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Punishing Play: Policing of Entertainment Activities in Oakland, California, Lima, Peru, and Stockholm, Sweden


Despite a general pattern of decarceration occurring in US prison rates, an equivalent realignment has not developed around policing policy in cities across the US. This is despite the fact that in recent years, police departments throughout the country have faced intense public scrutiny for issues of misconduct and police violence. At the same time, a divide seems to be underway globally in which some cities and municipalities are adopting US-style, order-keeping policing policy, while others are reconsidering the conventional wisdom around the methods and goals involved in crime control. This dissertation investigates police practices aimed at “disorderly” activities on the margins of the law. It consists of a comparative ethnographic study of three restricted forms of entertainment in Oakland, California, Lima, Peru, and Stockholm, Sweden to investigate how different societies police activities deemed disorderly and how targeted groups respond to these interventions. Although prior penology scholarship has centered the discussion of punitive penal systems on larger political economic projects (e.g. neoliberal vs. social democratic) or solely at the site of the carceral state, this study shows how two mid-level factors—external, key government actors and internal police organizational logics—gives way to punitive practices described as dissonant disciplining. While dissonant disciplining in Oakland involved raids, surveillance, and racial profiling practices, in Lima, incosistent organizational logics made dissonant disciplining largely informal, consisting primarily of intimidation and physical violence handed out on the street. Repressive practices in these two sites threatened public safety and fueled direct acts of resistance directed at the police. Contrasting these findings, in Stockholm, policing reforms brought about by the central government paved the way for dialogue policing reforms. Dialogue policing suspended enforcement of nuisance laws in exchange for stronger relationships with policed groups, reduced incidence of violence, and diminished resistance to police efforts. The findings of the dissertation suggest the need to place greater focus on policy domains and institutional arrangements taking shape around penal organizations. Additionally, the research has policy implications as it pertains to policing reform. Namely, reform efforts aimed at reducing danger and racial bias in police practices would be served to target government actors which place untethered power in the hands of police organizations.

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