors -fierce yet sleek- that seemed to draw a continuous crowd of all ages.

The name alone is alluring: Interceptor.  It rolls off the tongue and brings forth images of blockbuster car chases complete with explosions and gritty, attractive male leads like Jason Statham or Daniel Craig.  As I stood listening to the soft “ooohs” and “ahhhhs” of passersby and watched dozens of people whip out their cameraphones (yours truly included), I asked myself who Ford was trying to sell the Interceptor to -the police or us?  Moreover, what was Ford really selling -the car itself, an “ideal” representation of the police, a car-chase fantasy, their own “Ford-tough” image, or all of the above?

Ford Interceptor Attracts Attention at the Detroit Auto Show…


Police and the Social Network – Rights at Stake?

You may want to think twice before accepting that new friend request from your favorite social networking site.  Why is that you may ask?  As social networks have experienced exponential membership growth rates over the last decade or so, the police, too, have taken notice.  More recently this has translated into law enforcement authorities employing social media sites such as Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter to combat and deter crime arguing that if average people are using these sites to find long lost friends or create new bonds there is no reason why police should not use these networks in their efforts to prevent crime.

Of the many advantages -from a police perspective- of using the social network as another tool to combat crime is that it allows officers to conduct online investigations of its users with near-anonymity.   With the click of a mouse and a few registration steps, police detectives are setting up fake profiles to ‘friend’ suspects under investigation and gain intelligence information.  Up to this point, criminal gangs have been their main focus.

For example, in the state of Florida, police report that gang members are using these sites to brag about their involvement in criminal activity[1].  Members often post photos of themselves in gang colors along with gang related hand gestures.  Some even use these sites as a way to communicate threats about future criminal activity against other rival gangs.

Florida police have recognized these shenanigans and have used the fist of law to combat such unruly behavior.  In October of 2008, the sunshine state passed statue 874.11, which makes it a 3rd degree felony for anyone posting electronic communications that “furthers the interest of a criminal gang,”[2] The charge carries a sentence of up to 5 years.  What’s more, successful conviction of a felony charge such as this may result in the defendant’s loss of his or her right to vote[3].

You may be asking yourself what exactly does “furthering the interest of a criminal gang,” mean?  Unfortunately there is no exact definition, which means that the individual police officer conducting the investigation is given total discretion in deciding who is allegedly violating the law; this should not be taken lightly and should be seen as very frightening.  Essentially, this means that anything you post online -be it a comical statement or picture that is not intended to represent anything criminal, such as a cartoon or hand gesture- can easily be misinterpreted as criminal gang activity.  One could argue that this is yet another example of our 1st Amendment rights (freedom of expression) being tossed out the front door. Currently, Florida is the only state with such a law on the books, however, numerous states are in the process of creating similar initiatives.

Lack of clarity in the law and the deceitful process used by police to intrude members’ profiles is causing a ruckus amongst digital rights advocacy groups, such as the Electronic Frontier’s Foundation (EFF)[4]. This civil liberties group, based in San Francisco, argues that deceptive police tactics like creating fake profiles to gain access to individual’s profiles -especially those set to private- is a blatant violation of people’s right to privacy.   Shawn Moyer -a spokesperson from the digital rights advocacy group Fishnet Enterprise- declared that such intrusion is not only wrong, but also unethical, noting that police pretending to be someone else are actually in violation of Facebook’s terms of service policy against willful impersonation of another individual.[5] Despite this rule, however, police continue to employ this tactic without any legal ramifications because there are no state or federal laws governing when and how police may conduct their online investigations on social networking sites.

In order to gain some sort of clarity on these issues the two digital rights advocacy groups filed a Freedom of Information action suit against the Dept. of Justice.  In a whopping 33-page response, the DOJ expressed their interest in -and implied their support for- police using the social network as an investigative tool and stated that all investigations are legal, as long as they are accompanied by a valid search warrant.[6] The DOJ did, however, remain silent on the issue of police violating social networks’ terms of service agreements. Although the DOJ did provide some answers to these fundamental questions of right to privacy online, their response seems to be mediocre at best.

Therefore, until both transparency and clarity are provided within the laws of online investigations, you may want to take some time to see who is really behind that new friend request.  Also, if there was ever a time to re-examine your profile you may want to do that now -you wouldn’t want an image or a comment you posted last week (or last year for that matter) to be misinterpreted as criminal.  Remember, there is a disclaimer on all major social networking sites that states that all posted information is public information[7] [8] [9].And if you didn’t know, now you know.

