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Tangled Up in Blue: Policing the American City
Reviewed By
Jessica T. Mathews
May/June 2021
In This Review
Brooks, a tenured law professor with “two children, a spouse, a dog, a mortgage, and a full-time job,” decided in her 40s to become a police officer. Taking advantage of a program in Washington, D.C., that puts volunteers through the paces of the Metropolitan Police Academy—from pushups to firearms and field training—she eventually got fully certified. Her remarkable book recounts her experiences as a part-time patrol officer working for several years largely in the poorest parts of the city. In a way that a traditional scholarly book cannot, she brings to life the impossible combination of roles police officers are expected to play: “warriors, disciplinarians, protectors, mediators, social workers, educators, medics, and mentors.” She does not skimp on detailing the police abuses she encountered. Officers are sometimes trigger happy because they are taught to believe that their jobs are more dangerous than they truly are. The training officers receive, prevailing laws, and the social circumstances in which the police work are often directly at odds. And an “explosion of over-criminalization” at the state and federal level in recent decades has turned misdemeanors into felonies and small violations of regulations into more serious crimes. Brooks has produced an engaging page-turner that also outlines many broadly applicable lessons and sensible policy reforms.
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