Defining “policeability”: Cooperation, control, and resistance in South Los Angeles community police meetings
Gascón, Luis Daniel
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Community policing partnerships are built and maintained by community meetings wherein participants coproduce social order by identifying local problems and devising strategies for their reduction and resolution. Coproduction is a dynamic process of meaning construction that takes place through social interaction. These interactions build toward a mutually satisfactory discourse on local definitions of law, crime, and order. This discourse creates a set of understandings about what citizens interpret as problems, disorder, and crime, as well as police officers’ ability to address these issues using a range of enforcement and non-enforcement strategies. Through this interactive process, police and residents define the “policeability” of residents’ interpretations. Drawing on literature in symbolic interactionism, we chart a course for unpacking the contest over policeable discourse using ethnographic data gathered over a four-year period in community-police meetings in South Los Angeles. This paper explores participants’ roles and explicates the process of defining policeability through a set of ideal-type interactions (cooperation, control, and resistance). Power, in this setting, is control over the definition of policeability. Residents are locked into a supplicatory role, while officers are akin to legal brokers, accepting, rejecting, or reframing residents’ claims of crime and disorder. Our findings suggest that, in this precinct, while the rhetoric of cooperation abounds, pessimism on the part of policing scholars about the claims toward true partnership are warranted with respect to the power police retain and express in police-citizen interactions.