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Book Tells How Three Chiefs Changed 'Cop Culture'

Although polls suggest most Americans favor police reform, fewer than one-third say they’re optimistic about making progress. Reform-minded police chiefs find themselves stuck in the middle between abolitionists, who see all reform as hopeless, and "back the blue" hardliners. Amid all this skepticism comes a new book by the Colby College sociology professor Neil Gross. In “Walk the Walk: How Three Police Chiefs Defied the Odds and Changed Cop Culture,” Gross makes an informed and impassioned case for the value of small cultural changes, one police department at a time, according to a review in the New York Times by Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown University law professor who wrote her own book on policing, "Tangled Up in Blue: Policing the American City."

Gross, who served briefly as a police officer in Berkeley, Calif., in the early 1990s, organizes his book around three case studies and chiefs: Eric Jones in Stockton, Calif.; Mike Butler in Longmont, Colo.; and Lou Dekmar LaGrange, Ga. In some ways, the three towns could hardly be more different, but each had the benefit, Gross says, of the kind of dedicated, imaginative police chief every department needs. Although an insular law enforcement culture can make police departments remarkably resistant to reform, Gross insists that transforming policing is both necessary and possible. It’s leadership, he argues, that makes the difference: Law enforcement culture can change when police departments are helmed by creative chiefs with “organizational savvy, skill at communicating with cops and citizens, historical awareness, humility and perseverance.” Brooks writes that Gross’ optimism about police reform offers an antidote to the cynicism and gloom that pervade most such discussions. His book is replete with both empathy and pragmatism. “We can’t write off the police, not in the foreseeable future,” he warns. But, while utopian visions of a world without policing may be far out of reach, that’s no reason to give up on smaller reforms.


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