Book Review: The End of Policing by Alex Vitale

Profiles of a line of police officers

By Peter J. Mancuso – The End of Policing is one of the most important works on American criminal justice that I have encountered in nearly fifty years of dedication to the subject both professionally and personally.

This book has encapsulated in 228 pages (260 with extensive bibliography, end-notes and index) not only where we have ineffectively been but, more importantly, where we should be going. Alex S. Vitale, a Professor of Sociology at Brooklyn College (CUNY), takes his readers on a chapter by chapter tour of law enforcement’s most inveterate problems. He convincingly argues that these problems will likely remain unsolved unless there are fundamental changes in our society’s approaches to addressing them.

Chapters are devoted to: policing in schools; interacting with mentally ill populations; interacting with the homeless; policing sex work; the war on drugs (think of it as the Hundred Years War II); gang suppression; border policing and; political policing. Each provide a vivid and fair account of how law enforcement efforts have failed to be effective, and have in many instances, produced additional injustices (corruption, excessive force and violations of civil rights). In the simplest of terms, American policing has often proven to be a sledge hammer when a screwdriver is what’s required, and often times the screwdriver should be wielded in the hands of non-law enforcement professionals.

Professor Vitale provides countless examples for each of these “crime problem” areas. He provides ample proof that American policing has never been able to solve the issues at hand, and likely never will, despite the illegal and extralegal, and sometimes unconstitutional tactics, that have often been resorted to. The author’s summations for each chapter are not only backed up by volumes of research and analysis but also by many policing experts and former police practitioners (closely confirming my own personal experiences and observations attempting to address these “crimes” as a patrol officer, investigator, trainer, planner, and training executive in the NYPD and beyond). Having personally engaged, first hand, nearly every principle topic addressed in The End of Policing (except school policing and border policing) has only convinced me further of the validity of the author’s analysis.

The author provides many real-world working examples, supporting his critical recommendations on how local, state and federal law enforcement and their corresponding levels of government and non-government organizations could shift the focus away from near total reliance on policing as the solution to these long unsolvable problems. He also offers the opportunities and potential strategies to reduce and prevent the recurrence of these problems while reducing over-enforcement’s negative impacts and subsequent injustices on individual communities and our society as a whole.

Perhaps most importantly, Vitale demonstrates that he is a hard realist. In the introductory and concluding chapters, and periodically throughout this work, the author presents the harsh truths and realities of the evolution of our criminal justice system. He examines the brute force that was applied to maintain our nation’s “legalized” slavery and the genocide of our land’s indigenous peoples which was abetted through the creation and enforcement of cruel and unjust laws. He describes the many political, economic, racist and other counterproductive forces that leave entire segments of our society bearing the brunt of over-policing while others, committing deadly environmental and devastating financial crimes, continue unimpeded and beyond the purview of our law enforcement and judicial establishments.

Finally, he addresses the past, present and likely future resistance to reforming these arcane and futile laws, policies and practices or, even the willingness to evaluate the status quo. His observations pertaining to the growing economic incentives, further enriching the relatively few, that not only created and continue to maintain the cruelest, most ineffective and, most unjust aspects of our enforcement practices but, also, how these insatiable economic forces are accelerating at a pace that will take the concept of “liberty and justice for all” and relegate it to the trash heap of failed states and societies.

This book is highly recommended to everyone engaged with crime and justice in the street, whether in uniform or not. Those working in the courtroom or in our legislative and executive chambers as well as for those who advocate for reform will also want to read this book. Professor Alex Vitale has given us a gift, a difficult but truthful look at why we are failing in our efforts to address the problems and injustices which most of us wish could be solved. Most importantly, however, he has given us a vivid vision of what we can do about them.

Peter J. Mancuso Jr. received his B.A. (’76) and M.A. (’79) in Criminal Justice from John Jay College.

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