The Gift of the Arrest: The Symbolic Economy of Policing

Friday, June 24, 2016: 2:30 PM-4:00 PM
233 Dwinelle (Dwinelle Hall)
Brian Lande, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
Police officers make arrests for many reasons: to solve problems, generate statistics, rectify perceived moral wrongs, or enforce compliance with the law. Many studies of discretion in arrests have looked at situational and structural determinants of the decision to arrest. Citizen demeanor, race, gender, and the nature of the crime have all been examined. Turning from these approaches, this study considers the institution of policing, focusing on the relations among police officers to try and explain who makes an arrest, especially when more than one deputy is on scene. Drawing from data collected during two years as a police officer in a rural California county, I show that arrests are a form of symbolic capital. Arrests are given, taken, and fought for as deputies struggle to work with each other and compete for prestige and positions within the police department. Much like a gift, an arrest has the power to solidify existing relationships as well as foster divisions. As such the arrest is a vehicle of social meaning and bonding and a valued social commodity.