The Limits of Community Policing
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The Limits of Community Policing
Civilian Power and Police Accountability
in Black and Brown Los Angeles
Luis Daniel GascÃ³n and Aaron Roussell
NEW YORK UNIVERSITY PRESS
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NEW YORK UNIVERSITY PRESS
Â© 2019 by New York University
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On Police and Partner Ethnography
Youâ€™re undercovers, huh?
Te metaphor of social research as a detective story is well worn, but
our particular research site and positionalities meant that people in
Lakeside would literally confuse us with law enforcement ofcials, as
this resident did during a community carnival event held in front of
the Lakeside Station. Following ethnographic traditions, we immersed
ourselves into the working lives of civilians and state actors collaborating to maintain social order in South LAâ€™s Lakeside Division. Easing
into conversations, friendships, and interactions requires that ethnographers be acutely aware of themselves and others, making strategic
choices about when and how to engage. Ethnographers have accepted
that objectivity in feldwork is elusive, instead seeking to understand
the particularities of subjectivity. Social worlds are unstable and ethnographic observations are made within constantly shifing conditions.
Each researcherâ€™s background, training, and life experiences will inevitably infuence what and how they â€œseeâ€ the object of their study (May
and Pattillo-McCoy 2000)â€”in this case, community policing. How
much access ethnographers can attain, with whom they can build relationships, and the sorts of questions they are able to ask shape the data
they collect. Tis appendix explores how we collected our data, various
challenges we confronted, and the solutions we devised. We hope that
our work, as the frst long-term, in-depth ethnographic exploration of
community policing at a single site, will inspire future policing scholars to conduct close examinations of social interactions between police
and civilians, in addition to conducting surveys and counting meeting
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230 | Methodological Appendix
Weâ€™d been going to the Lakeside Station regularly by the time we began
observing meetings, with most of that time spent deep in the station
in the Gang and Homicide units. Many of the ofcers at the station
became used to our presence in that way. We eventually became ofcial
members of the CPAB and wore name tags advertising this within the
building. Later, through a separate research project, Aaron applied for
an LAPD contract worker badge, which enabled us to forgo the guard
station and buzz ourselves into â€œpersonnel onlyâ€ doors. No one asked
Early one morning, we met SLOs Phil Hackett and Adrian Nilo in the
basement roll call room before a ride-along. Hackett thought it would
be a good idea for us to witness their morning routine, so we started by
observing the daily predeployment meeting:
A tall P2 [officer entrusted with enhanced responsibility] who looks like
a young Rutger Hauer directs us sternly to the roll call room at about five
minutes before 6 AM. Te room is mostly empty, but it quickly fills up. We
sit in the very back, the lone civilians in a room that eventually comprises
some twenty-plus officers, SLOs, and Sergeants. Most of them are White
males, but there are a few Latinos and women. SLOs Nilo and Hackett are
there on time. Hackett sits in front of us and to the right, but straddles
Figure A.1. Photograph of our shadows.
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Methodological Appendix | 231
the bench the whole time so that heâ€™s looking right at us. He also spends
a bit of time picking his nails with a large knife. Is this his normal MO, or
is he asserting his dominance in a place where he is powerful? Tough to
knowâ€”heâ€™s a quirky dude.
Te Watch Commander, a portly middle-aged white male with an air I
can only describe as â€œcop nerd,â€ calls role and gives out assignments to each
car. Ten he gets a bit more casual. â€œDoes anyone have a burning desire to
help Narco run a warrant?â€ He asks the SLOs if they have any instructions
or announcements (they donâ€™t).
