Friday, 11 November 2011

Police history recommendation

As noted, I intend this blog to also deal with broader issues relevant to crime, policing, justice and the media in the 1920s and 1930s. Coincidentally, I just received a notice that my review of Joanne Klein's Invisible Men: The Secret Lives of Police Constables in Liverpool, Manchester,and Birmingham, 1900–1939 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2010) has been published.

Regardless of a few minor criticisms, I recommend the book highly.

A couple of excerpts from my review:

A key issue—which takes up three of the book’s ten main chapters—concerns police relationships with the public. These were characterized by patterns of conflict and comity that varied by class and gender. The working classes were most likely to respond to police interference with violence, while the middle and upper classes were more prone to be “patronizing” and send letters of complaint. Klein sees a general improvement in police and public interactions, noting an increased civilian willingness to assist constables in trouble and, more generally, to cooperate with investigations. Constables had friendly relations with the public through gossip, assistance, favours, perks, and charity. Such contacts show, Klein argues, that constables “remained part of the working-class community” (221). One tricky issue, however, involved police relationships with women, which took both consensual and coercive forms. One of the book’s most interesting aspects concerns the multifaceted relationship between policing and new transportation and communication technologies, particularly the growth of motoring and the expanding use of the telephone. Both sorts of tasks—whether directing traffic and ticketing motorists or responding to telephone requests for assistance with a myriad of (often petty) problems—not only interfered with what officers saw as their main duty (i.e., fighting crime) but also contributed to tensions between police and public: notably, the growth of motoring meant the “higher classes” had more encounters with (working-class) police officers. [...]

If one of Klein’s goals was to break down the public’s view of the police (perhaps held as much now as then) as a “monolithic entity” (110), she has succeeded magnificently by offering a complex portrait of how everyday policing was experienced as a mixture of boredom, excitement, violence, humour, tragedy, and, at times, absurdity. In a strikingly original chapter, the extensive institutional supervision to which constables were subjected even allows Klein to provide insight into police officers’ domestic lives. An effective combination of detailed research and clear writing, Invisible Men joins the ranks of the must-read books about British policing.

John Carter Wood, review of Joanne Klein, Invisible Men: The Secret Lives of Police Constables in Liverpool, Manchester,and Birmingham, 1900–1939 in the Journal of British Studies, Vol. 50, No. 4 (October 2011), pp. 1016-1017 .

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