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American Policing and the Danger Imperative

Law & Society Review

Published online on


["Law & Society Review, Volume 55, Issue 1, Page 70-103, March 2021. ", "\nIn spite of long‐term declines in the violent victimization of U.S. police officers, the danger of police work continues to structure police socialization, culture, and behavior. Existing research, though attentive to police behavior and deviance that negatively affects the public, analytically ignores how the danger of policing engenders officer behavior that harms police themselves. Drawing on ethnographic observations and interviews in three U.S. police departments, this article describes how police are informally and formally socialized into the danger imperative—a cultural frame that emphasizes violence and the need for officer safety—and its effect on officer behavior. As a result of perception mediated through the danger imperative, officers engage in policy‐compliant and policy‐deviant behaviors to protect themselves from violence. Unfortunately, policy‐deviant behaviors such as unauthorized highspeed driving and not wearing a seatbelt, though justified in the name of safety, lead to catastrophic car accidents that injure and kill both police and members of the public. This article concludes with discussion of how seemingly mundane policy deviant behaviors are a reflection of assumptions within police culture that undergird police practices that damage public wellbeing and perpetuate boarder inequalities in U.S. policing.\n"]