[1] Florida Police and Teen Gangs

[2] Fla. Stat. 874.11

[3] Specific case law – State of Florida v. Figueroa-Santiago

[4] EFF official website

[5] Privacy Concerns Raised by Undercover Police Tactics

[6] DOJ Report

[7] Facebook Disclaimer

[8] MySpace Disclaimer

[9]Twitter Disclaimer

Announcements, Call for papers

Call for chapter proposals – Police and Protesters: Motives and Responses

Call for chapter proposals – Police and Protesters: Motives and Responses

Location: Australia
Publication Date: 2011-02-01
Date Submitted: 2010-11-22
Announcement ID: 180858
Proposals are currently being sought for an international collection of scholarly papers on the motives and responses of police and protesters in occurrences of social action. The proposed collection will contain a collection of personal accounts, analyses of historical and/or current events, and other experiences in order to evaluate the motives, procedures/practices and outcomes in such situations from both the perspectives of protesters and police. In terms of ‘motives’, submissions should primarily consider what motivates people to use different forms of social action as a means to achieve their goals, not necessarily what issues (eg: climate change, war) motivates them to take such action in the first place (however, these other factors may still be addressed in the paper). Original contributions from any discipline are welcome.In the twenty-first century protesters and protest groups are well organised and prepared for confrontations. Yet there is only a relatively small body of academic work on protests from either the perspective of protesters or law enforcement agencies. This collection seeks to extend upon this literature. Our objectives are to document through a series of case studies of different situations what motivates people to undertake different forms of social action, what outcomes they seek to achieve in protests, and how they seek to achieve these outcomes. Examples of topics of interest include:

• Humour and social action;
• Popular (mass) social action;
• Transport blockades;
• Non-violent action;
• Music and social action;
• Destruction of property;
• Media and social action;

Please submit a 1-2 page proposal by 1 February, 2011.

Authors should also attach a brief (one-page maximum) biographical summary. Please direct all inquiries and proposals via email to Dr. Nathan Wise, Dr. Alyce McGovern and Dr. Jenny Wise at

Title: Police and Protesters: Motives and Responses

Editors: Dr. Nathan Wise, Dr. Alyce McGovern, Dr. Jenny Wise


Dr. Nathan Wise
School of Humanities
University of New England
NSW 2351



“The crisis in Rio and the media pastiche”

Brazilian anthropologist Luiz Eduardo Soares, who served as the Coordinator of Public Safety for Rio de Janeiro and the Brazilian Secretary of Public Security, among other posts, and has held several academic positions, at private and public universities in Rio, São Paulo and in the U.S., has written an excellent piece, The crisis in Rio and the media pastiche, on the violence in the city of Rio that has made front page news around the world. I met Soares in the spring of 2005 when he agreed to come to Berkeley for a conference I co-organized on violence and the Americas.

The last month and a half in Rio have been particularly bloody, as both the traffickers and government have made shows of force. The most recent events (roughly following this summary in the newspaper the Jornal do Brasil) began on the evening of Sunday, November 21st, when six men armed with machine guns set three vehicles on fire on a major highway called the Linha Vermelha, and while escaping attacked the car of an air force commander. On Tuesday, all of Rio’s active police, along with officers from federal highway patrol were put to the streets to deal with further attacks. Throughout the rest of the week, in which 181 vehicles were burned, the Navy, Army and Federal Police joined forces with Rio’s police in attempting to control the situation, which, it should be noted, was not spread throughout the city but concentrated in specific neighborhoods.

Last Thursday, 200 officers belonging to an elite police force known as Bope (Batalhão de Operações Especiais) entered a favela called Vila Cruzeiro, which is part of bairro da Penha (where for a brief period of time I taught English). Some of the drug traffickers there escaped to another favela, Morro do Alemão. On Sunday morning, a week after this particular episode began (although it is misleading to speak of such events as isolated, even as a shorthand), the forces took control of the morro and the whole Complexo do Alemão, more or less without resistance from the traffickers, according to reports. All of this received dramatic coverage by the Brazilian press. Since at least some of the major traffickers are now making their way through the forested areas of the city to Rocinha, another major favela, the police campaign and accompanying violence will presumably continue.

At least 39 people died in this time period. The initial violence by the gangs was widely reported to be a response to the installation of new community policing units called UPPs in but some sources have said, to the contrary, that rather it was due to a standstill between police and bandits who were in negotiations to update their agreed upon index of bribes.

