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Indybay Feature

Radio Interview with Kristian Williams

Thursday, April 30, 2009
6:30 PM - 7:30 PM
Event Type:
Radio Broadcast
Robert Norse
Location Details:
Free Radio Santa Cruz at 101.1 FM .
Call-in number 831-427-3772

Kristian Williams, author of Our Enemies in Blue, will be calling in to discuss a variety of issues raised in his book.

I'm particularly interested in alternatives to failed police review boards, advice for nascent Copwatches (we have one in Santa Cruz), ways of fighting "quality of life" [i.e. anti-homeless] legislation as well as any new documentation around the riskiness of the law enforcement profession vis a vis other jobs and the number of people injured or killed by law enforcement (cf. with law enforcement injuries and deaths).

Check out a recent lecture, q & a, of Williams' at

Williams is an interesting researcher and feet-on-the-pavement activist who also describes his time with Rose City (Portland, OR) Copwatch.
Added to the calendar on Wed, Apr 29, 2009 7:56PM

Comments (Hide Comments)
by Robert Norse
A challenging and provocative article in the Monthly Review (2003) on the origins of modern policing--which challenges many preconceptions is Williams' "The Demand for Order and the Birth of Modern Policing"

For instance, Williams writes:

"...Furthermore, it is not at all clear that crime was on the rise prior to the creation of the modern police. In Boston, for example, crime went down between 1820 and 1830,5 and continued to drop for the rest of the nineteenth century. In fact, crime was such a minor concern that it was not even mentioned in the City Marshal’s report of 1824. And the city suffered only a single murder between 1822 and 1834.

Whether or not crime was on the rise, after the introduction of modern policing the number of arrests increased. The majority of these were for misdemeanors, and most related to victimless crimes, or crimes against the public order. They did not generally involve violence or the loss of property, but instead were related to public drunkenness, vagrancy, loitering, disorderly conduct, or being a “suspicious person.” In other words, the greatest portion of the actual business of law enforcement did not concern the protection of life and property, but the controlling of poor people, their habits and their manners. Sidney Harring wryly notes: “The criminologist’s definition of ‘public order crimes’ comes perilously close to the historian’s description of ‘working-class leisure-time activity.’” The suppression of such disorderly conduct was only made possible by the introduction of modern police. For the first time, more arrests were made on the initiative of the officer than in response to specific complaints. Though the charges were generally minor, the implications were not: the change from privately-initiated to police-initiated prosecutions greatly shifted the balance of power between the citizenry and the state.

A critic of this view might suggest that the rise in public order arrests reflected an increase in public order offenses, rather than a shift in official priorities. Unfortunately, there is no way to verify this claim. (The increase in arrests does not provide very good evidence, since it is precisely the fact which the hypothesis seeks to explain.) However, if the tolerance for disorder was in decline, this fact, coupled with the emergence of the new police, would be sufficient to explain the increase in arrests of this type..."

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