Bowling for Global Police (Review Essay)

Mathieu Deflem
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This is a copy of a review essay of Policing the Caribbean, by Ben Bowling; Stop and Search, edited by Leanne Weber and Ben Bowling; Global Policing, by Ben Bowling and James Sheptycki, at CrimeTalk, May 5, 2014

Please cite as: Deflem, Mathieu. 2014. “Bowling for Global Police.” Review essay. CrimeTalk, May 5, 2014. Online: =article&id=932:deflem-on-bowling

Author's Prefatory Note  

This review essay was written in the summer of 2013 upon solicitation by one of the review editors of the Sage journal Theoretical Criminology. Its submission was unfavorably received by the review editor because of alleged "concerns about the overall tone of the review" and included a request to "bringing down some of your critique." In response, I stated that all ideas in the review are both relevant and substantiated and that any critique on my part expresses my sincere thoughts on the merits of the reviewed books, delivered with an academically appropriate perspective that I additionally described as "lighthearted" in approach.
I was subsequently informed that the general editors of the journals would be contacted because, the review editor wrote, the "editorial team always has to read and okay the reviews anyway." I doubt that this can be true and it appears a rather unprecedented move for content control over a solicited review. Additionally unprecedented for a review, what followed was a decision that my review was "not acceptable for publication in Theoretical Criminology in its current form." It was additionally suggested that the review "could be suitable for publication with some major revisions," including "all the changes that would need to be made before we can consider publication," and a request to "reply to this email confirming whether or not you intend to revise and resubmit the essay, in the ways suggested." 
The review editor's request for a revised version of the review essay was not only delivered in a less than inviting tone (in fact, it was obviously meant to make a revision practically impossible), the revision entailed a complete modification of my writing that contained entire deletions of major portions of my essay, multiple changes in wording, and several suggested substantive changes that were both unprofessional and unreasonable, involving nothing less than a suppression of my scholarly ideas (see image). 
I informed the editor(s) that I could not undertake such revisions, the very request for which I consider to be a violation of standards of scholarship, which --whatever the underlying motivations of the request-- has more than ironically made Dr. Bowling, the main author of the books under review, the primary victim of the journal editors' conduct. Indeed, I regret that Dr. Bowling's work was not allowed to be considered seriously by the same critical standards I have employed reviewing many other scholarly books, as they all should be. In the meantime, I am pleased that the review is published on the CrimeTalk blog, not to mention that an additional chapter in the continued history of unprofessionalism in academia has been exposed. 

  • Ben Bowling, Policing the Caribbean: Transnational Security Cooperation in Practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. 376pp. ISBN: 978-0-19-957769-9.
  • Leanne Weber and Ben Bowling (editors), Stop and Search: Police Power in Global Context. London and New York: Routledge, 2012. 140pp. ISBN: 978-0-415-63100-6.
  • Ben Bowling and James Sheptycki, Global Policing. London: Sage, 2012. 192pp. ISBN: 978-1-84920-082-0.

In 2013 those of us social science scholars interested in the systematic study of international policing have come a long way since the days of some two decades ago when the one published work useful in this area of research was political scientist Ethan Nadelmann’s book Cops Across Borders (Penn State University Press, 1993). And even though one could still write, by the turn towards the current century, that police activities of an international nature, whether cross-border or more or less global in kind, were a relatively neglected domain of research, by now it would be completely ridiculous and outright lacking in even the slightest form of intelligence to argue that not a lot of empirical and conceptual work on the practices of international policing, especially in connection with information-sharing, would have been undertaken. The exact opposite is now true as a variety of relevant studies have appeared, revealing important historical and contemporary dimensions in multiple contexts, that are so numerous that they cannot be cited in the context of this review without doing injustice to those that would not be mentioned. 

The works under review here all bear the mark of our colleague Ben Bowling of King’s College, London. Well-known for his work on violence and racism, it is more than interesting to note that Bowling has gradually been extending his focus towards a more international and indeed global level. This move in and of itself is already gratifying for all scholars of international policing, not so much because we now have another player on our team, but also and particularly because it also indicates, conversely, that work on the international dimensions of police work inevitably has repercussions on very concrete and local levels, even when that dimension is not always explicitly explored. The global matters for the local as well as on to itself. For that reason alone, Bowling’s work can immediately be recognized to have made a most valuable contribution.

Bowling’s study on the international dimensions of police work in the Caribbean region in Policing the Caribbean is the center piece of the three books under review here. In it, Bowling explores the various international dimensions of policing in the Caribbean region, at the inter-island, regional, and transatlantic levels, with a particular concern for the control of the trafficking in cocaine. The focus on the drug trade places the study in a more conventional and long-standing tradition as the control of drugs has been among the most classic areas of research on international policing. In the context of the Caribbean, of course, this concern has remained of considerable relevance until this day, while other regions in the world have witnessed relative shifts towards other crime issues, notably cybercrimes and terrorism.

Bowling’s work is based on fieldwork and a multitude of interviews with various participants of the Caribbean police community. The author broadly situates his study in the attention towards the problem of international crime as it exists across many regions in the world, thus situating the local problems of the police fight against crime in the Caribbean region within the existing global context. Focused on a variety of institutions and practices of global policing, Bowling’s work is primarily oriented at uncovering relevant organizational and practical concerns up to the point of  arrest.

The study is situated in the context of the history of the Caribbean island region relative to British colonial rule, the development of a global economy, and related issues of migration and drug trafficking. At the level of the organization of policing, the Caribbean model is framed within the context of colonial policing styles. The key link between global developments and the local work that is done on the ground is formed by the nexus of the drug trade with violent crimes. Most critically, Bowling unravels that the Caribbean police commissioners find themselves caught between local demands to curb violence and external pressures from within other, so-called metropolitan countries, notably in Northern America and Europe, to deal with the trafficking of drugs into those territories.

