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The Patrolmen's Revolt: Chicago Police and the Labor and Urban Crises of the Late Twentieth Century


My dissertation uncovers a history of labor insurgency and civil rights activism organized by the lowest-ranking members of the Chicago police. From 1950 to 1984, dissenting police throughout the city reinvented themselves as protesters, workers, and politicians. Part of an emerging police labor movement, Chicago's police embodied a larger story where, in an era of "law and order" politics, cities and police departments lost control of their police officers. My research shows how the collective action and political agendas of the Chicago police undermined the city's Democratic machine and unionized an unlikely group of workers during labor's steep decline. On the other hand, they both perpetuated and protested against racial inequalities in the city.

To reconstruct the political realities and working lives of the Chicago police, the dissertation draws extensively from new and unprocessed archival sources, including aldermanic papers, records of the Afro-American Patrolman's League, and previously unused collections documenting police rituals and subcultures. Archives across the city have also yielded internal police department documents including memos, minutes, training materials, and anti-police union literature as well as decades of correspondence and periodicals generated by Chicago's rank and file police organizations.

The dissertation follows a rough chronology over the course of three decades. It examines the key results of institutional changes that divided the police rank and file from the rest of the department hierarchy, creating new spaces for dissent by both white and black police. Organized black police launched a civil rights campaign to reform the department from within. Majority-white police organizations challenged longstanding loyalties within Chicago's Democratic machine. The wives of Chicago's police also played important roles. They acted as their husbands' advocates and proxies in disputes with the department and, in what they saw as their own interests, vigorously opposed efforts to establish gender equality on the police force. Police sued the city, picketed the department, called strikes, and eventually unionized in 1980. Having recast themselves as workers with labor rights, police turned their attention to Chicago politics, participating in hotly-contested city elections as voters, campaigners, and candidates.

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