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Coffee Shops, Beat Cops, and the Ballot Box: A Study of Gentrification, Urban Policing, and Political Behavior


This dissertation explores the causes and consequences of contemporary policing practices, focusing particular attention on the high volume, aggressive, and racially discriminatory policing strategies that police departments throughout the United States began to adopt in the 1970s and 1980s. In a series of empirical analyses, it makes three principle claims. First, this dissertation argues that the adoption of these punitive policing practices can be attributed in no small part to municipal strategies of gentrification and revitalization. In doing so, it advances research on the post-industrial policing hypothesis, which argues that as cities pursue growth strategies designed to appeal to members of the so-called "creative classes'' or businesses in the post-industrial sector, they will increasingly adopt punitive policing practices to harass, displace, or control groups (including racial and ethnic minorities) that are deemed incompatible with these strategies. Mobilizing data on order maintenance policing (OMP) in New York City and the Stop, Question, and Frisk (SQF) police stops that OMP generated, this dissertation finds that gentrification in New York City is associated with significantly higher rates of SQF police stops, mostly in neighborhoods that lie adjacent to or near gentrifying tracts.

In a second analysis, this dissertation argues that these aggressive policing strategies have the potential to impact political behavior, and explores how OMP practices in New York City affected voter turnout and candidate choice in that city. In a series of national and local elections, it finds that while concentrated policing can negatively affect political participation in the form of voter turnout, heavily policed communities can and do mobilize to counteract these harmful and discriminatory policing policies. Specifically, it finds that while SQF policing was associated with lower rates of turnout in the 2010 and 2006 national elections, it was also associated with higher rates of turnout in the 2008 national election and the 2013 mayoral election and Democratic primary. While the positive association between turnout and policing in the 2008 national election was likely do to the unique mobilizing affect that Barack Obama's campaign had on marginalized communities, this dissertation argues that the higher rates of turnout in the 2013 general and Democratic primary are attributable to the mobilization of communities in New York City to end SQF policing. In support of this claim, this chapter presents additional evidence that higher rates of SQF policing was associated with more support for the Democratic primary candidate (John Liu) who promised to end SQF policing and significantly less support for the candidate (William Thompson) who promised to keep it.

In its third and final analysis, this dissertation explores the extent to which aggressive and discriminatory policing affects political behavior in other national contexts, specifically the United Kingdom. Characterizing contemporary policing practices in Britain which: 1) were adopted specifically following their successful implementation in American cities such as New York City and 2) which exhibit similar levels of racial and ethnic disparity, this chapter argues that like gentrification, post-industrial policing and its political consequences are global in scope. Mobilizing data from police stops of citizens in Greater London, Manchester, and the West-Midlands this analysis similarly finds that as the intensity of police-citizen contact increases, political participation decreases. Unlike in New York City, however, this analysis does not uncover instances or contexts where higher levels of policing were associated with higher rates of turnout, which it tentatively attributes to differences in political opportunity structure in the two contexts.

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