Police cooperation with Caribbean involvement takes place in multiple forms, extending from interpersonal relationships between officers of various nations in view of specific investigative needs all the way up to permanent organizational structures, notably the Association of Caribbean Police Commissioners of Police that has been formed since the 1980s with the assistance of the U.S. Justice Department’s International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP). Cooperation also exists between police representatives of various nations in the Caribbean with Interpol. As noted in other contexts, Bowling observes that local police officials face various pressures from police authorities in metropolitan nations and are able to resist such pressures in varying degrees. Somewhat of more specific concern is that Caribbean police also cooperate with military forces, a problem of militarization that dates back to colonial rule. Again comparable to many other locales is that international police work in the Caribbean relies extensively on a system of liaison officers and that international police work ranges widely from border concerns to maritime and airport security.

Of special interest to the readership here, Bowling ends his work on the policing of the Caribbean with a more theoretically oriented chapter on some of the implications of his detailed and meticulously researched empirical study. It is by far the weakest chapter of the book, a mere exercise in the enumeration of bland truisms, showing a horrid lack of understanding of the theoretically relevant aspects of the study itself. Removed from any serious concerns rooted in the modern project of social theorizing, whether in the sociological tradition or in related social sciences, Bowling’s focus turns to effectiveness as a primary concern of his criminological work, along with some of the usual attention to accountability and ethics, rather than contemplating seriously on the emphasis on effectiveness in the world of policing itself, thus showing a remarkable inability, in other words, to differentiate between the viewpoints of participant and observer. Stemming perhaps from the fact that Bowling’s initial research focus was with crime and violence and not with any theoretically informed perspective, his final speculations on the value of his work merely turn back to that issue and the manner in which police systems can and should be strengthened. Such a focus is rooted wholly in the technical orientation that is characteristic of criminal justice administration, not in any of the analytical powers of social theory. The key issue, from an informed theoretical viewpoint, cannot be with the effectiveness of international policing practices, but would have to center on the stubbornness with which such effectiveness is presented and practiced as a central concern for police professional themselves. Needless to argue that the field of international policing has sufficiently developed by now that it would have been easy to trace such relevant theoretical concerns in many a work on the matter. Besides, such more serious study of the literature on international policing might also have prevented the citation of one of the relevant books as being written by one “Willem Deflem” (p. 104, note 6).

I can quickly skip over the Stop and Search volume co-edited by Leanne Weber and Bowling because it is a comparative work, at least taken as a whole, with chapters on various incarnations of the stop-and-search police power in diverse national and local settings. The book is held together by its binding and the common subject matter, but further offers nothing to make it more than a collection of disjointed pieces. The introductory and concluding chapters by the editors are too weak and thin (at four and nine pages, respectively) to be able to alter this fact. The chapters appeared previously as a thematic issue of Policing & Society and are recommended in this very book to be cited on the basis of the original page numbering in the journal (p. vii). This reprint, then, can only be attributed rationally to an overabundance of paper on the part of the publisher.

The Global Policing book Bowling co-authored with James Sheptycki offers an overview of various issues and aspects of international policing. It promisingly begins with a chapter on ‘Theorising Global Policing,’ but it does not do that and nowhere does it make global policing theoretically visible. Even though the authors were, according to the book’s back cover, oriented at bringing to life “cutting-edge theoretical debates,” there are only few discussions rooted in anything remotely stemming from or even relevant to social theory and at best we find some observations related to the usual themes of state power and sovereignty. For the most part, the book is an overview of several thematic issues of international policing, presented in a topic-followed-by-topic presentation format with each entry similar to those one can these days find on wikipedia. In the end, this possibly textbook-styled overview leads the authors to conclude, with an implicit but clear and failed intention to shock, that “In the global networked society, police power is no longer constrained by the borders of the nation-state” (p. 128).

Among the more vivid theoretical horrors of Global Policing most distinctly stands out an incomprehensible misconceptualization of transnational and international policing. Bowling and his co-author do not recognize that much of international police work indeed involves inter-national cooperation among police of different national states as well as transnational operations. As such, the approach adopted in this book is not even focused on, surely not the only, but perhaps the most important, dimension of the whole of international policing activities. Given its conceptual and analytical shortcomings, a general theory of international policing could never be developed in this work, surely not in the direction of what is needed, namely a fairly rigid theoretical model that other scholars in the area can apply and test.

It is gratifying to see that work on international and global policing has continued to grow over the years and that it is, on occasion at least, found worthy of attention by scholars working on related, but not readily connected issues of scholarly reflection, including theoretical criminology and sociology. It will be gratifying to see the day when that attention will have been deserved by virtue of the scholarly merits of the contributions in the field, both in empirical as well as theoretical respects. 

This review essay was originally written in the summer of 2013 upon solicitation by a review editor of a theoretically oriented academic journal. Its submission was unfavorably received because of alleged "concerns about the overall tone of the review" with a request to "bringing down some of your critique.” Upon my response that all ideas in the review are relevant and substantiated, I received notice that the review was "not acceptable for publication,” detailing various revisions which entailed a complete modification of my writing, involving deletions of major portions of my essay, multiple changes in wording, and several suggested substantive changes that were both unprofessional and unreasonable. I informed the editor that I could not undertake such revisions, the very request for which I consider to be a violation of standards of scholarship, which ironically made Dr. Bowling, the main author of the books under review, the primary victim of the editor's conduct as his works were not allowed to be considered seriously. I am now pleased to have this review be part of a discussion at CrimeTalk for the benefit of research and theorizing in the area of international policing as well as concerning professional issues on academic freedom and universal standards of scholarship today.  

See related writings on international policing.