UPP stands for Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora, in English Pacifying Police Unit, a program that at least in theory aims to impede the “parallel power” of the drug traffickers by actually providing state services in long neglected areas while also addressing crime. (Here’s a NYTimes article; Ben could undoubtedly say a lot more though) They are the current incarnation of a program Soares tried to implement when he was the Public Safety Coordinator in 1999.

Most of the international media, such as the New York Times, has been positively euphoric over the turn of events: “In a quick and decisive military sweep, Brazilian security forces seized control of this city’s most notorious slum on Sunday, claiming victory in a weeklong battle against drug gangs that has claimed dozens of lives”; this echoes the reporting in the mainstream Brazilian media.

The traffic the TV shows. The traffic the TV does NOT show

Soares, who was in much demand by the media for comments on the events, instead wrote a piece for his blog. Some of the points he made are these:

The media always repeats the same cycle of rabid attention to crises, paired with a complete lack of investment in reflection and consistent, solid information in the off period. They repeat the same wrong questions (a) what can be done right now to contain the violence? (b) what can the police do to definitively conquer the drug trade? (c) Why doesn’t the government call in the army? (d) will Rio’s image be sullied internationally? (e) Will we succeed in having a great World Cup and Olympics?

de André Dahmer Rough translation: 1) guy: I wrote a piece on Facebook defending the death of the trafficker. 2) guy: Or you think a bandit would grant quarter to someone? He’d kill him right away. 3) guy: I am a good citizen, you have to put bullets in them. Dog: one more good citizen who thinks like a bandit

He then proceeds to respond to these questions. There is nothing, he says, that can be done immediately to resolve the situation of insecurity. “If we want to in fact solve a serious problem, it is not possible to continue to treat the patient only when he is in ICU, stricken with a deadly illness, in the acute stage…Therefore the first step to avoid repeating the situation is to change the question… : what can be done to improve public security, in Rio and in Brazil, to avoid the everyday violence, as well as its intensification, expressed in successive crises?” Those who say that the situation requires immediate response take exactly the position that has impeded consistent advances in public security; long term solutions are necessary. “The best response to the emergency is to begin to move in the direction of rebuilding the conditions that generated the emergency situation.”

The police, Soares writes next, must stop joining the traffickers: they must stop selling them arms, and they must not form militias that take criminal profits. In other words, “the polarity referred to in the question (police versus traffickers) hides the real problem: there is is no polarity.” What must happen is in fact a separation of the bandit from the police, a differentiation between crime and police. There are, he emphasizes, honest police whom he considers the first victims of their institution’s degradation, because the “rotten band of police” who act in militias, embarrass, humiliate and threaten them.

Soares makes several other useful comments, pointing out, for example, that trafficking as it is currently conducted, by gangs that are expensive to arm and have high mortality, is going to change to a delivery model; I’ll leave it at this for now though.

He ends with an incensed description of the media coverage. The nightly news in Brazil, watched by nearly everyone, is called the Journal Nacional. Soares writes that the news on “Thursday, 25 November, defined the chaos in Rio de Janeiro, splattering scenes of war and death, panic and desperation, as a day of historic victory: the day the police occupied Vila Cruzeiro. Either I suffered a sudden mental blackout and became an obdurate and incorrigible idiot, or the editors of the nightly news felt themselves authorized to treat millions of viewers as obdurate and incorrigible idiots.”

Here’s another useful analysis of the media and what has been happening in Rio (in Portuguese)

Announcements, Conferences

Anthropoliteia at the American Anthropological Association Meetings (2010, NOLA version)

Since people seemed to find it helpful last year, I’ve decided to try and make A@AAA an annual feature.  So here you go, my annual round-up of police, crime and security events at this year’s American Anthropological Association Annual Meetings.  As always, if you know about a session or paper that I’ve missed, let me know in the comments section and I’ll add it to the list.

Wednesday, Nov. 17th





Thursday, Nov. 18th






Friday, Nov. 19th






Saturday, Nov. 20th



Sunday, Nov. 21st





In the News: Budget Cuts and Community Policing in the UK

UK officials embark upon immense budget cuts that will greatly impact policing.  Last week Greater Manchester Police excited public attention by Tweeting every call they received in 24 hours. The Chief Constable said he wanted to show that the police don’t just deal with crime and instead play a larger role in the community.  Yet, in the face of impending budget cuts, many feel crime-fighting should constitute the majority of police officer time.  Nick Herbert the Coalition’s Conservative police minister, argues that “Labour’s wasteful legacy,” has allowed for a proliferation of bureaucracy and unnecessary policing costs.  He asserts that police will be able to catch more criminals with a smaller budget and fewer officers.  Jan Berry, outgoing head of the UK’s Police Federation, echoes Herbert’s sentiments over police inefficiency, reporting this past week that up to 1/3 of police time is wasted on red tape.  Ultimately she contends that “Too much attention is given to crossing Ts and dotting Is and not enough to getting it right first time.”