A Sergeant in the back begins a long set of instructions and advice regarding searchesâ€”if youâ€™re ultimately responsible for the results of the
search, he says, then go in and search yourself, even if another team has
cleared the house. He speaks for a while, talking about everyoneâ€™s duty to
debrief, i.e., share experiences and information. He does so himself, telling
us about suspects that heâ€™s found hiding under beds, in boxes in the closet,
and even in a doghouse in the back of the yard. â€œImagine,â€ he says, â€œif he
stays there all night and then rapes and kills someone!â€
Te Watch Commander wraps it up by announcing that there are two
detectives here today, and would they like to say anything? Startled, Danny
and I quickly realize that he means us, and we quickly disabuse him of the
notion that we are law enforcement of any kind. He looks puzzledâ€”which
he shouldnâ€™t, since he should have been warned we were comingâ€”and
ends it, sending everyone into â€œlineâ€ to get their equipment.
Both our appearance and the spaces we observed marked us as cops.
Lakeside is still recognized as a largely Black community, albeit with a
quickly growing [email protected] presence. Most cops on the force are [email protected] or
White, in their late twenties or early thirties (LAPD 2017).
Interactions like these signaled that we had become liminal actors.
Anthropologist Victor Turner, in his classic work Te Ritual Process
(1966), characterized liminality as a quality of being in between two
spaces or phases of development, by the end of which a personâ€™s social
status becomes transformed. It also takes the form of simply standing
between several worldsâ€”those of ofcers, other government ofcials,
and diferent communities of residents. Our liminality became clearest
with respect to engagement with ofcers. When ofcers believed we were
also cops, they saw us as insiders and tacitly accepted us. We entered the
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232 | Methodological Appendix
bowels of the building where no civilians could go unaccompaniedâ€”our
very presence confrmed our legitimacy. When they learned we were not
ofcers but instead researchers, we became outsiders as their perceptions transformed in an instant.
Civilians sometimes mistook us for cops as well, although, interestingly, perhaps less ofen than police. One afernoon, we got to Lakeside
early and decided to pull up to a local park before heading to the station.
Tere was a community soccer game going on. Both of us are avid soccer fans, so we wanted to watch. As we made our way from the parking
lot and up the cement walkway toward a grassy patch, a young Black
man crossed our path. Without changing stride, he said audibly to us,
â€œGood afernoon, ofcers,â€ smirking as if in on a joke. We looked at each
other, surprised, and argued about who looked more like a cop, given
that neither of us were wearing badges, insignia, or any sort of uniform.
While we managed to build rapport with many community members,
particularly CPAB members, some were reluctant to engage with us at
frst and a few never did. It was uncommon for participants to refuse to
be interviewed, but some did outright, and even afer repeated requests.
Tanika Mahoney, a domestic violence organization coordinator and
lowrider, and Sra. Santos, whom we discuss in Chapter 5, were prime
examples of community residents who steadfastly refused interviews;
although both spoke to us informally, it seems likely that lingering suspicions that we might ultimately report to police persisted.
Our eforts to mitigate such concerns mainly took the form of persistence and verbal attempts to convince civilians of our lack of responsibility to police. Sometimes this paid of. In the instance below, which
occurred early in our feldwork, it seems likely that the combination of
our physical separation from police, our persistent denials, and perhaps
clear suspicion from police themselves (a rarity) helped win one woman
over at a Lakeside carnival in front of the stationhouse:
Danny and Aaronâ€™s fieldnotes
We succumb to hunger and walk over to the taco stand, where reggaeton
is booming from the speakers just behind the stand, and order two tacos
al pastor [pork tacos] and a juice (five dollars). We notice that police have
begun to patrol the carnival in earnest. Two officers seem particularly interested in us, most likely because they saw us taking notes. Tey seem atten709-79160_Gascon_1P.indd 232 2/1/19 2:52 PM
Methodological Appendix | 233
tive to our activity and frequently gaze at us with suspicion. Danny at this
point has counted at least twelve police officers making their rounds. Te
two officers periodically glance at us; at one point, one of the officers even
motions over to where we were sitting. Te idea that we are so interesting
to the officers makes us laugh quietly to ourselves. Tree bike officers are
now circulating throughout the carnival off in the distance.
Danny makes his way back to the seating area after throwing away his
trash and sees a group of police officers now seated a few tables away from
Aaron, including what appears to be two off-duty or undercover officers.
