Seeing Blue: A Police-Centered Explanation of Protest Policing by…
Seeing Blue: A Police-Centered Explanation of Protest Policing
by Jennifer Earl and Sarah A. Soule
Confrontations between authorities and demonstrators create familiar terror and repression
Instances of repression remind us that states are willing to use power in deadly ways
These violent interactions are not the dominant
Scholars are attempting to explain the reaction of authorities to demonstrators by addressing two concerns
How and why responses change over time
Focus on the "allocation of repression" across protest events
Prior Research on the Allocation of Protest Policing
Threat Approach v. Weak Approach
Larger threats to political elites means greater repression
These threats include radical groups, countercultural groups, and large protests
Because states risk public embarrassment if they fail in repressive attempts, they should only repress those they know they can defeat
Two types of weaknesses
Weakness from within
Protests that lack access to political elites are weaker than those with more access
Weakness from without
Protesters are seen as relying on external monitoring of the state to limit repression
"On The Job" v. "In The Job" Trouble
"In The Job"
Trouble occurs when external bodies review police actions because of controversy
"On The Job"
Trouble arises from potential for disorder and violence property damage, injury, etc
Della Porta and Reiter Model
Stable political opportunity comprised of structural relationships, judicial restrictions, political culture, and democracy
How characteristics of police, the polity, and interactions may create conflict
A “Blue” Approach to Explaining Police Action at Protests
Blue approach focuses on two main elements
Organizational characteristics that vary across police agencies
Each police department is different with different organizational structures
Concerned with staffing levels
Varying levels of departmental professionalism affect protest policing
Institutional features of policing
Police are more concerned with situational threats
Protests with counterdemonstrators are moe likely to cause conflict
Presence of counterdemonstrators increases likelihood for police presence and increase the likelihood of police action
Agencies evaluate themselves on ability to maintain order
One major threat perceived by police officers is the loss of control
Maintaining public order and enforcing laws are primary aims of police
Institutional features of policing and organizational variations between police agencies structure protest policing
Data and Methods
Study took place in New York from 1968-1973 consisting of protest events that occurred and were reported in the
New York Times
Protest had to meet three criteria
Participants had to articulate some claim (grievance, expression of support)
Event must take place in public sphere
More than one person had to participate
Protest Policing as two-step process
Police Attendance (or lack of)
Police Action at Protest Event
": Officers show up at protest but take no further action.
Nothing to See Here
": Officers show up and take limited action.
": Exclusively using force (hand-to-hand conflict and weapons)
Calling All Cars
": Combination of Force and arrests/prevention.
"Once of Prevention/Legal Eagles
": Officers attempt to prevent disorder with barricades, making arrests, and the combination of both.
Protester committed violence
Co-commission of property damage and violence by protesters
Protester committed property damages
Rock, brick, or bottle throwing
Explaining Police Presence
Two Major Determining Facotors
Size of protest
Tactics used by protestors
Counter-demonstrator presence, protester-initiated violence and/or property damage, and missile throwing all increase the likelihood of police presence.
Police attend protests that involve clear signs of disorder.
Per-capita spending on policing does not affect the likelihood of police presence.
More professionally integrated departments are more likely to send officers to public protest events.
Explaining Police Action at Protest Events
If all dummy variables are off, there is a 41% chance that police deploy "Do-Nothing" approach.
Probability drops to 23% if protestors use confrontational tactics.
10th percentile of protest size=32% of legal approach
90th percentile of protest size=18% of legal approach
Increasing protest size and confrontational tactics significantly affect police action at protesting events.
Two weakness variables
Total front-page news coverage from the prior month
Discussion and Conclusion
Blue Approach to Protest Policing
Institutional characteristics of the police and and inter-organizational variation should structure dynamics of protest control