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By Gary T. Marx and Dane Archer
Authors' Note: This is a later version of a paper presented to the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association in Los Angeles in 1970. We are grateful to Robert Kaufmann, Rick Ochberg, Mary Frances Archer and John Helmer for their assistance.
When institutions fail to meet felt needs, a number of recurring responses on the part of the communities presumably being serviced may be observed. These vary, perhaps in decreasing order of frequency, from passive resignation or withdrawal to reformist and radical politics to efforts to set up wholly new institutions.
In earlier periods of American history when people felt that there was too much crime, that their persons or property were in danger, that cherished traditions and values were being threatened, and that regular law enforcement officials were not coping with the problem, vigilante-type efforts frequently emerged (for example, see the discussion in Brown 1969). The present era is no exception.
Citizen involvement in law enforcement is not new to the American scene. Counting only those groups which have taken the law into their own hands"," a recent account lists no fewer than 326 vigilante movements during the past two centuries of American history (Brown, 1969: 154).
In his discussion of the tradition of vigilantism in America"," Brown distinguishes between two types of such efforts. The first appeared prior to 1856 in areas where settlement preceded effective law enforcement. The concerns of this type of vigilantism were primarily horse thieves, counterfeiters, outlaws, and badmen. The enforcement, that is, of consensually formulated standards of peace and law.
But with the emergence of the San Francisco Vigilance Committee in 1856 of what Brown calls “neo-vigilantism,” a second form of citizen mobilization was born. Unlike the earlier type, neo-vigilantism found its chief victims among Catholics, Jews, immigrants, Negroes, laboring men and labor leaders, political radicals, and proponents of civil liberties (Brown, 1969: 197).
While the first type of vigilantism filled or attempted to fill a discernible void, the second generally emerged where the regular police and legal systems were already functioning, but where alien groups were seen to threaten the established order. Rather than simple enforcement of the law, the second type frequently involved political struggles for power, racism, attempts to terrorize would-be criminals, and even the desire to spare the public the cost of the conventional judicial process.
Recent self-defense groups differ from more classic vigilante groups in that they, for the most part, have not killed or taken the law into their own hands. Instead, their primary functions have been the surveillance and protection of their own communities, often as an ancillary group to the regular police. They thus more closely resemble the early anti-horse-thief societies which amplified law enforcement through pursuit and capture, but did not try to substitute for it by administering summary punishments. Recent groups have performed largely deterrent functions and have not usually held street trials or meted out alley justice. But the fact that they have chosen to involve themselves as private citizens in police work has meant that the issue, if not the substance, of vigilantism has recurred with them.
One of the most important of contemporary self-defense groups, at least in the last twenty years, has probably been the self-defense guard which organized in Monroe, North Carolina, in 1956. The group's purpose was to protect its members against the harassment and incursive violence of the Ku Klux Klan. It attracted sixty members and received a charter from the National Rifle Association.
The next widely publicized self-defense group patrolled the Crown Heights area of Brooklyn between 1964 and 1966. The group called itself the Maccabees, after a Jewish resistance group which fought to curb Syrian domination in the second and first centuries B.C. Led by Rabbi Samuel A. Schrage, the Maccabees of the 1960s numbered 250 volunteer members and used radio car patrols to report crime and deter potential criminals (Brown, 1969: 201 -202).
In 1965, a year after the Maccabees organized, a black self-defense group known as the Deacons gained prominence in Bogalusa and Jonesboro, Louisiana. The Deacons fielded armed patrol cars to protect blacks and white civil rights workers from Klansmen, white rowdies, and the police, unfortunately, these were not always dissimilar groups.
Led by Charles Sims, the Deacons claimed 7,000 members in Louisiana and 60 loosely federated chapters in Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, and the Carolinas (Brown, 1969: 203). A useful case study of a group like the Deacons is given by Harold Nelson (1967).
Shortly after the 1965 Watts riot, a group of black militants organized the Community Alert Patrol to observe the way ghetto residents were treated by the Los Angeles Police. The members were under 24, and at least according to one writer, all had police records (Knopf, 1969: 5).
The following year, at about the time that Oakland, California, rejected a proposal for a police review board, Huey P. Newton organized the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, to inform blacks of their legal rights, and to preserve the community from harm (Knopf, 1969: 6).
Terry Knopf reports a study of youth patrols which worked to limit confrontations, arrests, and violence in ghetto areas during real or imminent civil disorders. She identified and collected information on nine youth patrol groups active during the summer of 1967, and reported that at least eleven additional cities had such patrols during 1968 (Knopf, 1969: 4).
