Tag Archives: legal theory

A Book on Policing

One of the heavier books I’ve read recently! Worth it though.

Illusion of Order: The False Promise of Broken Windows Policing by Bernard E. Harcourt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is a mix of empirical study analysis, theory survey, and rhetorical analysis. The author warns the reader that the empirical chapter is necessarily heavy in detail and can be skipped; however I slogged through it. I remembered enough from my one college course to recognize that he was asking good questions of prior studies, though I’d forgotten most of what i once knew about the actual formulas and their results. He used the analysis to separate “broken windows” policing out from other causes of a decrease in crime, thus removing claims that the policing method worked.

In the theoretical section he challenges the categorization of order/disorder using a Foucauldian analysis of subject creation. He questions the assumption that the category “disorder” is fixed and natural, pointing out disorders like white collar crimes and police use of excessive force that are not included among public drunkenness. In his analysis he claims that the manner of policing creates the category “disorder” as it is used then assumed preexistent.

In the rhetorical section he traces the history of the use of a “harm principle” to determinine when government can intervene in individual action. He shows a gradual movement from harm/no harm to analyses of multiple harms. And the “harm principle” doesn’t provide a way to weigh among harms. By the conclusion he is arguing that harms done by aggressive policing need to be considered along with harms of the act being constrained for a total anaysis of harm.

Although written in 2001, it still has relevance. I’m interested in following up to see how many of his ideas have been incorporated into later studies and also to see how his thinking has evolved.

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