***** American Police: A History, 1945-2012. By Thomas Reppetto. Enigma Books; enigmabooks.com; 258 pages; $23.
Noted scholar and former police commander Thomas Reppetto traverses the path of American policing from 1945 to the present in the second volume of American Police: A History. The story is scholarly, professional and personal. Above all, it is riveting.
The first chapter, “Policing at the Crossroads,” describes post-World War II law enforcement as it struggled to overcome corruption and deal with rapidly evolving social and economic conditions. The chapter sets the stage for the continued discussion of political and organizational factors that influence policing. The author continues this theme throughout the book, providing useful context for security managers who must understand policing’s power centers.
The last two chapters detail how policing deals with terrorism, and the book concludes with “Policing in the 21st Century: Old Problems, New Solutions.” Along the way, Reppetto discusses events such as the VJ Day riot in San Francisco, a disturbance by servicemen that involved gang rapes and probable murders, and the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention riots, which he observed firsthand.
Military influence is usually given short shrift by policing historians. Reppetto fully acknowledges the key relationship between the military and law enforcement. He discusses both direct military intervention during civil unrest and police leaders with military backgrounds.
A comprehensive critique of community policing touches on scheduling issues, separating the community policing operation from the rest of the force, and placing citizens in danger by encouraging them to be the “eyes and ears” of the police in dangerous neighborhoods.
The book’s flaws include a focus on urban police forces at the expense of smaller forces. Some pivotal police actions are overlooked. Finally, there is scant mention or explanation of the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) during the 1960s and 1970s. Rarely, if ever, do authors convey the enormous sea change that LEAA brought to policing.
Despite these shortcomings, Reppetto has delivered a highly readable, historical work at a Spartan price. It is filled with nuggets of wisdom based upon his expansive study and experience. American Police is a valuable addition to the library of anyone interested in the evolution of American law enforcement.