Handcuffed: What Holds Policing Back, and the Keys to Reform

HandcuffedBrookings Institution Press (Washington DC, USA).

See Brookings Announcement: The Crisis in American Policing, by Malcolm Sparrow (25th April 2016)

Listen to "Re-Humanizing Policing" Malcolm Sparrow interviewed on Brian Lehrer Show, WNYC (16th May 2016)

Listen to "Handcuffed: What's the Primary Goal of Policing?" Malcolm Sparrow interviewed on KPCC's Airtalk, with host Larry Mantle (28th July 2016). Read extracts from the interview on the KPCC Airtalk website.

Listen to "Brookings Now" Podcast interview (audio), Malcolm Sparrow with Bill Finan, Editor, Brookings Institution Press

Listen to "Inside the New York Times Book Review" 1st July 2016 podcast with NYT Book Review Editor Pamela Paul interviewing reviewer Barry Friedman (edited to those sections of the program relating to Friedman's review of "Handcuffed")

The NYT review of "Handcuffed," 27th June 2016, is available here.

See Salon Magazine: Why we can't reform our cops: Race, guns & the failure to police the police by Malcolm Sparrow (Sunday 1st May 2016)

See WGBH Forum Network video: (recording of the Harvard Book Store Event, Friday 20th May 2016, Cambridge, Massachusetts)

Publisher's Description:

Whatever happened to community and problem-oriented policing? How the current crisis in policing can be traced to failures of reform.

The police shooting of an unarmed young black man in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014, sparked riots and the beginning of a national conversation on race and policing. Much of the ensuing discussion has focused on the persistence of racial disparities and the extraordinarily high rate at which American police kill civilians (an average of three per day).

Malcolm Sparrow, adopting a more global view of the police profession, argues that other factors—critical flaws in the more general development of police theory and practice over the last 25 years—have substantially contributed to the current crisis in policing.

Sparrow shows how the reform ideas of community and problem-solving policing, adopted as conventional policing wisdom by the 1990s, have failed to thrive. Many departments give these ideas mere lip-service, and still define their success by reference to narrow quantitative metrics—tallying up traffic tickets issued (Ferguson), or arrests made for petty crimes (in New York)—focusing closely on official (but unreliable) crime statistics while exercising inadequate control over policing tactics and style.

Sparrow says police must escape their narrow focus and perverse metrics, and turn back to making public safety and public cooperation their primary goals. Police departments, he argues, are fundamentally in the business of risk-control and harm-reduction, with profound implications for policing strategy, methods, measurements, analysis, and the nature of community interactions.

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Table of Contents:

Ch 1. Introduction: The Crisis in Policing
Ch 2. Defining Success
Ch 3. What Happened to Community & Problem-Oriented Policing?
Ch 4. Governing Science
Ch 5. Partners in the Production of Public Safety & Security
Ch 6. Partners in the Art of Risk Control & Harm Reduction


"We need a clear vision of where Policing in America is headed. We surely need a broader view of what it means to succeed in the vital but enormously complex enterprise of policing. This is indeed a critical subject, and Sparrow has provided rich and very timely help. Every police chief will find ideas here they can use, and I suspect their communities will be better served as a result."
Charles Ramsey, Co-Chair, President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing; Former Commissioner, Philadelphia Police Department.

"It is hard to think of anyone who writes more thoughtfully and perceptively about policing than Malcolm Sparrow. He argues convincingly in these pages that American law enforcement has lost its way by failing to follow through on the core commitments of community policing and problem-oriented policing. Anyone who cares about the current state of American police departments and their future prospects should read this book."
David Alan Sklansky, Stanley Morrison Professor of Law, Stanford Law School

"Malcolm Sparrow, one of the nation's leading scholars on the police, has given us a timely and unusually penetrating analysis of some of the most fundamental current issues in policing. Sparrow brushes aside, with refreshing candor, much of the contemporary superficial treatment of the field's ills. He challenges much of the vocabulary, claims and assumptions regarding traditional and new practices that clutter commonly repeated reform agendas. Digging deeply, urging more intellectual investment, and proposing more profound and ambitious change, he draws heavily on his expertise in public sector management, and especially on the years he has spent studying the operations of federal and state regulatory agencies--a body of experience very comparable to local policing, but rarely tapped for its relevance. As a book that "points the way," it will rank among the most valuable resources to become available in this period of crisis in American policing."
Herman Goldstein, Professor of Law Emeritus, University of Wisconsin Law School and author, Problem-Oriented Policing

"American police, still trying to recover from the “Great Recession,” are now reeling from the crisis in confidence resulting from Ferguson and subsequent events. In Handcuffed Malcolm Sparrow makes an enormous contribution, clarifying the underlying challenges and showing how police can increase both effectiveness and community confidence. This book reinforces Sparrow’s decades-long advocacy for problem-oriented policing."
Darrel W Stephens, Executive Director, Major Cities Chiefs Association

Published Reviews:

Arbetsmarknad & Arbetsliv (Swedish): Reviewed by Micael Björk, Göteborgs Universitet, 2019
Policing & Society: Reviewed by Peter Neyroud, 27th June 2017
Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology: Reviewed by David Connery, 5th August 2016
New York Times Review of Books: Reviewed by Barry Friedman, 27th June 2016
Publisher's Weekly: Reviewed 11th April 2016

Online Reviews:

Improving Police, WordPress: Reviewed, 12th January 2016, by David Couper (former Chief of Police, Madison, WI)
Signal (Regulatory Solutions), Toronto, Canada: Reviewed, 17th March 2017, by Angela Bates