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The legal policing literature has espoused one theory of policing after another in an effort to address the frayed relationship between police and the communities they serve. All have aimed to diagnose chronic policing problems in working towards structural police reform. The core principles emanating from these theoretical critiques is that the mistrust of police among communities of color results from maltreatment, illegitimacy and marginalization from the law and its enforcers. Remedies have included police training to encourage treating people with dignity, investing in body cameras and other technology, providing legal avenues to encourage constitutional action by police, and creating a voice for community members to express their needs. These preeminent policing theories do not fully address a core cause of police mistrust and disaffection of communities of color and the poor. To address these symptoms of policing failure requires a consideration of the purpose and function of police. Though at the core of police function is a misunderstanding of policing that this Article terms “the police myth.”
The police myth is the two-fold belief that a primary function of police is crime control and that police solve crimes with regularity. Reliance on the police myth may provide societal comfort but has made it difficult to address rudimentary policing failure. Without understanding what police actually do and their relationship with crime, it is impossible to reimagine policing. This Article seeks to understand the myth that in large part contributes to the anomie between police and communities of color, but also creates a structural dissonance regarding the nature and function of police and their role in a community. Dispelling this myth recasts the policing function and the underlying expectations of public security, while pointing towards a new instrumentalist approach to police reform.
Baughman, Shima, "Crime and the Mythology of Police" (2021). Utah Law Faculty Scholarship. 276.