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Police Beat: The Emotional Power of Music in Police Work By Simone Dennis ...

Chapter :  Introduction
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Police Beat:


An Ethnographic Curtain Raiser

This book is based on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork conducted in a metropolitan police department in the large Australian city of Grayville.2 Of primary analytic concern in this book is the embodied and social basis of emotion, and its capacity to facilitate connections between persons, in this case, through music.

I begin this work by looking closely at the ways in which Grayville officers described their ‘biggest problem’: the negative public perception of police. According to Grayville police, the ‘law enforcement’ variety of policing they indicated that they currently perform requires officers to disguise any emotional response they might have to community members, in order to protect the right of each person to impartial police treatment. The resultant self-policing of emotional expression practiced among officers is inextricably intertwined in police context with ‘professionalism’. The restriction of emotional expression is an organized, formalized process; Grayville officers undergo specific training at the police academy to learn the techniques of emotional inexpressiveness in order to produce a public body that is ostensibly unemotional.

The most common way in which members of the public give form to a negative opinion of police is in expressions that comment on the lack of humanness among officers. Grayville police understand these expressions to refer to the apparent incapacity of police officers for emotion, and so a metonymic relatedness between emotion and humanness is locally articulated and recognized. This recognition has led to a creative local solution that draws on a commonly understood relationship between music and emotion: The solution that the Grayville police department created to counter their unemotional and therefore less-than-human public image took the form of a 36-member strong musical police band.