Policing Identities: Cop Decision
Making and the Constitution
Trish Oberweis and Michael Musheno
We examine police decision making by focusing on police stones and
drawing together contemporary thought about identities and police subcul-
ture. Our inquiry suggests that police decision making is both improvisational
and patterned. Cops are moral agents who tag people with identities
project identities of their
They do engage in raw forms of division
stereotyping, marking some as others to be feared and themselves
tors of society, while exercising their coercive powers to punish “the bad.”
Due, in part, to the many ways that they identify themselves, cops also con-
nect with people
unique individuals, including individuals whose categon-
cal identities (e.g., drug dealers) put them at the margins of society. Rather
than using their coercive powers to repress these individuals, cops infuse them
with certain virtues (e.g., good family men) while cutting them breaks.
they complicate representations of themselves, cops also project complex no-
tions of law and legality. Moral discourse seems to infuse their judgments,
while they invoke law strategically
enforce their moral judgments.
The marginalistic integration of individuals in the state’s utility is not
obtained in the modern state by the form of the ethical community
which was characteristic of the Greek city. It is obtained in this new
Oberweis is the project manager at the American Justice Institute, San Francisco.
Michael Musheno is professor of justice studies and public affairs and director of the Center
for Urban Inquiry at Arizona State University. The authors are grateful to M. A. Bortner,
Steve Herbert, Nancy
Suzanne Leland, Steven Maynard-Moody, Peter Manning, and
the anonymous reviewers for comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript. The research
related to this article was supported by a National Science Foundation Grant, Law and Social
Sciences Program, Grant number SBR-9511169.
1999 American Bar Foundation.