Stuart Schrader on ‘Policing Empire’

Daniel Greenman, News Editor

Friday, October 28, the talk “Policing Empire: A Conversation About the History of Police Reform in the Western Hemisphere” was held. The talk featured Stuart Schrader, Professor at Johns Hopkins University and Associate Director of its Program in Racism, Immigration, & Citizenship. The event was a moderated discussion and Q&A featuring Professor Schrader as well as Professor Guillermina Seri, Professor of Political Science at Union College. The event was part of the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Speaker Series, and co-sponsored by the Department of Anthropology, Latin American Students Organization (LASO) and Caribbean Students Association (CaribSA).

The event began with discussion of Professor Schrader’s latest work, the book Badges Without Borders: How Global Counterinsurgency Transformed American Policing, which is part of the University of California Press’s American Crossroads series. Professor Schrader discussed the timeline of research in his book, which covers the end of World War II to the 1970s. In this time, said Schrader, the United States exported its police expertise worldwide, particularly to allies during the Cold War with the purpose of preventing communist revolution. In Badges Without Borders, Professor Schrader argues that the global programs led by the United States which increased policing abroad also contributed to an increase in police and their militarization domestically.

Schrader emphasized the role of the Office of Public Safety (OPS) in the foreign policy of the United States during the Cold War; the office operated within the United States Agency for International Development from 1962 until 1974, when it was terminated by Congress. OPS operated in at least fifty-two countries in Asia, Africa and the Americas, and was meant to be a “first line of defense” against revolution, said Schrader. In addition to nearly 1,500 OPS advisors that were deployed overseas to train over one million policemen, OPS also provided police equipment and communications technologies. OPS was politically divisive in its time for many reasons. After the assassination of advisor Dan Mitrione in 1970 by Uruguay’s Marxist-Leninist Tupamaros, claims that Mitrione was teaching police torture techniques led to protest outside the International Police Academy that November. US activists against war and imperialism, along with the anti-OPS commitment of South Dakota senator James Abourezk, also paved the way for Congress’s 1974 action.

More recent developments in police policy and public response were also discussed, as Schrader pointed out that the government apparatus for international policing since OPS has largely transitioned into a private contracting system. Professor Seri raised the example of former Mayor New York City Rudy Giuliani, whose policies for policing New York City in the 1990s were influenced by the controversial broken windows theory. The theory, introduced in 1982 by social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling, states that policing methods that crack down on minor crimes create a more orderly and lawful community overall. Professor Seri stated that in Giuliani’s influential consulting work in Latin America and South America, his companies have made millions of dollars exporting his policing techniques. Both professors were critical of recent United States domestic police reform; Schrader pointed to incremental reforms since 2014 that increased police funding and failed to produce sufficiently safer policing methods.

Schrader did note that disillusionment from a lack of impactful police reform since the mid-2010s has led to the more recent increase in calls for divestment from police. He also praised Black Lives Matter for popularizing divestment and abolition policies that had previously only been on the fringe of police reform conversations. Both professors noted the magnitude of national protests in 2020, though Professor Seri was skeptical that the protests will lead to significant policy changes in the United States.

In the Q&A portion, Professor Schrader was asked about the implications of the attack on the Capitol, the role of United States foreign policy in the history of global policing, and why domestic police reform has been so challenging. In his answer about the Capitol attack, Professor Schrader restated a point that investment in police does not necessarily yield better law enforcement. He pointed out that for their size, the Capitol Police are extremely well funded and equipped. It is worth asking, said Schrader, “What do these [police] resources get us?”