First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, argues that police cuts are necessary, but contends that cuts will affect police bureaucracy -not street policing.  In a recent speech, he emphasized that “if it comes down to a choice between cops and bureaucracy, between bobbies on the beat and the boundaries of police authorities…it’s policemen first, safety first, communities first.”  Strathclyde Chief Constable Steve House, Scotland’s most senior officer, paints a very different picture of policing after the cuts.  He has warned that state spending cuts could drive his force back to the “bad old days” before his community policing revolution.  Scotland is expected to reduce its budged by 25% over the next five years, which House says will force him to take officers off the beat and put them back into patrol cars if spending is slashed as expected.  He argues this change would reduce community members’ sense of safety, noting that “If [the police] have to retreat to the bad old days when all [they] do is put out squad cars racing from job to job with blue lights and sirens that then will just make the public uneasy because they don’t see cops walking, they don’t see them on bicycles, which is what gives them confidence.”


In the News: Prisons, Police Interrogations, and Customs and Border Protection at the Supreme Court (?)

Getting some momentum into the semester, here’s a few bits of news from around the internet tubes:

Dr. Jonathan Simon, UC Berkeley, talks with George Kenney on Electric Politics: Rewiring the American Regime about his new book Governing Through Crime, which focuses on the growth of the U.S. prison system in conjunction with the ever-growing “security mindset” that has crept into nearly all aspects of American society.

Professor Kassin speaks briefly about the role of police in obtaining false confessions (especially in relation to youth and other vulnerable populations), police interrogation techniques (including lying to  suspects), and the difficulty of discerning false confessions from real confessions.

U.S. Supreme Court petitioned to hear a mother’s case against U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) after her 4th generation, U.S. citizen daughter is deported to Mexico with the child’s undocumented father.  The petition followed a judgement handed down by the U.S. Court of appeals for the 5th circuit stating that while the court did not “condone the Border Patrol’s actions or the choices it made,” the mother could not bring suit against CBP because BP agents were entitled to use their discretion in the matter.


What happened in Ecuador?

How does it happen that the president of a country is held captive in a hospital where he is being treated after the police tear-gassed him, and then has to be make a dramatic escape through gunfire, under the cover of military special forces?

Or, to turn that around, what happened that the police, who tend to embody the inherently conservative stance of the institution’s law and order mandate, would rise up against the nation’s leader?

According to the Ecuadorian newspaper El Comercio, [i] 193 were injured in chaos on 30 September 2010. Five people died in Quito, either during the president’s escape or afterward from injuries, and two died in Guayaquil from the lack of police presence (although it is unclear how exactly that could be known). I spoke with a friend in Quito on Saturday who gave this local perspective, “Things got completely out of control. It was a normal Thursday for everyone until the police decided they wouldn’t work, at 9:30 AM. Then, it was a nightmare out of the movies – children were already at school, people were at their jobs, and the criminals and thieves were in the streets robbing as much as they could. The police made the announcement that they wouldn’t work and the president put himself in the middle of their protest with a not very intelligent discourse. The police are corrupt, stupid and irresponsible, and our president is an overly emotional type who doesn’t think about what he says or what he does. What was the result? The president ended up held captive by the police.”

The basic story is that the president signed a new law pertaining to civil servants that would have reduced benefits and the police staged a nationwide strike in protest. The president went to the main barracks in Quito and ended up challenging the officers there to kill him, reportedly tearing at his shirt and saying “If you want to kill the president, here he is. Kill him, if you want to. Kill him if you are brave enough”.[ii] Within moments the protesting police fired tear gas at him and he fled the building wearing a gas mark, to a police hospital, which was rapidly surrounded with angry, perhaps drunk[iii] police officers. From within, the president stayed in control, declaring a state of emergency and making declarations that were transmitted by public radio and on the state-owned EcuadorTV station. He was rescued eleven hours later in a nighttime raid by special forces, after which he declared that he had successfully resisted a coup d’état.