Nash (1968) gives a case study of a one week experimental patrol corps covering seven three-block beats near 117th Street in Harlem. In Newark, Anthony Imperiale's North Ward Citizens' Committee has a membership of roughly 1,000 and has become both an important political issue in itself and a relatively operative peacekeeping force (Mangel, 1969). And, in Boston, a chapter of the Jewish Defense League has created a great deal of controversy by patrolling a Jewish enclave in a predominantly black neighborhood in the wake of three synagogue fires.
In the last two or three years, the concept of civilian policing has overflowed the original street patrol model, coming to focus on more limited contexts such as housing projects, rock concerts, and protest demonstrations. For example, Richard Rogin (forthcoming: I) reports that in 1970 more than 8,500 unarmed and unpaid volunteers are on tenant safety patrols in 93 of the 165 New York City Housing Authority's projects. Similar patrols, on a smaller scale, have occurred and are planned in Boston and other cities, many under official or quasi-official auspices.
The extent of citizen concern over law enforcement issues (though exacerbated by self-seeking politicians) has been demonstrated by numerous opinion polls as well as election results. As part of a broader inquiry into various forms of citizen involvement in the law enforcement process, data have been gathered on 28 currently operating groups that, depending on the group in question and, even more, on one's own perspective, would be labeled self-defense"," vigilante"," security patrols"," or community patrols.
Some Questions And Answers
The emergence of self-defense groups raises important questions for public policy as well as social theory. They offer a worthwhile research focus for a number of reasons.
These groups may be seen as a special form of the increasing demand for citizen participation in the planning, control, and delivery of the services which affect them, though perhaps one fraught with a greater potential for conflict and potential disadvantages than other areas where community control is being sought As attempts to breakthrough and go beyond the exclusive and professionalized provinces of established authority, self-defense groups are analogous to community mobilization around issues of schools, urban renewal, transportation, recreation and welfare. They may also be seen as a return to an earlier and less differentiated period in American history when peace and order were not left to the “proper authorities" and outside experts, but were instead the responsibility of the unprofessional citizen.
In addition, self-defense groups clearly have an importance beyond themselves. Citizen mobilization around the issues of lawlessness and crime may be symbolic of broader tensions during periods of rapid transition. For example, the issue of order has face value but can also be a fairly respectable euphemism for preventing are distribution of power between competing groups in society.
With police often either unwilling or lacking the resources to provide adequate protection for tense areas; with rigid requirements which may preclude many potentially effective men from joining the force (such as previous arrest records; past history of radical activities; minimum height, weight and age requirements; or the need to be a policeman full-time); with the exceptional degree of autonomy and problems of accountability which characterize some police departments and the exclusion of blacks, such as in some Southern communities, from almost any participation in, or protection by (and from) law enforcement agencies; with the distance (ideological, social, economic, racial, ethnic, religious, geographical, attitudinal, and even age) which often separate police from many of those they ostensibly serve or at least deal with and often the resulting lack of knowledge about or sympathy for them, and related traditions of hostility and mistrust on all sides; and with instances of mere police presence (even on those occasions when no abuses occur (Marx, 1970) sometimes triggering and enlarging disorders, certain types of citizen involvement in the law enforcement process may be highly desirable.
Yet benign effects and planned policy changes aside, the failure of American society to deal meaningfully with its lack of equality of opportunity (not to mention equality of outcome) and the increased civil disorder and crime which partly stem from this, as well as the related various citizen concerns over law and order, show few signs of decreasing and many of increasing. Increased citizen efforts to deal with law enforcement issues seem very likely. Studying currently existing groups may tell us something about how various communities would respond to the possibility of much more widespread police repression or withdrawal, crime, bombing, armed insurgency, guerrilla-style sabotage, the systematic kidnapping of hostages, and the like.
Relatively little is known about contemporary groups beyond an occasional journalistic account. Among important questions for which answers tend to be lacking are: How widespread and enduring are such groups and what are the main types? What are their purposes and practices: How are they organized? What are their consequences for the reduction of crime and civil disorders, feelings of safety, curtailing police abuses, or increasing intro and inter group conflict in a community---e.g.,within or between ethnic groups or with the police? What is the nature of their interaction with the police, various levels of government, other ethnic groups, and their own presumed constituency? How are they viewed by these various groups? In what contexts do they emerge, and what are their natural histories of development? Is it likely that the emergence of one group results in the emergence of a second adversarial group? What characteristics and attitudes do members have, and what factors are involved in their motivation to participate? What theory of police failure do they hold? How are they recruited, and to what extent are they screened and trained? What are their implications for law enforcement and public policy?
