Policing and Militarization Today

In 2015, Laurence Ralph and Aisha M. Beliso-De Jesus launched the study, "Policing and Militarization Today," a five-year, team-based research collaboration to examine policing, militarization, and protection from a transnational approach. Policing and Militarization Today is based at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics and will focus on the ethics, practices, and normatizing experiences of local and global policing. We ask the following questions: how do different subjects encounter the police and the military? How do we understand police and militarization at the intersections of religion, race, gender, sexuality, and nationalism? What conceptions of protection have led to the development of militarized policing in the United States and abroad? This is a collaborative project, built from the efforts of social scientific researchers conducting in-depth, qualitative ethnographies on policing to measure and evaluate police violence and protection. What drives this study is a commitment to investigate an entrenched problem at the core of global policing: the issue of force. 

In the wake of Ferguson, we have seen that contemporary forms of civil unrest serve to question the ethics and mechanisms of policing. The threat of uprisings have transformed some non-war zones, like U.S. metropolitan areas, into battle zones where police resemble the military—conducting police work while armed with helmets, flak jackets, armored tanks, and using tactical force. What are current national and global issues in policing and protection, and how have these trends developed? In what ways do police strategies for enforcing law affect local and national communities? How do we understand the relationship between the militarization of police and protection in the U.S.? What are the roles of social media and protests concerning use of force by the police? These questions are germane to a broader understanding of policing, and yet there has yet to be a comprehensive qualitative investigation that explores national and transnational operations of policing. At its core, this study seeks to understand the nature of protection and policing today by examining the experience of violence from both the mundane routines of humiliation in programs like Stop-and-Frisk, to more overt forms of police violence that have resulted in physical trauma, injury, and death. 

Policing and Militarization Today will allow for a relational analysis that explores larger rubrics of the ethics of policing in a comprehensive social scientific framework. Through qualitative surveys, structured interviews, and participant observation in representative cities, research teams will be able to analyze the experience of militarized policing today. With help from the vibrant intellectual community that the Center for Ethics provides, our research will culminate in workshops, conferences, scholarly articles, public policy recommendations, and book-length publications.

Team: Aisha M. Beliso-De Jesus, Laurence Ralph