The Police: a Glossary

Police (Academy):     A police “boot camp” attended by people training to become police officers, where they learn to fire weapons and file paperwork. Upon completion of police academy, police cadets become police officers, where they’re told to forget everything they learned in police academy. They’re then re-trained by special training officers who teach them how to beat up homeless people and arbitrarily arrest people of color. 

Police (Agency):  An institution that finds its origins in southern slave patrols. After the Civil War, slave patrols became among the first municipal police departments. Just as like before the Civil War, police agencies reinforce racialized inequality by protecting private property relations. This is what is meant by “protect and serve.”

Police (Attorney): Usually known as the District Attorney. The highest officeholder, usually elected, in the legal department of a local jurisdiction who represents the government in the prosecution of criminal offenses. District Attorneys work closely with local police departments in prosecuting crimes. In the United States, the cozy relationship between police and District Attorneys insure that justice is served only when it does not undermine the interests of the local police department. The fathers of nearly all current US District Attorneys were either police officers or District Attorneys.

Police (Community Relations):      Usually handled by local news outlets such as the newspaper and/or local TV news. They carry water for the local police department by attributing issues such as racism, poverty, and inequality to “crime.” They do this by parroting what the police tell them and depicting the city as dangerous and violent. This is usually referred to as “Breaking News.” In return they get “tips” and “ratings”.

Police (Dog): The police dog, or K9, is a trained dog used as an instrument of organized coercion and terror. The use of the K9 is common among US police departments and notable for the way its use reveals the logic of policing: the horror of devourment—literally the threat of being eaten alive by an agent of the state—and the history of state terrorism via the use of menacing animals (i.e., the use of vicious dogs in the Jim Crow South, in Japanese internment camps, in Apartheid South Africa, in Nazi concentration camps, and at Abu Ghraib prison).

Police (Officer):  An agent of racialized socio-spatial control of the poor (even the “good ones”).

Police (Oversight):   See Police (Reform)

Police (Reform):  A political tactic of appeasement offered by politicians during moments of a crisis in police credibility, often when riots ensue after police are caught on tape murdering an innocent, unarmed person and then lying about it. The key premise of police reform is that police brutality is not the norm but rather the result of “a few bad apples.” Police reform advocates depict police brutality as unusual and exceptional instead of constitutive of actual, everyday policing. Police reform advocates promise to resolve the problem of police brutality through solutions such as improved training, hiring, leadership, and/or oversight. Generally, police reform finds purchase with white middle-class progressives. Conservatives generally reject the premise of police reform; they understand that the police exist solely to reinforce their privileges and economic interests. Most conservatives wish the police were even more violent (they will admit this when drunk, high or with other rich conservatives). Police reform, when and where it is practiced, is followed by more police violence.

Police (SWAT):    A paramilitary arm of municipal police departments and, increasingly, other levels of local, state, and federal law enforcement. Generally referred to as Death Squads in the developing world.

David Correia is the author of Properties of Violence: Law and Land Grant Struggle in Northern New Mexico and a co-editor of La Jicarita: An Online Magazine of Environmental Politics in New Mexico


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