Again, they make it known to us that we are being watched.
A Black woman, who appears somewhat intoxicated, sits at the table
next to ours and begins speaking very loudly on her cell phone. Once off
her phone, she faces away from the tables of officers and toward us, beginning to speak loudly in our general direction about her dislike of police. At
first, Danny isnâ€™t sure whether or not she is talking to us.
â€œYou know what Iâ€™m sayinâ€™, undercovers? Youâ€™re undercovers, huh?â€ she
says, looking for affirmation from us.
â€œUs!?â€ Danny says laughingly.
â€œYeah, you are.â€
She continues to speak loudly and we continue to engage, attempting to
persuade her that we are not, in fact, cops. Weâ€™re also nervous that taking
sides here could potentially imperil our project, not to mention our safety.
Te police officers near us ignore her though as she says several times, â€œI
wish these muthafuckas would say some shit to me, cuz Iâ€™ll get ignorant!â€
Apparently deciding to trust us, she begins to treat us as confidants and
attempts to sell us on her dislike of police. She tells us that she especially
does not like one of the officers sitting at the table across from us who
has arrested her on several occasions. Further, she hates cops because they
donâ€™t respect the rights of people in the ghetto. Sharpening her critique,
she finishes by telling us that her brother was shot sixteen times by police,
which solidified her attitude.
Both residents and ofcers with whom we had little contact viewed
us with suspicion. In this space, we probably looked like undercovers;
only our faces were unfamiliar to the actual undercovers. Over time we
learned that long conversations and interactions with residents, or other
such sustained engagements, were usually sufcient to convince them
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234 | Methodological Appendix
that we were not ofcers. Once they discovered that we were not police,
however, ofcersâ€™ trust was more difcult to obtain and more easily lost.
The Investigation Unfolds
Community policing was not our intended object of study when we
originally began visiting South LA. We were doctoral students at UCI
when criminology professors John Hipp and George Tita enlisted us to
conduct feldwork on a research project examining interracial violence
funded by a Haynes Foundation grant. Following several well-publicized
murders and intergang conficts resulting in the death of Blacks and
[email protected] at the hands of one another, various commentators, including neighborhood activists, Chief Bratton of LAPD, Sherif Baca of LA
County, and notable reporters from the LA Times, began quarreling over
whether these events represented racialized gang war, pure gang confict, or â€œethnic cleansingâ€ (e.g., Baca 2008; Hernandez 2007; Quinones
2007, 2015). Attempting to answer some of these questions statistically,
Hipp and Tita (with Boggess 2009), investigated the issue, confrming
the standard criminological cant that interracial violence is statistically
rare. One is signifcantly more likely to be assaulted or killed by a person
of oneâ€™s own race/ethnicity; the truth of the interracial violence claims
perhaps lay outside of such a quantitative approach. Our task was originally to look qualitatively at the issue.
Fieldwork began in the summer of 2008, part of which involved collecting demographic information on interracial homicides throughout
South LA. We met with LAPD Deputy Chief Donovan Butler, a fgure
beloved by many in South LA, as he was not only from the area but also
one of the frst Black administrators in LAPDâ€™s history. He connected
us to a Detective in the Homicide Unit who became our contact at the
Lakeside Station. Detective Ron Jefries facilitated our entry into the station and provided us a cramped interrogation room to use as an ofce,
which was conveniently situated across from the shelves that contained
homicide investigation materials going back more than a decade.
Tese materials, collated into enormous binders known as â€œmurder
books,â€ were intended to give us a baseline understanding of the nature
and distribution of interracial gang homicides. Tey contained details
on the victims, the circumstances of their deaths, and the ofenders,
gruesome photos of the crime scene, notes from witness interviews,
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Methodological Appendix | 235
warrants, and letters and cards from families. We learned to triage the
important information and get through most of them in a matter of
ten to ffeen minutes. Others contained such detailed and convoluted
information as to fll more than one â€œbook.â€ We coded two hundred
of these. Both of us were aware that such grim work was coloring our
thinking toward South LA, and we sought as quickly as possible to exit
the tedious and macabre task and speak to actual residents about their
neighborhood, their neighbors, and issues of community governance.
No one would want outsiders to understand their neighborhood only
through the dead bodies of (mostly) young people, yet this seems all too
common when urban communities of color meet academia.
We were therefore relieved to begin observations and interviews
with residents and ofcers. Seeking to better understand responses to
interracial violence, we lef the interrogation room and began attending community events and observing gang-focused public safety forums throughout South LA as well as interviewing ofcers and others
involved in the issue. Experienced LAPD ofcers did not buy into the
â€œrace warâ€ narrative propagated by the media to explain gang violence.
Instead, they attributed gang violence to territorial and drug conficts.1
Interestingly, community people tended to agree with LAPD. Tis is not
to suggest that interracial violence is not a problem, but rather that the
incidents we investigated through such methodologies tended to have
more immediate causes than an organized campaign of ethnic cleansing.
Te defnitive academic source on South LAâ€™s interracial violence, however, has become the ethnography by Martinez (2016), who argues that
considerable â€œalternative governanceâ€ has arisen in overpoliced and underprotected Black and [email protected] neighborhoods to manage concerns of
violence. We encourage those interested in the issue to consult this text.
Both cops and community residents felt that we were better of talking to neighbors arguing over loud parties or soccer games in the park,
because thatâ€™s where Black and Brown tensions most emerged. Much
of it, according to community organizer Jaime Vargas, had to do with
conficts among older age groups.
I say the real problem with gangs, gang members, is not the kids. Itâ€™s the
adults. And thatâ€™s the problem Iâ€™ve always seen with gang intervention.
Tey always talk about the gang youth problem, but if you ever gone to
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Mesa Court Housing, [the gang members] are like ffy-fve or sixty-fve
years old. Tatâ€™s intergenerational now, and so you have old-timers, old
guys calling the shots and itâ€™s engrained in the system. A fourteen-yearold kid spray painting his neighborhood, thatâ€™s not really the problem,
you know? Teyâ€™re not politically aware. Teyâ€™re just a kid, you know?
Earlier in the week prior to our interview, Jaime had organized a community meeting for gang leaders and interventionists to understand
some causes of local gang conficts. Tis became one of several gangfocused public forums that we attended that were organized by a variety
of community groups and local government agencies. CPAB members
and ofcials sometimes participated in these meetings, cops and activists told us, although in our subsequent research, this issue seldom
reappeared. Captain Patton was in charge of Lakeside when we began
observations. We went to the Captain with a blessing from Deputy Chief
Butler, told him who we were, and asked if we could sit in on his meetings. He agreed and introduced us to the entire CPAB as one of their
monthly meeting began.
We remained on productive terms with Captain Patton until Captain Albert Himura took over. Himura was a generally friendly person
and actively sought ways to leverage our research skills to better understand the community volunteers. Aaron, for instance, collaborated
with Himura to devise an informal survey of Lakeside area residents to
determine their level of engagement and satisfaction with the Lakeside
LAPD station and personnel. Aaron later presented the results of the
survey, distributed online, in the community, and at CPAB meetings, at
a CPAB meeting. Danny became the CPABâ€™s de facto photographer and
began taking pictures during community events. Danny presented these
during a CPAB meeting as well. We also spent several years attending
CPAB meetings in a neighboring division (and we attended several in
East LA as well through a separate project), but time constraints and,
frankly, better rapport with the Lakeside residents and ofcers led us to
focus our eforts there.
In addition to regularly visiting the Lakeside Station, we visited residentsâ€™ homes and places of work and recreation to learn more about
their daily experiences with community policing. Community volunteer
events provided us ample opportunity to shadow residents and learn
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Methodological Appendix | 237
more about their volunteer work outside of the station. Tese events also
became opportunities to ask how they got along with their neighbors,
the sorts of problems they confronted, and whether they believed police were addressing, or could address, those problems. We discuss our
relationship with community leaders, and their relationship with one
another, directly in Chapter 6.
