Policing with Impunity

Lesley Wood


This essay emerges from a frustration with two common sense caricatures of police that circulate in left movements. The first portrays the police as the tools of elites, simple enforcers of an exploitative system. In this version, the police are not strategic actors, but merely the brute force of coercion – a force that is thuggish and often bumbling. We blur differences across time and space and suggest that any variation is solely a direct result of economic shifts. At other times, the police are portrayed as autonomous, even omnipotent, strategic players, without examining how relative their autonomy actually is, nor understanding how things might be changing and how and why police strategy varies across time and space. In fact, policing in Canada, the US and the UK is undergoing a broad shift in its logic and strategy. This shift is increasing police impunity, and involves an integration of the previously distinct fields of public and private policing, security and intelligence activities.

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