A Study of the Negro Policeman: Book Review

by Nicholas Alex
Copyright 1969 210 pages
Intro. Criminal Justice December 2, 1996

Nicholas Alex, assistant professor of sociology at The City University
of New York, holds a Ph.D. from the New School for Social Research and a B.S.
from the Wharton School. He was formerly a research assistant with the Russell
Sage Foundation, an instructor at Adelphi University, and has had working
experience in his academic specialty-the sociology of professions and
occupations-while an industrial engineer in the aircraft industry, later as
business manager of the Walden School. This is his first book.
In this book Alex made an effort to examine the peculiar problems of
Negro policemen who live in an age which has not yet resolved to problem of
inequality in an assertedly democratic society. He drawn heavily on the
reflections of forty-one Negro policemen who made plain to me the difficulties
involved in being black in blue. Alex was concerned with the ways in which the
men were recruited into the police, the nature of their relations in regard to
their immediate clientele, their counterparts, and the rest of society. In the
broadest terms, the book examines the special problems that Negro policemen face
in their efforts to reconcile their race with their work in the present
framework of American values and beliefs.
The research for the study was based on intensive interviews collected
over a period of eleven months, from December 1964 to October 1965. During that
time the author talked with Negro police engaged in different types of police
specialties, and men of different rank and backgrounds. Alex was interested in
preserving their anonymity, and substituted code numbers for names. The
language in which their thoughts were expressed is unchanged.
Most of the interviews were obtained either at the policeman's home or
the authors. Some were held in parks, playgrounds, and luncheonettes. All of
the interviews were open-ended. All the policemen refused to have there
conversations taped. "I know too well what tapes can do to you," said one. "I
can refute what you write down on that pad, but I can't if it's taped. We use
tapes too, you know." The author was dealing with a highly expressive and
literate group of men who thought of the study as a way in which they could make
themselves heard.
This book is organized very well. It consist of eight chapters, and each
chapter is broken into subdivisions. The first chapter talks about the
policemen in the community. Within this chapter mainly describes the police as
and occupation, and states how the policemen's job is uncertain. The second
chapter deals with the recruitment of Negroes for police work. It talks about
the need for Negro policemen, and the reasons for entering the police work. The
author states in this chapter that most Negro policemen applied for police work
only as one possibility among other similar civil service jobs. The next
chapter describes the police image and the difference between good cops and bad
cops. The author describes a good cop as someone who knows his job, has a well-
integrated personality, and someone who tries to understand the particular
problems in the community that he works. He describes a bad cop as the guy who
puts on a uniform and becomes 10 feet tall. In my community there is a cop that
relates to that statement. The only reason he is tough is because he has a
badge on his shirt. I would like to meet him in a dark alley when no one else
is around, and without him wearing his badge. Then we can see who is the tough
The next chapter is a very interesting one. It deals with the Negro
policemen and his white counter part. It talks about how the Negro policemen
feel they are viewed by white policemen. They feel that the white cops look at
them as an oddity. It also talks about how the Negro police men feel about the
white cops. The Negro policemen interviewed feel that most whites are narrow
minded, bigoted and opinionated , middle class in their thinking. The fifth
chapter is about the Negro policemen and the white community. One
policemen interview said, "From a personal point of view I don't feel as
comfortable as I would in a Negro neighborhood."
The sixth chapter deals with the Negro community. It talks about the
different social classes within the community. It also talks about the Negro
policeman and the civil rights movement. The last chapter deals with the
police uniform and how it is a symbol of the authority, power, and legal status
of the police. It