Slowly, we began to notice that while gangs were a perennial complaint, the degree to which residents adopted coded language to refer
to racial â€œothersâ€ was equally persistent and seemed to shape their daily
lives and conversational patterns. Beneath this, however, was a persistent tension between residents and ofcers when competing interests
were at stake. Before long we dedicated our time solely to observing the
community policing project. Observations of the CPAB and HO meetings, and interviews with community members and ofcers, as well as
ride-alongs and community events, composed the core of our data collection strategy.
Our fnal phase of feldwork involved observing other formal settings
and interviewing actors whose work was intertwined with the CPAB/
HO structure. In addition to attending zoning hearings (Chapter 5), we
accompanied Dakari Hendricks, Lakesideâ€™s neighborhood prosecutor,
to the arraignment of several vendors who had been arrested and ticketed following the vendor sweep that we discuss in Chapter 4. We attended the citywide CPAB forums, wherein CPAB members from each
of LAPDâ€™s divisions would attend to socialize and hear presentations
by various government ofcials and guests. Finally, we attended Police
Commission meetings, where chairs and co-chairs from each CPAB
made public reports on the division happenings, noting any signifcant
limitations or challenges to expanding community policing.
Perhaps ironically, being frequently mistaken for police ofcers did not
go very far in helping gain police rapport. Police mistrust was a persistent
challenge. Before setting out on the ride-along with SLOs Hackett and
Nilo in the excerpt above, we followed the SLOs to the armory just outside the roll call room. Tey collected their shotguns, keys to the patrol
car, and always-on recorders, or â€œburn boxesâ€ as Nilo calls them. He
explained that some ofcers are afraid of getting â€œburnedâ€â€”disciplined
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238 | Methodological Appendix
or fredâ€”for having a normal conversation over the radio that could be
misconstrued if a review board reads a transcript later.2 Niloâ€™s reservations demonstrate the state of heightened suspicion under which cops
work. It may come as no surprise that recruitment is a common problem in policing research.3 Even though LAPD is technically supposed to
grant ride-along requests from the public, at least with specifc ofcers,
the list of reasons why such a request can be postponed indefnitely is
nearly infnite. And while it was relatively easy to build rapport with
community volunteers or LAPD leadership, it was more difcult to be
on friendly terms with SLOs and patrol ofcers.
Perhaps driven by the fear of being burned, note taking (the very heart
of ethnographic feldwork) sometimes roused ofcer suspicion. Most
people did not react to our notebooks. We ofen carried them in our
hands or tucked into the back of our pants and attempted to jot discretely.
Tere were times, though, when we would alert one another that someone was staring at us as we wrote things down. SLO Hackett, in particular, made it known to both of us during the early years of feldwork that
he was uncomfortable with our writing. â€œCopious notes!â€ he would say,
and while his tone was jovial, he could become quite passive-aggressive
when upset. On one occasion, for instance, he jokingly threatened to lob
spit balls at the two of us for writing our â€œcopious notes.â€ Strangest of all,
we arrived to a police-sponsored event in the community at one point
and exchanged odd pleasantries with Hackett. He asked Aaron directly
how our project was going and then mocked him for pursuing a project that, unlike Hackettâ€™s own job, involved much â€œdanger and daring.â€
Despite regularly making his discomfort known, SLO Hackett became a
close informant over time, taking us around on his beat, and inviting us
to observe a Spanish-language police-community partnership meeting
that he conducted.
Tere were other ofcers like Hackett with whom we had complex
relationships. Initially, both of us got along well with SLO Liz Fairbanks,
for instance. Te three of us would ofen catch up and joke around before meetings. SLO Fairbanks couldnâ€™t get over the idea that we were, as
she regularly described us, â€œliberals.â€ We did not volunteer our political leanings. Our politics are much more complicated than this, but she
made assumptions based on our answers to her questions about crimes
in the neighborhood. She would playfully challenge our criminological
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Methodological Appendix | 239
acumen and chuckle at our worldview, seeing it as out of step with (her)
reality. Tis was her general approach to everyone who was not an offcer, howeverâ€”so that we all could â€œfeel [ofcersâ€™] pain a little bit,â€ she
once informed the entire CPAB about a â€œtransientâ€ (homeless person)
who â€œdropped his trousersâ€ and â€œtook a piss . . . ffeen feet away from
two police ofcers.â€ Eventually SLO Fairbanks began embracing us as we
entered the community room, just as she would with community members. SLO Gus Fernandez, Fairbanksâ€™s partner, on the other hand, was
far less interested. He tolerated usâ€”at frst. But afer one heated conversation about politics, our professional relationships with both these
ofcers took time to recover.
We run into SLO Liz Fairbanks. Officer Fairbanks, apart from being very affable, likes to make fun of Aaron and I for being â€œObama supportersâ€ and
â€œliberalsâ€ and excuses many of our opinions as idealistic and unachievable,
and sometimes just plain wrong. She ribs Aaron for looking, as he puts it,
â€œLike a liberal,â€ while looking to me and remarking that I look more like a cop.
Letting my guard down, I divulge that at one time I wanted to become
a police officer.
SLO Fairbanks seems amused by this. She asks why I chose not to enter
I tell her I didnâ€™t want to be the one to make a decisionâ€”like an arrestâ€”
that could impact the rest of someoneâ€™s life.
SLO Fairbanks shoots me a puzzled expression as if to say, why would
anyone have a problem with that?
Most of the encounter involves similar exchanges about our liberalism and my change of heart. A few more officers join the discussion and
jokingly disparage one of their fellow officers for being a â€œcloset Obama
Te conversation turns back to me, my decision, and why that means
I â€œhateâ€ police officers. [I never expressly said or meant to infer this, but
somehow thatâ€™s how the officers see it.]
Fairbanks saw us both as political opponents. She engaged with us playfully because our points of view were a novelty to her. Few others knew,
but Liz and Gus reacted strongly to the fact that Danny turned away
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from a potential career in law enforcement. Perhaps they internalized
this as rejection. Danny decided not to pursue a career in law enforcement for practical rather than political reasons. He was twenty-one years
old and halfway to earning a masterâ€™s degree when asked to decide:
accept an ofer to become a police ofcer or fnish the degree. In the end,
Danny decided to fnish the degree and pursue research. Tough Liz was
not involved directly in the argument and may not have argued with this
logic, Fernandez certainly believed this meant Danny hated cops.
Following this encounter, SLO Fernandez became cold with us and
could barely even muster a hello when we saw one another. He remained
aloof for some time afer this before he was transferred to a community
outreach position out of police headquarters downtown. Only afer he
returned to Lakeside from this assignment did he again warm to us. He
even began joking with us more than he had before. While we are uncertain as to what about the transfer prompted the change, we were grateful
for the cessation of hostilities since Fernandez carried a lot of weight at
the Lakeside Station.
SLO Fairbanks also became distant. At the next monthâ€™s meeting, we
saw her and both approached her for a hug as had become traditional,
but she reverted to handshakes. It took her much less time to rebuild
a relationship with Aaron. Her interpretation of Aaron seemed to be
that he was simply naÃ¯ve and in need of a copwise education, which she
attempted to provide in a sometimes-aggressive manner. Te political
teasing also had an additional dimension of sexual tension, which perhaps helped smooth over the incident as well, but Fairbanks remained
cool on Danny until we lef the feld.
As the above sampling of relationships suggests, we had uneven access to SLOs. At one point, Patton asked us to write out a list of ofcers
with whom we were having trouble securing a ride-along, presumably
to encourage them ofcially to participate in the project. We decided not
to go this route because we felt it might further alienate those ofcers to
be ofcially â€œshamedâ€ for recalcitrance. Instead, we focused our energies on working with those ofcers with whom we did manage to forge
close relationships. Over time, bonds with some SLOs changed and
improved. Tis also afected our work, however, insofar as Lakesideâ€™s
SLOs are divided evenly between Black, White, and [email protected] Our focus
on renewing relationships with SLOs we knew already led us to focus on
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Methodological Appendix | 241
mostly White and [email protected] SLOs, although we were able to observe them
all in other ways. [email protected] and White SLOs tend to move easily around
one another, but both undermined the integrity and work ethic of the
divisionâ€™s Black SLOs behind their backs and in front of us. As we became implicated in these networks, opportunities to build rapport with
Black SLOs diminished, a dynamic that we did not notice until it was
too late. Fortunately, interviews were supplementary to our participant
observation and we were able to observe unhindered hours and hours of
community-police interaction, but this remains a regret.
Even before politics, the ways we each â€œdidâ€ race complicated our feldwork.4 Te frst year, Danny interviewed Detective Terry Farmerâ€”a
White woman in her late thirties, built like a basketball player. She was
the only woman in the Homicide Unit. Tis frst wave of interviews
focused on understanding ofcersâ€™ experiences with interracial gang
violence and strategies for investigation and enforcement. Midway
through, Danny began asking about homicide investigations. When he
profered an example of a [email protected] neighborhood, suddenly the Detective asked Danny to stop the tape and abruptly lef the room without
explanation. Danny was unsure whether Farmer would return when
she came back into the interrogation room where they were conducting the interview. Farmer plopped her own recorder down on the table
between them, hit record, said he could do the same, and they continued the interview.
Perhaps, like SLO Nilo, Detective Farmer feared being burned and
labeled as biased.5 Perhaps Detective Farmer saw Dannyâ€”a Latino
manâ€”asking about policing [email protected] neighborhoods and quickly moved
to protect herself against potential false allegations. On other occasions,
Danny noted that White ofcers would furrow their brows or shif in
their seats or choose their words carefully when answering questions
about race. But none of them reacted as Farmer did. Learning from
Dannyâ€™s experience, we modifed our approach to race in interviews.
Suspecting that other cops or residents might somehow react or be less
forthcoming due to a specifc line of questioning, we altered the wording
of our pilot interview schedule so the cues would be subtler. In similar,
inverse fashion, Aaron, as a White man, was likely able to gain a degree
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of racial candidness from White ofcers that may have been more diffcult otherwise, despite his perceived â€œliberalness.â€
Our racial identities and language abilities infuenced the relationships with residents in more positive ways. Both of us got along well
with most residents, but the degree of closeness we shared with each of
them varied. Residents we met in meetingsâ€”themselves activists and
networkersâ€”largely welcomed us and were curious as to why we had
chosen to focus on South Los Angeles. Both of us got to know Vera
Fisher well, as we discuss in Chapter 6. She was especially warm to us,
and we would all embrace as we entered the meeting room. Weâ€™d ask
about each otherâ€™s families and talk about our progress with the project.
Weâ€™d ask about recent activity in the neighborhood. Over time, however, Aaron became closer to Vera, in large part because he was available
when it came time to conduct an interview with her. Te interview took
place at her home and proved to be a bonding session in which Aaron
was able to talk with her for over two hours, meet her family, and attend and volunteer at a community event with her aferward. Interviews
conducted by the two of us together tended to produce very thorough
accounts, which is likely due to (1) three-way dynamics, which allow an
interviewer to sit back and think while the other questions, and (2) the
combination of two brains probing for answers. On the other hand,
interviews conducted one-on-one ofen produced closer relationships
with the interviewees thereafer.
With [email protected] residents, the dynamics were slightly diferent. Aaron
speaks some Spanish but feels insecure about his abilities. Many of the
Spanish-speaking residents spoke to him encouragingly in Spanish, but
it was difcult to address complicated topics. Still, his willingness to embarrass himself linguistically seemed efective in projecting sincerity,
and residents seemed to appreciate it. It was much easier for Danny, as a
native speaker, to communicate and connect with Hector Mendoza and
other Spanish speakers. As such, Danny also conducted solo interviews
with Hector in Spanish, which helped bring them closer together as well.
