Policing Evaluation: A Multimodal Approach to Focus Group Interviews
Gilbert, Kristin Enola
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Recent high profile police shootings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Lacquan McDonald in Chicago, have triggered social unrest and tense relations between police and minority citizens in the United States. In the wake of such events, minority residents view the police with growing levels of suspicion and distrust—a crisis of legitimacy offering unpromising prospects for reform. Just as alarming, recent Department of Justice (DOJ) investigations indicted both cities for a pattern of civil rights violations and unconstitutional law enforcement practices. Even so, the DOJ resolved its lawsuits against both cities with a rather interesting proposal for reform: the resurrection of community policing programs to restore trust and build cooperation between the police and minority populations. With such optimistic expectations of community policing, researchers must evaluate its ability to deliver the “goods” and restore legitimacy between the police and urban residents. However, rather than using orthodox evaluation with quantitative methods to assess community policing, I take a different direction and develop a more sociocultural approach to evaluation. Using audio-video tapes of a focus group evaluation on the effectiveness of community policing training, I analyze how group participants mobilize community as a multimodal resource—as the integration of language and gesture—to construct symbolic boundaries and negotiate expertise between small-town police trainees and big-city academic trainers. Rather than conceive of community as a ‘social fact’ or territorial ‘ideal type’ in the manner of Durkheim or Tonnies, I consider the multimodal practices through which social collectivities and professional identities are contextualized in what I refer to as an evaluation ritual. That is, I examine evaluation as a situated form of identity construction. I demonstrate the sociocultural meaning and relevance of community for community policing and its impact on the evaluation process.
Subjectfocus group interviews, evaluation impact, community policing, multimodal conduct