In an effort to deal with many of these questions, we have begun studying the groups themselves as well as police and governmental response to them.
Some descriptive data on 28 self-defense groups known to us (through using a snowball technique) are now available, based on observation, newspaper accounts, analysis of documents, and interviews with police and those involved. A preliminary report on these data and some of their implications follows, though much more data gathering and analysis remains to be done.
Some Descriptive Data on 28 Self-Defense Groups
In about one-third of the cases, police issued some form of identification, often in card form, to group members. This was particularly true in the case of groups whose purpose was to reduce, from within, the level of violence in civil disorders.
At the same time, police felt that 25% of the groups had abused their authority, and they reported receiving complaints from other citizens about the groups' operations in 21% of the cases.
Analysis: Five Organizational Problems
In the course of their creation and development, self-defense groups must come to terms with at least five major issues: (I) their relationship to the police and legal system; (2) their legitimacy in the eyes of the communities they wish to serve; (3) the recruitment and management of personnel; (4) the choice of appropriate operations; and (5) the maintenance of resources, incentives, and motivation for the groups' survival.
The remainder of the paper offers a tentative discussion of these issues and some of the ways in which groups come to grips with them.
Self-Defense Groups and the Police
Self-defense groups are heterogeneous phenomena. One of the most important dimensions on which they vary is their attitude toward police. By definition, self-defense groups believe that the police have failed to keep either order or security. But there seems to be an important and dichotomous difference in their theory of police failure.
The first type of group sees police failure as attributable to manpower shortages, over-lenient local courts, the Escobedo, Miranda, and other decisions of the Supreme Court, and simply the rampant increase and encroachment of those they regard as the criminal element. This first type of self-defense group, in other words, sees the police as good men overwhelmed from without and handcuffed from within. They see them, that is, as failures, but not as blameworthy.
The second type of self-defense group sees the police as part of the problem. In general, the second type of group attributes police failure to what they see as police (I) lack of understanding of and rapport with the communities they serve, (2) arrogant and corrupt behavior, (3) brutality, (4) racism, and (5) role as guardians only of the propertied classes and the status quo. The second type of self-defense group, then, counts the police among those against whom the community must be defended. This second type of self-defense group is intended either as a check on police or as a clear alternative to them. Police are seen as both failures and highly blameworthy.
The relationship of these two types of groups to police may be described as supplemental and adversarial, respectively.
The attitude of a self-defense group toward the police does influence police response to the group. (And as the increasingly revolutionary perspective of the Black Panthers indicates, subsequent police response and the nature of official labeling, of course, acts back on the attitudes of the group.) Intuitively, it might be predicted that police would approve of all supplemental groups and allow them to flourish, while opposing and suppressing all adversarial groups.
This is often, but by no means always, the case. Thus, for one-third of the groups that police perceived as being pro-police. the opinion was nevertheless expressed that police wished the groups did not exist. There seem to be two mitigating variables: (I) police do not always approve of all supplemental groups because, among other reasons, they say it is bad for untrained citizens of any ideology to take the law into their own hands" (2) police do not immediately suppress all adversarial groups --in part because they know that the groups often have a better chance of maintaining order, particularly during active or threatened disorders, and partly to avoid trouble.
A Typology of Groups
Figure 1: Police Response
|Encouragement or Non-interference||Opposition or Suppression|
|Supplemental Type I||Cleveland
|Supplemental Type II||Seattle
|Adversarial Type II||Tampa
|Adversarial Type IV||Oakland
There are thus two important dimensions along which such groups vary: the nature of the group (supplemental or adversarial) and the nature of the police response (encouragement or opposition). When these two dimensions are combined, a useful typology emerges by which groups may be contrasted and analyzed.
In Figure l, groups from eight cities have been placed in the appropriate cells of the typology.
(a) Type I: supplemented and encouraged by police: The self-defense groups which fall into Cell I of the typology generally meet police notions of acceptable citizen mobilization. In all cases within this category, both power and independence are low. The police exercise complete authority over the organization, its leaders, activities, and members. Typically, these groups either begin as or are transformed into police auxiliaries for traffic control or property protection during disorders. Most housing project patrols also fall within Type 1. Other Type I organizations are of police-supporting citizens. They may establish and publicize Crime Alert telephone numbers, patrol streets only to call in bona fide policemen if they sight suspicious behavior or persons, or do public relations work for the police. Type I groups are numerous, well manned, and stable.
(b) Type II: supplemental and opposed by police: Police may oppose groups in Cell II on several grounds, in some cases, for reasons having little to do with the specific nature of the self-defense group. Instead, the police may express a general dislike of amateurs, or an opposition to vigilantism of any kind. In Seattle, for example, a citizen group mobilized to offer the police help in dealing with a demonstration against the war in Vietnam. The acting police chief declined their offer, saying he had no desire to end up fighting two mobs instead of one. Apparently, Type II groups either change to meet police requirements or fail.
(c) Type III: adversarial and encouraged by police: Because of their potential organizational contradiction, the self-defense groups in Cell III are of particular interest. Many of these groups are short-lived, and all appear to survive precariously. They and the police are mutually suspicious and resentful, existing in a state of hostile interdependence.
Most of these groups are born during riots, and many demand, as a condition of their cool-it function, that police withdraw from troubled areas. Withdrawal is seen by the police as humiliating, though sometimes forced by higher authority, and police embarrassment is compounded if the groups are effective. At the same time, members of the cool-it groups may suffer a loss of the respect of their constituents, and they may feel (and sometimes say) that they were used as tools to deflate protest and then discarded. During the disorders, cities which have groups of Type III are remarkable studies in a struggle for influence between institutional authorities and nascent alternate powers.
However, after the disorder, or when all danger of a major conflagration has passed, groups in Cell Ill tend to collapse. Many cities voted to salary and support cool-it groups during and shortly after a riot, but the salaries inevitably dried up, often with the end of summer. At that point, long-standing tensions between the groups and the police often resurfaced, and the groups might move into Cell IV of the typology.
(d) Type IV: adversarial and opposed by police: The groups in Cell IV of the typology, although relatively small in number, are the most dramatic. Although specific tactics differ, most of the Type IV groups seek to protect their communities from what they see as police excesses by trying to oversee actual police operations or attacking police. In at least two cities, members of a self-defense patrol carried cameras to record arrests during disturbances, so that witnesses could be located later to substantiate charges of police brutality. In another, members of a self-defense group lured police into a parking lot by staging a fist-fight, and then attacked the police. In another case, a self-defense group listened for the location of in-progress arrests in a ghetto neighborhood, then showed up in time to free the suspects.
Police see these groups as among their most dangerous enemies. Police say that most of the members have arrest records, that members have searched peoples' cars and homes without any authority, and that the members themselves are as active on the side of crime and riots as in their prevention. In at least two cases, police reported that members have subsequently been arrested for murder.
While there may be some or a great deal of substance to the police assessment, it is also true that police surveillance of Type IV groups is intensive. There are many instances of police harassment of such groups, as in the cases of the original Black Panthers of Oakland, when they had active patrols, or the Deacons of Louisiana.
Many groups which end up in Cell IV began in Cell III. Almost invariably, the groups lost the tolerance of the police through efforts to regulate police behavior, thus challenging the absolute supremacy of the police. As an example, a group called the Community Alert Patrol in Los Angeles had applied for (and received provisional approval of) $238,000 in HEW funds to finance their operations. The grant included $1,600 for cameras and tape recorders, and any evidence of police misbehavior was to have been recorded and submitted for the investigations of complaints. The police opposed the patrol, saying they did not need non-policemen to police the police" and funding was halted (see Calame, 1967).
In part, police oppose Type IV groups simply because they are most clearly anti-police. But Type IV groups are also those which more than the other three types of groups: (1) carry weapons, (2) use violence to establish their authority, and (3) resist any kind of control over their operations. It might be argued, of course, that these three traits are also characteristic of the police themselves and that such groups come closest to being competitors and alternatives to regular police.
A number of police officials reported that their main objection to a Type IV group in their city was that it did things that only police were entitled to do. Although it is difficult to stipulate its content precisely, there is clearly a threshold between civilians and police which no citizens are permitted to cross.
Type IV groups have a volatile natural history. In the case of one Type IV group, according to police, 80% of the group's members are now in jail.
Self-Defense Groups and the Communities They Wish To Serve
In part because they raise the specter of vigilantism, self-defense groups are likely to be attended by controversy. Even in the case of supplemental organizations where communities generally seem to be united in their recognition of law enforcement problems, they are often divided over the appropriateness of the self-defense solution.
In the case of adversarial groups, the host communities are even more sharply divided. This difference may be due, in part, to the lack of agreement among citizens as to whether or not the police are a problem to be dealt with, controlled, or exorcised.
For example, in Boston, a proposal to establish a police-controlled community patrol was supported by some black leaders as a vehicle for improving police-community cooperation. But the Boston NAACP was highly critical and rejected the proposal. An NAACP position paper called for increased numbers of patrolmen, saying that the overwhelming majority of the black citizens in the area wanted adequate and just police protection, and not an amateur substitute.
Its statement suggested that if crime rose on Boston's Beacon Hill or other equally wealthy parts of the city, the city's response would be augmented police forces. The statement added:
“It is shameful that where Black people in particular are concerned----whether they are a majority or minority in an area---officials and leaders leap for short cuts, ill-designed programs and faulty planning which in the long run renders the situation worse than it was in its previous state.... Citizens throughout the city are entitled to proper police protection; they should not have to rely on a volunteer group to shoulder this responsibility” (Nelson, 1967).
Perhaps ironically, the same proposal was attacked by Boston militants. In the People's South End News (1970), an article opposed the community patrol, saying:
“If the power structure can keep the people arguing over (1) more pigs in the community or an unarmed auxiliary police force; (2) and continue to keep racial tensions high, they will never get around to the real issue facing every community. That is, community control of police and the total withdrawal of the present occupying army... It's long past the time to stop fighting each other, and deal with the enemy.”In another example, two community organizers concerned with reducing crime in a housing project in a small New England town sought to encourage residents to organize a self-defense group. The organizers acknowledged that most residents felt the crime problem could be best handled by assigning more police to the project. Yet their hostility to the police and concern that increased regular police would undermine the community's control over their own affairs led them to try and establish a self-defense group.
At least in Boston and probably elsewhere (particularly in the North), there is a lack of a clear community mandate for autonomous self-defense groups as an alternative to regular police. This absence of a broad base of popular support may explain, in part, why Types 111 and IV groups live precariously and often have a short life.
However great their failings sometimes are, regular police forces still have something of a legal, consensual mandate to operate --though the strength of this mandate no doubt weakens as social class decreases or the proportion of nonwhite citizens increases.
Although the controls are in practice often inoperative, there are still some constraints on police behavior by the courts, local officials, and state and federal government. For most self-defense groups, in the absence of a clear mandate from the communities they wish to serve, the problem of accountability is potentially a highly problematic one. Some groups, of course, may claim a community mandate which appears stronger than it really is --because of community indifference, lack of awareness of the group, or fear of intimidation by it.
The Recruitment and Training of Personnel
In discussing civilian mobilization around the issue of law enforcement, a noted police scholar has written:
“Experience has shown that it is not alone the super defenders of hearth and home who clamor for an opportunity to serve. Truculent, disorderly, intolerant, and downright vicious elements also flock to police standards at such times [of crisis], from motives of their own and with objectives foreign to the maintenance of civil peace.” (Smith, 1960: 3141.)This problem could be a particularly severe one for self-defense groups. Despite its relatively thorough selection process (something like 5% of those who apply actually end up on the force), the Los Angeles Police Department still faces many serious police-community relations problems. It is intuitively likely that self-defense groups---which often experience manpower shortages, and which have less stringent screening or membership requirements --would stand a far greater chance of recruiting people not emotionally (or, in some cases, morally) suited to policing others. Police folklore suggests that this is the case, although adequate empirical data are not yet available to assess the extent of the problem.
There is, of course, likely to be variation between groups, and differences in the resources available to screen and train personnel, as well as the will to do this. Of course, this type of criticism seems less appropriate where an entire community of people have been excluded for involvement with the official police force --as in many Southern communities.
Patrols strive for public approval or official recognition. However, given the characteristics of many of those who become involved, this may be difficult --particularly in minority neighborhoods, where law enforcement tensions are greatest and where many self-defense groups accept for membership men with arrest records. Unfortunately, an arrest record is an ecological fact of life in such areas and need not imply very much about a person's character or potential. It may even be indicative of an ability to relate (better than the police, who are alien to the community) to the young men on the street likely to be engaged in crime and civil disorders. Yet it also may influence the acceptability and image of the group in the eyes of the police and in at least some parts of the communities they wish to serve.
Even where such problems of membership are not present, a related problem reported in several cities involved non-patrol members impersonating patrol members and using their authority and coercion to obtain personal or illegal ends. Loose organization and ill-defined criteria for membership facilitate such impersonation, and the jackets or armbands which some patrols use as identifying symbols are easily obtained. Impersonation is less likely in the case of regular police, given their uniforms, badges, and clear criteria for membership.
Choosing Self-Defense Operations
Most self-defense operations are influenced by the nature of the precipitating event. After a number of violent apartment and elevator murders in apartment buildings in New York, tenant patrol groups began frequenting poorly lit areas of their housing projects and in many cases, rode the elevators with otherwise unaccompanied women (Rogin, forthcoming).
Other self-defense groups have had at least some of their operations chosen for them. For example, a Boston patrol group was mobilized to provide security at a summer rock concert series. And in the case of Imperiale's Newark group, members receive requests from citizens for nighttime escort to their homes, and to intervene in domestic quarrels (Mangel, 1969).
Although the groups have considerable latitude of choice with regard to operations, their use of weapons is subject to obvious restrictions. Almost no groups admit to carrying guns, although police said that two of the groups did. Boston's Jewish Defense League carries (in addition to Mace, nightsticks, and Alsatians) a weapon they call a nunchuck---two sixteen-inch-long oak sticks connected by a short length of nylon cord.
In carrying out their activities, self-defense groups face potentially serious legal problems. There is no intermediary status in American society between the role of citizen and that of policeman. Unless a citizen, however concerned, is deputized or admitted to the low-power police auxiliaries, he can have no law enforcement powers beyond those of the ordinary citizen. And the citizen's power in law enforcement is severely circumscribed, with potentially serious penalties for its usurpation.
In almost all cities, police errors (and, too often, abuses not stemming from errors) are routinely excused as justifiable, given the margin of error thought to be required in the performance of a dangerous and difficult job.
But citizens, even those with police approval, do not receive the same de facto protective blanket. Instead, they are fully liable to tort actions for wrongful death or injury. Given the nature of self-defense operations, it seems likely that those affected by the groups would seek redress if they felt unjustly dealt with.
Although the legal situation is at present ambiguous, it is not at all clear that self-defense groups even have workable powers of citizens' arrest. In general, citizens are not allowed to use force unless it is to defend themselves personally from felonious violence. Short of that, in theory, citizens may not have the power to restrain, hold, or subdue suspects in most criminal behavior. And in the case of adversarial groups, even if citizens did have the power to arrest or otherwise restrict police, such power is unlikely to be recognized.
Incentives for Group Survival
A large proportion of self-defense groups fail to develop the requisites for prolonged group survival such as a formal organization with a relatively clear sense of direction and a continuing source of support. Type I organizations appear to be the most permanent. They are also the most bureaucratic and most likely to be able to pay members. The existence of other types of groups seems to depend largely on a sudden felt crisis (civil disorder, a particularly horrible crime or instance of police brutality, a rapidly changing neighborhood) or on a charismatic leader. When these conditions are no longer present, such groups tend to disperse. Many groups emerge and then rapidly disappear.
The modeling influence of the media is important here. For example, within six weeks after the first youth patrol appeared during the 1967 civil disorders, at least eight more appeared. As the riots subsided, so did the groups.
Beyond the need to cope with a severely felt problem or receiving payment for the work, such self-defense groups may attract members for a variety of reasons, such as the desire for novelty, excitement, authority, and machismo. Such needs can be satisfied or frustrated by group operations. The participants we have interviewed rarely report encounters and the task may quickly become routine. While this might be an argument for the deterrent values of patrols, it doesn't help sustain those whose motivation for joining involves the search for action. An observer of the Newark North Ward Citizens Committee reports, Actually"," though the potential for excitement inmost obviously there, the patrols tend to be boring.” (Goldberger, 1969). As of August 1970, after many months of operation, the Jewish Defense League in Boston is yet to report having any encounters with criminals.
Some policemen questioned expressed a certain wonderment at why citizens would voluntarily face the dangers a policeman is exposed to, particularly without pay. One police officer had concluded that the members must be concerned people with civic pride who want to protect their little patch of city --although more negative interpretations stressing the self-seeking or subversive nature of such behavior have also been made.
Even those groups which develop an organizational structure and are successful in keeping order and reducing crime or perceived police abuse are, unfortunately, not assured of continued existence. In fact, under some circumstances, it may even make it less likely. A weak, disorganized group given to internal bickering and poorly coordinated activities poses much less a threat to regular police than does a strong group. For example, when a group --through the use of cameras and tape recorders or the threatened use of violence against policemen seen as offenders --begins to reduce police abuses, strong pressures may emerge for the group's abolition. The success of groups in dealing with crime or disorders may be seen to highlight the failure of regular police. Among cities where seemingly successful programs were disbanded as a result of political pressure, particularly from the police, are Los Angeles, New York, Minneapolis, and Pittsburgh (California).
Some Tentative Implications
The present paper is more an effort to raise issues and questions, and to establish a framework for additional research and thought, than a final presentation of results, firm conclusions, or a well-documented single point of view. At this point, any inferences from our research must be highly tentative. Unfortunately, the statement that can be made with most confidence at the present time is the proverbial assertion that there is a great lack of adequate research on the groups and their consequences. Most of the existing evaluations of self-defense groups have been based on hunches, impressionistic evidence, deductions from abstract political theory, parallels to earlier periods of American history, and (no doubt) a goodly dose of ideological self justification. But given the limitations on the nature of the available data, what can we conclude about self-defense groups?
Perhaps the most striking feature of the groups involves the large number of organizational and operational difficulties they face --and the related phenomenon of the relatively short life span which many groups experience.
Groups trying to establish new policing institutions face complex problems not faced by regular police, in addition to all the problems facing the police--many of which are inherent in authority relations.
Self-defense groups often lack a clear mandate from the groups they wish to serve and their legal position regarding the use of force and citizen arrests is ambiguous. They may have trouble defining their task. The tendency of the groups to lack the resources for recruiting, screening, and training appropriate manpower and for sustaining motivation beyond that which stems from a deeply felt crisis (along with the degree of autonomy some groups have) may contribute to ineffectiveness and abuses. And even if internal problems are solved, the groups may face harassment from police. Many of the problems and failings of such groups, of course, also characterize the police. However, the issue is not that police are always appreciably better but that increasing the total amount of abuses does not seem desirable. In addition, although they are often inadequate there are mechanisms for regulating police behavior.
Yet the survival and growth of some groups show that these difficulties are not always insurmountable. It becomes important to ask why. Three important factors would seem to be (a) a crisis that continues to be deeply felt, (b) the presence of a charismatic leader, and (c) the emergence of a formally organized group with a continuing source of financial support. The factor most subject to policy intervention is the third. Long-lived groups have tended to be those in Cells I and 11 of the typology. They are subject to varying degrees of regulation by local government but also in return are able to draw on their financial support and legitimacy. Although here they must face the dilemma that their very need for support from established authorities (in the form of resources or freedom from being hassled) may greatly reduce their flexibility and lead to their being labeled “pigs” “toms” and “peace creeps" and may inhibit their effectiveness among groups with whom they seek rapport.
The effectiveness of self-defense group operations has not been evaluated with any kind of systematic before-and-after data, such as reports of crime, civil disorders, complaints against police, citizen feelings of safety, attitudes toward the groups and the police, and police abuses.
Criteria for effectiveness would, of course, vary from group to group. While we have specified what seem to be two crucial variables---the group's definition of the problem and the police response --several others are of the utmost importance. One of these might be the relationships, i.e., homogeneity, between the racial and ethnic backgrounds of the group doing the patrolling, the group it feels it is protecting, and the group it seems to need protection from. Many combinations---eachwith a potentially different outcome---are possible. A second differentiating variable might be whether the group arises in a context where in principle and at least to a degree in practice (as in the North) law enforcement has a universalistic character, or in areas (as in parts of the South) where blacks to a much greater degree are granted neither protection by, nor from, law enforcement officials. A related variable might be whether the group primarily seeks protection from crimes which violate widely held legal and moral standards or (as in the case of the KKK) seeks to enforce a particular set of social practices on a community. It may be that little is to be gained in trying to make broad generalizations about such highly varied groups which may share little more than a desire to act on law enforcement issues.