Later Danny went along with Hector to visit the school where he is a
PTA leader. Like Dannyâ€™s family, Hector is a Salvadoran migrant, which
earned Danny near instant acceptance. In such a way, we were able to
gain access to the leadership of CPAB in ways that would have been
much more difcult for a single researcher alone.
709-79160_Gascon_1P.indd 242 2/1/19 2:52 PM
Methodological Appendix | 243
We found ways to â€œdoâ€ race that enabled us to engage with a broader
range of subjects. Community members leveraged our language abilities. Both of us acted as translators in meetings for non-Spanish speakers
(Chapter 6), and Danny assisted Latino residents in flling out city documents (Chapter 3). We also began to pay attention to such dynamics
in conducting interviews or even casual conversations. When discussing vending, for instance, Aaron would ask CPABâ€™s membersâ€™ opinions
when Danny was out of earshot.
Indeed, like many of South LAâ€™s Black residents, Aaron is a southerner
who lef a Black (Virginia) neighborhood for the West Coast, albeit for
very diferent reasons and with a very diferent reception. Recognizable
dialect, culture, and social setting, if not racial positionality, provided
him with an established respectful dynamic with older Black neighbors
on which to draw and some commonalities to lay groundwork.
But Aaronâ€™s racial positionality also complicated relationships in the
feld. Aaron took a particular disliking to the one regular White CPAB
member with whom we interacted and interviewed: Foster Gill. He was
universally cantankerous. Gill regularly broke in to conversations loudly,
privileging his own interests as the record keeper and newsletter writer
over others or interrupting to ask for information that had just been
covered. Aaron described him as â€œarrogantâ€ and â€œself-important,â€ neither of which, by Dannyâ€™s estimation, was untrue, but Aaron was much
more attuned to Mr. Gillâ€™s role in this space. We ofen joked that Aaron
disliked him because he was White. Sometimes they were both the only
two White people in the room, and Aaron did not want to be lumped
in with peopleâ€™s perceptions of Mr. Gill. Tis was particularly the case
afer Gill conveyed to us (not quietly) his general fear of Blacks in his
neighborhoodâ€”likely because neither of us are Black. Both of us felt
uncomfortable by that, but still we visited his home for an interview and
stuck around for a tour of his collection of old newspapers and newsletters aferward, but neither of us built close ties with Mr. Gill beyond that.
To be clear, we are not suggesting that Aaron only spoke to Blacks
or that Danny only spoke to [email protected] or that we avoided Whites. In observing our setting, we agreed when and how to approach community
members in situations where our racial identities might complicate or
facilitate data collection. In the main, we both were able to build positive relationships with community members at both meetings. When
709-79160_Gascon_1P.indd 243 2/1/19 2:52 PM
244 | Methodological Appendix
cookouts, birthday parties, or funerals came around, community members would invite us both and seemed to consider us a team, an impression that we generally encouraged.
The Promise of Ethnographic Partnerships
Despite the shadows we cast on the social worlds in our study, collaborative ethnographic techniques proved benefcial in several respects.
Perhaps most importantly, these techniques allowed us to analytically
center police-civilian relationships in ways that urban criminologists,
and individual researchers, have so far overlooked. Working together
enabled us to engage with a broader range of people than either of us
might have on our own. Writing notes side by side allowed us to triangulate our fndings and confrm, disconfrm, and sharpen observations.
Training our lenses on one another helped us understand how we each
saw and shaped the feld. Simultaneous data collection allowed us to
examine how multiple power structures intersect in and impact Lakeside
community meetings. While some readers might interpret our observations as more biased toward one group than others, we believe our study
provides a snapshot of the sincere yet frustrating moments that compose
the process of collaborative governance in South LA. We hope that this
book inspires researchers to critically assess criminal justice settings like
community policing while situating these institutions within the historical backdrop of community governance in the United States.
709-79160_Gascon_1P.indd 244 2/1/19 2:52 PM
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