As a new year quickly approaches, and we reflect on the increasing calls for police accountability and a critical review of excessive use of force, I want to take this time to review the past year of Practicum and pose two questions for anthropologists and police agencies alike: do police agencies need anthropologists? And what might that look like?
Since its debut, Practicum has explored the practice of applied anthropologists working on issues of policing, criminal justice, juvenile justice and corrections. I’ve been remarkably heartened to see that a community of practitioners exists who have successfully applied the lens and research methodologies of anthropology to these issues. These anthropologists have “produced anthropology” (nod to the 2014 AAA Annual Meeting) in practice in juvenile justice, corrections, and policing and raised the profile of how anthropologists- through theoretical orientation, research techniques, analysis, and praxis- can contribute to the improvement of justice systems.
With this in mind, and a new year approaching, I want to propose a bit of radical thinking. Perhaps it won’t be radical to some of you, and perhaps for others, it might be a bit controversial. But with the events of Ferguson, continued fatalities in interactions between police and people with behavioral health disorders, and the tensions that structural violence and inequalities produce, I see a place for anthropologists placed within police departments. In an excellent panel discussion hosted by the Urban Institute and featuring Chief Ron Brown (Ret.), Chief Cathy Lanier, and Dr. Tracie Keesee, which I encourage you to view, I was struck by the progressive vision of policing and law enforcement that was presented. However, recalling my own experience in working with police officers, I know how hard implementation- even of the best vision- can be, especially within a hierarchical organization. While criminologists have made concrete headways into working within police organizations, anthropologists have not made similar strides. While I can speculate that this can be attributed to the discipline’s historical orientation and notions of appropriate subjects of study and practice, with the emergence of a strong contingent of academic and practicing anthropologists focusing on policing, criminal justice, and security, I find this may be the perfect time to consider how anthropologists can work with and within police organizations.
In March 2015, the Society for Applied Anthropology will hold its annual meeting in Pittsburg, PA. The following Call for Proposals might be of interest to some of our Anthropoliteia readers. Please direct questions to the organizers at their email addresses below.
Seeking contributions to the panel “Anthropologists at the Intersections of Applied Anthropology and Criminal Justice” at the Society for the Applied Anthropology Meeting in Pittsburg (March 24-28, 2015)
Patricia San Antonio (CRS, Inc), Jennie M. Simpson (American Anthropological Association) and Scott Catey (National Council on Crime and Delinquency)
Anthropology has a long history of scholarship on crime, security, law, and justice, including significant work by major figures in the discipline, such as Malinowski, Nader, and the Comaroffs, among others. Yet, work by applied and practicing anthropologists in criminal justice settings and on criminal justice systems, including policing, courts, corrections, and policy, has been notably missing from discussions of crime, security, law and justice in academic scholarship. In this session, we seek to bring together practicing and applied anthropologists working in criminal justice fields to highlight the contributions made by these anthropologists to scholarship, policy, direct services and other areas of applied practice, as well as the potential of this work to inform theoretical practice. Proposals are welcome that highlight anthropological research, policy and/or direct service work in criminal justice. Topical and geographic areas are open.
Please, send your abstracts to Patricia San Antonio (firstname.lastname@example.org), Jennie Simpson (email@example.com) and Scott Catey (firstname.lastname@example.org) by October 6th. Selected session participants will be notified by Friday, October 10h. Please note that session participants must register and pay for the conference before the abstract deadline on October 15th.
A year ago, I was asked by a former chief of police now active in policy and research to write a white paper mapping out what a “police anthropologist” might look like, replete with arguments on how anthropologists could contribute both to the study of policing and to police departments. I spent many hours reflecting on my own work with police agencies and imagining how I could translate anthropological aims and methods into work with police agencies. The result was a thoughtful exercise in outlining how anthropologists might be integrated into the world of policing, in which I argued: