The Policing Machine: Enforcement, Endorsements, and the Illusion of Public Input

Regular price $ 20.00

by Tony Cheng

University of Chicago Press

12/13/2023, paperback

SKU: 9780226830650


A revelatory look at how the NYPD has resisted change through strategic and selective community engagement.

The past few years have seen Americans express passionate demands for police transformation. But even as discussion of no-knock warrants, chokeholds, and body cameras has exploded, any changes to police procedures have only led to the same outcomes. Despite calls for increased accountability, police departments have successfully stonewalled change.

In The Policing Machine, Tony Cheng reveals the stages of that resistance, offering a close look at the deep engagement strategies that NYPD precincts have developed with only subsets of the community in order to counter any truly meaningful, democratic oversight. Cheng spent nearly two years in an unprecedented effort to understand the who and how of police-community relationship building in New York City, documenting the many ways the police strategically distributed power and privilege within the community to increase their own public legitimacy without sacrificing their organizational independence. By setting up community councils that are conveniently run by police allies, handing out favors to local churches that will promote the police to their parishioners, and offering additional support to institutions friendly to the police, the NYPD, like police departments all over the country, cultivates political capital through a strategic politics that involves distributing public resources, offering regulatory leniency, and deploying coercive force. The fundamental challenge with police-community relationships, Cheng shows, is not to build them. It is that they already exist and are motivated by a machinery designed to stymie reform.


"The Policing Machine is the most important study of policing I've ever read. It applies a crucial relational and institutional analysis of community policing in New York City from an independent perspective. Cheng's emphasis on de-monopolizing policing's role in public safety offers a useful way forward for anyone seeking to bring serious change to city approaches to public safety." -- Robert Vargas, University of Chicago

"A brilliant analysis of the mechanisms the NYPD uses to cultivate political power. If Skogan and Hartnett's Community Policing, Chicago Style was the must-read book on neighborhood policing of the twentieth century, I predict Cheng's contribution will be the must-read book on the topic of the twenty-first." -- Tracey Meares, Yale University

About the Author:

Tony Cheng is assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at Duke University.