Policing tactics have recently been the subject of lively political debates and the target of protest groups like the Black Lives Matter movement. Police reform is not new, of course. The 1950s and 1960s, in fact, saw one of the most active periods of change surrounding standard policing procedures and a moment of political reexamination of the role of police in a democracy. Christopher Lowen Agee
, Associate Professor of History at the University of Colorado Denver, examines these changes in San Francisco in his recent book. The Streets of San Francisco: Policing and the Creation of a Cosmopolitan Liberal Politics, 1950-1972
(University of Chicago Press, 2014) takes on a city where police notoriously clashed with leftist activists, but also a city run by liberals. The Streets of San Francisco
examines the causes, consequences, and limits of reform from street-level interactions between police and residents to policing politics in city hall.
In this episode of New Books in History
, Agee discusses his new book. He tells listeners about reform in the San Francisco Police Department in the 1950s and 1960s. He talks about some of the unusual alliances formed among reformers and a few of the several controversies that his book examines, explaining to listeners how those controversies changed police procedures. He discusses the role of police discretion and force, of activists responding to police tactics, and also the limits of reform, particularly those surrounding race. The legacies of these reforms continue to influence policing today. Finally, Agee talks about conducting oral histories for this book and more generally about researching policing during the era.
Christine Lamberson is an Assistant Professor of History at Angelo State University. Her research and teaching focuses on 20th century U.S. political and cultural history. She's currently working on a book manuscript about the role of violence in shaping U.S. political culture in the 1960s and 1970s. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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