From Enforcers to Guardians: Q&A with authors Hannah L. F. Cooper, ScD, and Mindy Thompson Fullilove, MD

Why did you write From Enforcers to Guardians: A Public Health Primer on Ending Police Violence?

Excessive police violence has become an inescapable reality in the United States. Some of us have learned to scan the sidewalks and streets for officers from the moment we lock our door behind us to the moment we reach our destination. Some of us breathe a sigh of relief when friends and family make it home unharmed by police. All of us have witnessed on our screens, frame by frame, day after day, the horrors of police killings of civilians who were little or no threat to them. These horrors have been compounded by the repeated judicial exoneration of the police. One innocent pedestrian looking over his shoulder, one sigh of relief, perhaps even one unprovoked police killing might be an acceptable “trade-off” for a safe society. But when whole communities are terrorized and thousands of people – disproportionately Black men and boys – are killed by police without cause and without legal consequence for the perpetrators, we must question the purpose of policing itself. If so many people are being murdered by the police, clearly policing has divorced itself from public safety.

We wrote this book to offer a public health perspective on the distributions, causes, and consequences of excessive police violence, and to support growing momentum – including among public health scholars and practitioners – to study and end excessive police violence. Students hunger to learn more about this vital topic. Public health departments and community-based organizations are beginning to mount interventions to eliminate excessive police violence. And researchers are gravitating to this topic, seeking information about the nature and consequences of police violence. This primer thus describes what we know about the history, distribution, and health impacts of police violence, and charts a strategy to end it.

What was the most surprising thing you learned through your writing or research?

Hannah writes: I remain dismayed at how poorly public health is mobilizing to surveil excessive police-related violence, and to study its impacts. We need valid information on who suffers this violence and its consequence to better target interventions and analyze their effects.

Mindy writes: Paul Butler’s paper, “The System is Working the Way It Is Supposed To,” surprised me.  It is such a trenchant statement! It left little room for thinking simple reforms might help. Yet his conclusion touched me: “The fact that pattern and practice investigations may somewhat work sometimes is a reason that they should be encouraged, because ‘somewhat work sometimes’ in this context means that police kill and hurt fewer people.” (cited on p. 157)

What is new about From Enforcers to Guardians that sets it apart from other books in the field?

Hannah writes: Its comprehensiveness is unique. We scan the long history of policing and excessive police violence, examining resonances across time and place in the structure of policing and in its role in marginalizing communities. We review the full breadth of existing surveillance and research on the distributions and consequences of excessive police violence. We describe a range of efforts to end it across sectors. We provide a comprehensive set of strategies to end excessive police violence.

Mindy writes: I think our in-depth look at the “Pattern and Practice” investigations carried out by the US Department of Justice is an important contribution. Many of us know that these investigations have been carried out, but far fewer know what the investigations uncovered. We tackle those reports in two important chapters that will ground people in the most complete data set we have on the kinds of violence that occur in some police departments. 

What is the most important fact that your book helps to reveal?

Hannah writes: For me, the most important fact that this book revealed was our persistent failure to monitor instances of excessive police violence. Absent this vital information, it will be difficult to target interventions and study their impacts.

Mindy writes: For me, it was encouraging to learn of the breadth of efforts that people are making to create a new situation. For example, the work of Jeannie Gang and her architecture colleagues to reimagine the police precinct was very heartening to me.

How do you envision the lasting impact of From Enforcers to Guardians?

Hannah writes (and Mindy agrees): My hope is that this book helps catalyze improved surveillance of excessive police violence and research on its impacts, and that it provides a platform for developing multisectoral, multilevel interventions to end it. 

What do you hope people will take away from your work?

Mindy writes (and Hannah agrees): I hope people will take away from our work the vast body of data on history, surveillance and intervention that can be brought to bear on this egregious problem.

Order From Enforcers to Guardians: A Public Health Primer on Ending Police Violence – published on January 14, 2020 – at the following link:

Hannah L. F. Cooper, ScD is a professor within Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health, where she holds the Rollins Chair in Substance Use Disorders Research. Mindy Thompson Fullilove, MD is a professor of urban policy and health at The New School. She is the author of Urban Alchemy: Restoring Joy in America's Sorted-Out Cities. Together, Cooper and Fullilove are coauthors of From Enforcers to Guardians: A Public Health Primer on Ending Police Violence.