Tangled Up In Blue

 Tangled Up In Blue: Policing the American City, by Rosa Brooks

I heard about this book from a podcast interview with the author; if not for that, I would never have known that this book is what it doesn't look like -- a memoir about a Georgetown law professor in her mid-40s becoming a reserve police officer in Washington DC.  And it so happens that the law professor is the daughter of Barbara Ehrenreich, the well-known writer, activist, and cop-hater.

Rosa Brooks has traveled the world, studying law and violence, and as tensions around race issues and policing heated up, she wanted to know what the world looks like from the cop's point of view.  She wanted to try it herself and think about what good policing is and whether we even know what we want from the police.  (Seems like no.)  And in DC, it's possible to become a part-time reserve officer, complete with swearing-in.  So she went to reserve police academy, while her mother had a meltdown.

The world of the police and the world of the academy are about as different as they could be, and they're not usually too interested in each other.  Brooks was navigating both, and it was probably interesting to deal with the dissonance!  She describes the academy experience (what was worthwhile vs. not) and the people she met.  Then she hit the streets, working in District 7, in the poorest and most difficult parts of DC.  She saw how most people were trying hard to get by and love their families, but drugs and violence could make it impossible, and sometimes the law only made things worse -- there are a couple of times when DC's domestic violence law, meant to protect endangered people, only serves to force the arrest of someone who didn't deserve it.

In other words, policing is incredibly complex.  Brooks' story serves to point out that if the academy and the police world practically never talk to each other, that's to the detriment of both.  She started a Georgetown program, the Innovative Policing Program, which takes interested police officers and gets them together to talk about difficult issues of policing -- trying to figure out what policing even is.

I highly recommend this memoir, which can serve as a bridge between these two worlds.  It's fascinating and compelling reading.


mudpuddle said…
timely book... i've thought that it's gotten so complex that the only people who apply for the job are the ones that shouldn't have it...
Does she talk about how she felt about policing on an ethical basis? It seems like there are many police officers with the best of intentions, but the *system* is so screwed up and unethical (as of course are some percentage of the officers). I'm curious if she spoke to that at all!
Jean said…
Jenny, I'd say that's one of the major themes of the book! I think that's a large part of why she put the program together.

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