Martha K. Huggins, Ph.D……..
Policing democracy is tough. Tasked to ‘protect and serve,’ police carry out their work within a political system that often makes them an instrument of competing political and economic interests. Far too commonly, police take the fall for the irregular, shifting, and highly political expectations of government officials. Case in point ‘management’ of the homeless. “Economic development,” which of course includes building and protecting tourism, has a very specific aesthetic: There should be no visibly homeless people in Key West’s “One Human Family”— as one upper-middle class informant once told me, they scare us. The police work to eliminate homeless visibility in Key West’s up-scale tropical landscape through what their administrators call, “quality-of-life” policing. But the police must sometimes resort to aesthetically unpleasant strong-arm tactics just to manage the unmanageable. They get ‘burned out’ by what they do and the “homeless squad” is not a police career builder. Government officials know, although never admitting it publicly, that they need police to do the ‘front-line’ dirty work that politicos dare not do themselves.