Sam Mitrani

The Rise of the Chicago Police Department

Class and Conflict, 1850-1894

University of Illinois Press 2013

New Books in American StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network November 3, 2015 Christine Lamberson

How to best increase police effectiveness in controlling crime rates is perennially controversial. Still, law enforcement has been in the news a lot lately....

How to best increase police effectiveness in controlling crime rates is perennially controversial. Still, law enforcement has been in the news a lot lately. From criticism surrounding police use of force against unarmed African Americans to controversy surrounding broken windows policing or stop and frisk policies to suggestions of more community policing, we are in the midst of a national debate about the efficacy and equality of modern policing practices. Interestingly, however, these debates rarely include very many voices that fundamentally question modern police forces’ existence, structure, or purpose. Reading Sam Mitrani‘s new book about the creation of the Chicago Police Department suggests this normalization is more recent than most of us might guess today. Mitrani is an Associate Professor at the College of DuPage. In this book, The Rise of the Chicago Police Department: Class and Conflict, 1850-1894 (University of Illinois Press, 2013), Mitrani argues that the development and normalization of modern police forces occurred as in the late nineteenth century in response to the development of an industrial society in the United States.

The Rise of the Chicago Police Department examines the creation of the police in Chicago, a city at the heart of the industrialization process. The book provides a number of revelations about the process that will be of great interest to any reader interested in law enforcement. First and foremost, Mitrani’s work highlights just how new modern police forces actually are. In 1850, there was nothing that would be recognizable to us today as an urban police force in cities like Chicago. Yet, by the close of the century, there was a large, stable police department in existence. That police force had already gone through a series of reforms and shifting political oversight. The new police forces were in many ways responses to the disruptions of a new industrial society. They primarily served the interests of the business elite in maintaining order over the new working classes–notably, they did not primarily serve the interest of fighting crime. Yet, Mitrani explains that the United States was one of the few nations to maintain democracy while industrializing, and he argues these new police forces were a key component in reconciling democracy with industrial capitalism.

In this interview, Mitrani discusses this history of the Chicago Police Department, including discussing its implications for understanding the relationship between business elites and government, the police and violence, and law enforcement and crime control. Further, Mitrani discusses what we might take away from his work for thinking about police departments as institutions in the 19th century as well as in the present day.

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