Why Our Students Should Read 'Police Craft’

Cop confidential.

February 20, 2019

Police Craft: What Cops Know About Crime, Community and Violence by Adam Plantinga

Published in December of 2018.

Police Craft is written for someone considering a career in law enforcement.  While now a sergeant, Plantinga’s background is that of a street cop in Milwaukee and San Francisco.  His book is an insiders account of what day-to-day life is like policing a large American city.

The book’s perspective is not that of an academic examining larger trends in crime and law enforcement. Instead, Police Craft is an on-the-ground account of what new uniformed officers will experience.

While Police Craft was written by a cop, for other cops, the book deserves a wider audience. There is no doubt that Police Craft will find a place of honor among crime writers.  Fans of police procedurals will enjoy learning where fiction writers get police officer life right and wrong.

My hope is that some critical mass of professor recognize that Police Craft should be read by college students.  This is a book that may make it on to the syllabi of criminology courses.  But I hope that it gets a broader campus reading.  Most of us in academia are far removed from the work of a big city police officer.  We may think and teach about urbanization, inequality, concentrated poverty, and mass incarceration - but almost all of us do so at a remove.  Cops are in the thick of things.

When it comes to issues of thinking about crime and policing, our students would benefit from hearing directly from law enforcement.  Those reading Police Craft may still be critical of how policing is practiced in the U.S.  That critique, however, may be more nuanced if informed by a clear understanding of policing from the perspective of those wearing the badge.

What surprised me most about Police Craft is how intimately tied up the work of big city policing is with violence.  Being a uniformed police officer in a big city means being constantly prepared to use physical force. Almost always, that force is non-lethal.  Cops don’t shoot to wound.  But the authority of a police officer not backed up by the ability to “make” - the last stage of the ask/tell/order/make chain - is no authority at all.

To his credit, Sergeant Plantinga takes on issues of police racial profiling and police violence head-on.  He is all for greater transparency and is a believer in body cams.  Far from a defender of police abuse, Plantinga is outraged that the actions of a few exert such a disproportionate influence on how cops are perceived.

What Plantinga asks for is a more balanced view of big city policing.  He rejects the idea that cops are an urban occupying force and argues that most who choose to enter a profession in law enforcement do so out of a desire to serve and protect.

Reading Police Craft should probably be required of those most critical of the current state of law enforcement.  Discussions of policing in America should be informed by a better understanding of what the job of a police officer entails.

Can you imagine Police Craft being read and discussed on your campus?

What other books about the work of law enforcement would you recommend?

Are there any books written by university police officers?

Do campus police officers read IHE?

What are you reading?


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