Since 2014, in what I will call the “New Reform Era,” many discussions of policing are dominated by two conceptions often juxtaposed against one another. Probably the dominant conception of policing offered from police officers and agencies is that it ought to be effective. By effective, they mean that policing’s primary goal should be to reduce crime or prevent it. Folks interested in the project of police reform typically offer a different conception of the goal of policing—one that emphasizes lawfulness. Reformers often describe lawfulness in terms of commitments to constitutional law. Of course, these two ideals need not describe competing visions. Yet, when one looks to the scholarly literature pertaining to these two topics, especially the criminological and legal literatures, it is easy to see the ways in which they have been and are portrayed to be in competition. In this short essay, I have two goals. First, I would like to offer an explanation for the competition between the two conceptions and to recount some earlier work in which I attempted to reconcile these two conceptions. Second, I would like to integrate an increasingly prominent idea—abolition—into this discussion and offer some thoughts on the ways in which setting these two ideals as oppositional complicates the possibility of abolitionist frameworks as productive for police transformation. In the process, I hope to assist a more general conversation about criminal justice reconceptualization.

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