It is interesting to speculate on the several possible relationships between the groups and disorders. Self-defense groups at their inception often tend to be a precipitate following from the perception of violence, injustice, and lawlessness. If the groups do derive from urban disorders and violent crimes, then presumably self-defense groups would deflate as conditions of order and stability are (often as a result of their own actions) reestablished. While some groups such as the Tampa and Dayton White Hatsor the Youth Alliance in Boston appear to have contributed to a reduction of civil disorder, some groups of Type IV may have had a reverse effect --if not necessarily on civil disorders, on general racial conflict and polarization. At least some self-defense organizations may themselves become independently strong variables in the disorders which were their occasion. Particularly in urban areas, the groups may give organization and sometimes arms to long-standing hostilities between police and citizens. At the same time, those organizations which operate street patrols may bring into direct contact, often without police mediation, populations whose mutual fears and prejudices are currently tempered by distance. Though here it is interesting to observe that, although far more people probably have access to weapons today than in the 1930s, there seem to have been relatively fewer clashes between (as against clashes within groups or between them and the state) ethnic and racial groups. Such groups today, with several prominent exceptions, tend much more to literally be self-defense groups prepared and waiting for attack and violations from some other group, rather than using offensive attacks. This is partly a result of the greater inclusion of white groups into the dominant society and their greater stake in it.
Like other efforts for increased citizen participation, the self-defense groups raise issues with in-built trade-offs. The enthusiasm of the group members is usually offset by their lack of professional training; the inclusion of some sectors of an urban community in law enforcement can antagonize other sectors; the use of local residents to protect their own communities may mean a sacrifice of the ideal of the disinterested and even-handed peace officer, but a gain in the ability to relate to the community in question. Whatever their objective consequences, some of the groups may also contribute to a sense of self-worth and responsibility on the part of participants and may give members of the larger, often somewhat anomic and disorganized communities they wish to serve, pride and a sense of satisfaction in seeing the community organize to help itself.
But in one important respect, citizen involvement in law enforcement, particularly when it involves autonomous groups, is unlike other forms of citizen participation. The stakes are higher; the risk of miscarriage is greater, and the consequences of abuse or error appear more serious.
The emergence of new institutions such as the Catholic schools of an earlier era and current community schools, or ethnic and racially centered hospitals and welfare organizations, while initially often facing major difficulties of gaining resources as well as some of the organizational problems of older institutions, have generally not aroused the degree of opposition, resentment, and fear as have some of the patrols. What is at stake here is control over the means of violence and coercion that are so central to the organization of the state itself.
Excluding communities where universalistic standards of law enforcement are not even approached, some form of government regulation is essential for groups that seek a broad mandate --this might be by the police, or units such as a county government, a model cities board, or a housing authority. Even if police are not directly involved, some degree of liaison and cooperation with them seems desirable for many reasons. Yet for groups that claim more limited jurisdictions than entire communities or complete responsibility for all law and order, such regulation seems less important. The idea of internal policing seems to hold the most promise in more delimited and focused contexts where clearer boundaries and a relatively homogeneous constituency are more likely to exist, as at rock concerts, protest demonstrations, schools, or housing projects. There have been some notable successes using alternatives to regular police --as at the Woodstock rock festival, but also some tragic failures --as at the Altamont rock festival in California.
Finally, not all the effects of civilian policing groups are direct. In a number of cities, the groups have performed critical catalytic functions --suggesting, in some cases, that the groups are used by communities to bargain for what they want in the way of law enforcement changes. In addition to their face value meaning as alternative institutions, the self-defense groups act as a form of demand on the law enforcement system. For example, when citizens in Brockton, Massachusetts, organized to apply for gun permits to protect their homes from a wave of housebreaks, city officials met to discuss the lack of adequate police protection. In response to the self-defense initiative of the citizens, the chief of police promised to ask the mayor for additional men and for overtime pay to extend the number of police man-hours in the city (Boston Evening Globe, 1970).
The bargaining perspective, of course, enlarges the criteria for evaluating the success of citizen policing efforts. Groups which succeed in manipulating the changes in police operations which they see as desirable may be thought of as successful whether or not their patrolling or other activities are long-lived.
But aside from their demonstrated utility in contexts of internal policing as in housing projects, at rock concerts, at protest demonstrations, and the like-or as instruments for political bargaining, it is difficult to see many situations in which the patrols would be unequivocally superior to increased numbers of more responsible and more sensitive regular police.
In the near future, however, it is not likely that large numbers of more responsible and more sensitive police will be forthcoming. If anything, the increased stigmatization and danger associated with being a policeman, coupled with continued increments in the polarization of American society, may make for a decrease both in the numbers and quality of new policemen. In this light, there is clearly a need for citizen efforts, and it becomes increasingly important to understand them.
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Boston Evening Globe (1970) June 30: 3.
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