Cover image for Cop knowledge : police power and cultural narrative in twentieth-century America
Title:
Cop knowledge : police power and cultural narrative in twentieth-century America
Author:
Wilson, Christopher P. (Christopher Pierce), 1952-
Publication Information:
Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 2000.
Physical Description:
xii, 281 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780226901329

9780226901336
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

Whether they appear in mystery novels or headline news stories, on prime-time TV or the silver screen, few figures have maintained such an extraordinary hold on the American cultural imagination as modern police officers. Why are we so fascinated with the police and their power? What relation do these pervasive media representations bear to the actual history of modern policing?

Christopher P. Wilson explores these questions by examining narratives of police power in crime news, popular fiction, and film, showing how they both reflect and influence the real strategies of law enforcement on the beat, in the squad room, and in urban politics. He takes us from Theodore Roosevelt's year of reform with the 1890s NYPD to the rise of "community policing," from the classic "police procedural" film The Naked City to the bestselling novels of LAPD veteran Joseph Wambaugh. Wilson concludes by demonstrating the ways in which popular storytelling about police power has been intimately tied to the course of modern liberalism, and to the rising tide of neoconservatism today.

"A thorough, brilliant blend that crosses disciplines."-- Choice

"[S]ophisticated, highly theoretical and ambitious. . . . Connects the history of policing to cultural representations of crime, criminals and cops."-- Times Literary Supplement

"[A] deeply satisfying approach to the crime narrative. . . . [Wilson] focuses, ultimately, on the role of police power in cultural storytelling."-- American Quarterly


Summary

Whether they appear in mystery novels or headline news stories, on prime-time TV or the silver screen, few figures have maintained such an extraordinary hold on the American cultural imagination as modern police officers. Why are we so fascinated with the police and their power? What relation do these pervasive media representations bear to the actual history of modern policing?

Christopher P. Wilson explores these questions by examining narratives of police power in crime news, popular fiction, and film, showing how they both reflect and influence the real strategies of law enforcement on the beat, in the squad room, and in urban politics. He takes us from Theodore Roosevelt's year of reform with the 1890s NYPD to the rise of "community policing," from the classic "police procedural" film The Naked City to the bestselling novels of LAPD veteran Joseph Wambaugh. Wilson concludes by demonstrating the ways in which popular storytelling about police power has been intimately tied to the course of modern liberalism, and to the rising tide of neoconservatism today.

"A thorough, brilliant blend that crosses disciplines."-- Choice

"[S]ophisticated, highly theoretical and ambitious. . . . Connects the history of policing to cultural representations of crime, criminals and cops."-- Times Literary Supplement

"[A] deeply satisfying approach to the crime narrative. . . . [Wilson] focuses, ultimately, on the role of police power in cultural storytelling."-- American Quarterly


Reviews 2

Choice Review

Intending his book as neither criminology nor a poetics of detective fiction, Wilson (American studies and English, Boston College) takes a chronological/ historical approach to police power. "Cop knowledge" incorporates the public perception of police, a result of being "mediatized." By dealing with the symbol of such authority, Wilson places the police in mythic mold. Behind even the observations of a writer such as Stephen Crane, the audience and author are secret accomplices on the side of the law. The author's detailing of Crane's defense of prostitutes in NYC's tenderloin focuses on the extent to which the police icon controls narrative events in fiction and nonfiction. Chapter 2 compares two police procedurals, the film Naked City and one of Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novels, Con Man. These works thrive on "actuarial expectations," not the ratiocination of the Miss Marple mysteries; here the cop is human, the society deflated by the desire to get something for nothing. Academic scrutiny of police is comparatively recent, and this work should not be confused with studies of "true crime" literature, which deals with specific incidents. The book is instead a thorough, brilliant blend that crosses disciplines. Extensive footnoting replaces bibliography. Upper-division undergraduates and graduate students; general readers. ; Central Connecticut State University


Choice Review

Intending his book as neither criminology nor a poetics of detective fiction, Wilson (American studies and English, Boston College) takes a chronological/ historical approach to police power. "Cop knowledge" incorporates the public perception of police, a result of being "mediatized." By dealing with the symbol of such authority, Wilson places the police in mythic mold. Behind even the observations of a writer such as Stephen Crane, the audience and author are secret accomplices on the side of the law. The author's detailing of Crane's defense of prostitutes in NYC's tenderloin focuses on the extent to which the police icon controls narrative events in fiction and nonfiction. Chapter 2 compares two police procedurals, the film Naked City and one of Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novels, Con Man. These works thrive on "actuarial expectations," not the ratiocination of the Miss Marple mysteries; here the cop is human, the society deflated by the desire to get something for nothing. Academic scrutiny of police is comparatively recent, and this work should not be confused with studies of "true crime" literature, which deals with specific incidents. The book is instead a thorough, brilliant blend that crosses disciplines. Extensive footnoting replaces bibliography. Upper-division undergraduates and graduate students; general readers. ; Central Connecticut State University


Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Introduction Thin Blue Lines: Police Power and Cultural Storytelling
1 "The Machinery of a Finished Society": Stephen Crane, Theodore Roosevelt, and the Police
2 "...and the Human Cop": Professionalism and the Procedural at Midcentury
3 Blue Knights and Brown Jackets: Beat, Badge, and "Civility" in the 1960s
4 Hardcovering "True" Crime: Cop Shops and Crime Scenes in the 1980s
5 Framing the Shooter: The Globe, the Police, and the Streets Epilogue- Police Blues
Notes
Index
List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Introduction Thin Blue Lines: Police Power and Cultural Storytelling
1 "The Machinery of a Finished Society": Stephen Crane, Theodore Roosevelt, and the Police
2 "...and the Human Cop": Professionalism and the Procedural at Midcentury
3 Blue Knights and Brown Jackets: Beat, Badge, and "Civility" in the 1960s
4 Hardcovering "True" Crime: Cop Shops and Crime Scenes in the 1980s
5 Framing the Shooter: The Globe, the Police, and the Streets Epilogue- Police Blues
Notes
Index