Political analysts in the country have opined that this was not, however, a coup d’état[iv] because, among other things, during the time he was in the hospital, three delegations of police came in to request changes to the law, and at no point did the protesting police suggest removing the president from power and installing someone else. They generally add that the president should have shown better judgment. Despite government assertions of organization and conspiracy,[v] the English language press largely agrees with the Ecuadorian analysts. They are probably right, although this also demonstrates a pointed lack of attention to the fact that the police shot real bullets, and the president of a country could reasonably say that he should be able to go where he thinks necessary, including making visits to the capitol city’s police.

It was significant that it was the police who refused to work, beyond the basic fact that they have guns. At least in the past year, “environmentalists, students, teachers, journalists and miners have protested against Mr Correa’s policies”.[vi] Although comments in the news said things later in the day were mostly quiet, that seemed to be largely because people stayed put in their homes and work places. Like doctors and nurses, the police serve a crucial function and people suffer fairly immediate harm when their services are stopped.

The basic facts of the story are embedded clearly enough in a multi-stranded web of Ecuadorian politics, the country’s history of public protest and overturning the government. Someone who has lived and worked in Ecuador would surely be able to speak with greater specificity to those elements and probably add others. Still, there are questions I want to pose here, which I think we can reasonably address because they take interpretive analytics and policing as their object rather than Ecuador per se. (1) What conceptual tools does the social science of policing have to examine what happened? What I mean is, outside of going to Ecuador and doing fieldwork, or even interviews from a distance, what are the ways that anthropology or sociology etc can approach events like these; is there something anthropological rather than journalistic that we can do, essentially analytically or synthetically (because not methodologically in this case)? (2) What is interesting about these events for people who do the anthropology/sociology/political science of policing? Did readers of this post who work on policing make connections to their own work they first found out about these events (in the paper, or reading here, or more immediately)?








In the Journals

The UC library system doesn’t subscribe to the journal Policing, so I haven’t been able to check this out yet, but their April issue is on Academic/Police collaborations and should be of major interest to all the readers of this blog

Academic–Police Collaborations—Beyond ‘Two Worlds’

Karim Murji, Guest Editor*

via Introduction: Academic-Police Collaborations–Beyond ‘Two Worlds’ — Murji 4 (2): 92 — Policing.

Special Issue of the journal “Policing” on Academic/Police Collaborations


Resolved: Culture is the Center of the Anthropology of Policing

This is the second entry in my series of posts on the question: “What is the curriculum for the anthropology of policing?” As promised, in this post I will share a syllabus I taught last semester, and follow Kevin’s lead in using critical reflection on my teaching experience as a way to think about the challenges of “canon formation” for the anthropology of policing. Before I do this, however, I should put all my cards on the table and say that I am beginning from a particular assumption about the anthropology of policing. My ‘original position’ (apologies to Rawls) is this: (a) the disciplinary core of anthropology is its concern with culture and, therefore, (b) the integrating core of the anthropology of policing is an anthropological concern with culture. Based on this assumption, I expect the answer to the question of my previous post (i.e. overlap in the syllabi for three hypothetical courses on the anthropology of policing pitched to the distinct audiences of (i) practitioners, (ii) undergraduate liberal arts majors, and (iii) anthropology graduate students) to be “Yes.” And not just “Yes,” but “Yes, there is an overlap. And it consists of a particular literature about the culture of policing.”

So, the ultimate purpose of this exercise in public auto-critique is to rise to the challenge of converting the vague prejudices of an American-cultural-anthropologist into a bibliography of canonical ideas about the culture of policing. The job will be finished when we have assembled a bibliography robust enough to answer critiques registered on behalf of any of the three audiences listed above. And if, at the end of this ordeal, my culturalist prejudices have not been crushed under the jackboot of political economy, or scattered to the winds of the policy community, then I will call myself a winner and buy everyone a drink at the November AAAs.

So, on to the syllabus. It is for a course I taught last semester, called Policing: An International Perspective, as an elective in the University of Hong Kong’s masters program in criminology. This is a popular two-year coursework-based degree “designed as a professional qualification for practitioners in criminal justice and related fields (including NGOs), [but also] open for people with an interest in the field of criminology in general.” The program is housed within a sociology department that awards PHDs in sociology, anthropology and criminology. Thus the experience of working here has thus brought me into contact with all three audiences mentioned above. The course itself enrolled 18 students, about half of whom were serving in what is locally known as the “disciplined forces.” I designed the course before I came to Hong Kong, however. And the lack of a practical familiarity with my audience gave a rather free rein to my personal sense of the how the anthropology of policing fit together as a coherent topic of instruction.

So, without further ado, for your apprasial and critique, here is the syllabus.

Where do you think its grand intellectual vision crumbled most dramatically in its confrontation with the realities of the classroom?