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How Cars Transformed Policing

Apropos today’s decision in State v. Courtney Brown, The Boston Review has just published an excerpt from a new book by a legal historian who argues that the mass adoption of the automobile revolutionized policing in the United States:

The need to discipline drivers and to do so without giving offense necessitated changes to the police function and to well-established laws. Officers now required discretion to administer the massive traffic enforcement regime and deal with the sensitivities of “law-abiding” citizens who kept violating traffic laws. The law’s accommodation of discretionary policing profoundly altered what it meant to live free from state intrusion in the automotive age. By the Cold War, U.S. society’s dependence on the police to maintain order raised troubling comparisons with totalitarian police. Unforeseen by midcentury jurists, their solution to the potential arbitrary policing of everyone led directly to the problem of discriminatory policing against minorities. Only by considering how U.S. society as a whole came to be policed can we more fully understand the history of our criminal justice and its troubled present.

Read the whole piece here.

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