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date: 28 November 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Research on the formation of police officers generally focuses on the beliefs, accounts, and categories that recruits must master. Becoming a police officer, however, is not simply a matter of acquiring new attitudes and beliefs. This article attends to an unexplored side of police culture—the sensorial and tactile education that recruits undergo at the police academy. Rubenstein wrote in 1973 that a police officer’s first tool is his or her body. This article examines the formation of the police body by examining how police recruits learn to use their hands as instruments of control. In police vernacular, this means learning to “lay hands” (a term borrowed from Pentecostal traditions) or going “hands on.” This chapter focuses on two means of using the hands: searching and defensive tactics. It describes how instructors teach recruits to use their hands for touching, manipulating, and grabbing the clothing and flesh of others to sense weapons and contraband. It also examines how recruits are taught to grab, manipulate, twist, and strike others in order to gain control of “unruly” bodies. It concludes by discussing the implications of “touching like a cop” for understanding membership in the police force.

Keywords: touch, habitus, Bourdieu, police, body

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