Battle of the Corner: Urban Policing and Rioting in the United States, 1943-1971 provides a national history of police reform and police-citizen conflicts in marginalized urban neighborhoods in the three decades after World War II. Examining more than a dozen cities, the dissertation shows how big-city police brass and downtown-friendly municipal elites in the late 1940s and 1950s attempted to professionalize urban law enforcement and regulate rank-and-file discretion through Police-Community Relations programs and novel stop-and-frisk preventive patrol schemes. These efforts ultimately failed to produce diligent yet impartial street policing. Beginning in the late 1950s, and increasing in severity and frequency until the early 1960s, young black and Latino working-class urban residents surrounded, taunted, and attacked police officers making routine arrests. These crowd rescues garnered national attention and prepared the ground for the urban rebellions of 1964 to 1968, many of which began with a controversial police incident on a crowded street corner.
While telling a national story, Battle of the Corner provides deeper local context for postwar changes to street policing through detailed case studies highlighting the various stakeholders in reform efforts. In the 1950s and 1960s, African-American activists, block clubs, residents, and politicians pressured police for effective but fair and accountable tactical policing to check rising criminal violence and street disorder in neighborhoods increasingly blighted by urban renewal. Rank-and-file police unions fought civilian review boards and used new collective bargaining rights to stage job actions to obtain higher wages. They also obtained “bill of rights” contract provisions to shield members from misconduct investigations. Police management took advantage of newly-available federal and local resources after the riots to reorganize their departments into top-down bureaucratic organizations capable of conducting stop-and-frisk on a more systematic scale. By the early 1970s, a rising generation of urban black politicians confronted skyrocketing rates of criminal violence, armed militants intent on waging war on the police, and a politically-empowered rank-and-file angry and combative over the more intense threats and pressures they faced on the job.
Battle of the Corner breaks ground in telling a national story of policing that juxtaposes elite decision-making and street confrontations and that analyzes a wide range of actors who held a stake in securing order and justice in urban neighborhoods. In chronicling how urban police departments emerged from the profound institutional crisis of the 1960s with greater power, resources, and authority, Battle of the Corner provides a history and a frame for understanding policing controversies today.