We have been part of efforts to launch the Policing, Policy, and Philosophy Initiative (3PI), a new project supported by the American Philosophical Association Small Grants Program and the Rock Ethics Institute at Penn State. 3PI connects scholars with philosophical interests in policing, builds community among them, and fosters research in this area. We would like to share one of its resources—3PI’s database of philosophical research on policing—and what we found while putting it together.
This database tracks by year academic books and articles on policing published by scholars in philosophy and closely related fields. As far as we are aware, it is the most comprehensive resource available of philosophical work on policing and will allow users to explore this body of thought and how it has evolved.
Philosophy and policing are both contested terms that evoke disagreement on what exactly they encompass. So, we had to make various decisions about what to include in the database and exclude from it.
Our overall approach was to treat work in philosophy on policing as its own body of thought distinct to a certain extent from—while of course overlapping with—work on other features of the criminal justice system (for example, prisons and jury trials). At the same time, we wanted to err on the side of being inclusive rather than exclusive. Including in the database a borderline case was, in our view, better than leaving it out. After all, it would be easier for someone to skip over an irrelevant entry than find a relevant entry that had been left out of the database on their own.
In terms of its specific parameters, the database goes back to 1996. That is the year John Kleinig published The Ethics of Policing, a seminal work in the field. The database covers journal articles and books published in English but not encyclopedia articles or book chapters (although edited books on policing are included).
We began compiling the database by going through the titles and abstracts of articles published in the top general journals in philosophy and top journals in the subfield of moral and political philosophy. We did the same for the leading journals in philosophy of law and political theory (including general political science journals that publish political theory). We also searched publications with the “Policing” tag in PhilPapers. Finally, we went through the CVs, Google Scholar pages, or both of scholars who have written extensively on policing (like John Kleinig, for example). If we came across a policing paper in a philosophy journal or closely related field that we had not yet searched through, we added it to the list of journals and reviewed all its articles going back to 1996. This process ultimately yielded 73 different journals that span both continental and analytic philosophy as well as fields with close links to philosophy.
Sometimes we came across scholars with philosophical interests in policing who published in journals outside of philosophy. If the article’s content was philosophical in nature—for instance, if it engaged in normative or conceptual analysis—then we included it in the database even if the journal did not end up in the 73 that we searched. This article in the Du Bois Review by Jennifer Page and Desmond King is an example of a publication fitting that description and thus, was included in the database.
For books, we searched PhilPapers, Google Scholar, and our home institution’s library catalog. We also included books among the publications of scholars identified as having written extensively on policing and philosophy. We limited the list of books to those published with academic presses, which means that we excluded non-academic books on police ethics geared toward practitioners.
Some topics salient in debates over policing, such as racial profiling, are also issues that come up in other areas of criminal justice and society. For publications discussing such topics, we included in the database those that contain significant discussion of the police but not those that fail to mention the police or only mention them in passing.
Despite our best efforts, there are likely works that we missed but should be in the database given the parameters outlined here. We encourage database users to send any errors or omissions they come across to contact3PI@psu.edu.
We identified over 200 articles from 1996 to the present for inclusion in the database. During the past decade, there has been an increase in articles on policing published in philosophy journals, with notable spikes after the protests sparked by the 2014 police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson and the 2020 murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The highest number of articles published in a year was 24 in 2022, followed by 20 in 2014. The graph below illustrates these trends.
We also took a closer look at which philosophy and ethics journals publish the most articles on policing. By far, with 45 articles, Criminal Justice Ethics has published the most—over 2.5 times more than the nearest journal—and been the most consistent in featuring work on policing throughout the time period studied. The next four journals in terms of publication volume are Theory and Event (17), the Journal of Business Ethics (12), Criminal Law and Philosophy (10), and the Journal of Ethics (8). Three of these journals did a special issue or symposium on policing. The Journal of Ethics had a special issue on racial profiling in 2011. Theory and Event had a special issue on the police killing of Michael Brown and Ferguson protests in 2014. An upcoming issue of Criminal Law and Philosophy includes a symposium on policing and political philosophy.
There has been inconsistent coverage of policing among elite journals in philosophy. If we look at the top journals in moral and political philosophy, some like Ethics and the Journal of Moral Philosophy have not published any articles on policing during the time range covered by the database. The Journal of Political Philosophy has published more articles (6) of which half come from its 2017 symposium on Black Lives Matter. Philosophy and Public Affairs has published close to the same number of articles (5).
It is even rarer for the top general journals in philosophy to feature work on policing. We found no articles in Philosophical Review or Mind going back to 1996 and only one each in Nous and Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. The fact that articles on policing appear less frequently in general journals than in subfield journals is not surprising. Still, the dearth of research on policing in philosophy’s top journals is notable.
Turning to books, there have been over 30 published since 1996, which puts the average at just over one per year. As many as seven books were published in a single year, which occurred recently in 2021.
The database is an ongoing project. 3PI will continue to update it as new articles and books are published in the coming years. Compiling a database involves focusing on the past, but the ultimate goal of this tool is to inform and assist future research.
Beyond its database, 3PI promotes research by connecting scholars with philosophical interests in policing and providing venues to share their work. We encourage philosophers with such interests to consider joining 3PI—membership is free. 3PI also is accepting submissions for its inaugural symposium, which will be virtual and take place on March 1, 2024. The deadline to apply as a discussant or submit a paper is November 30, 2023. Papers accepted for the symposium will be considered for the 3PI Paper Prize, which comes with a $1,000 award.
Through these and other activities, 3PI looks to foster, grow, and deepen the body of thought in philosophy on policing with a focus on its insights for policy. By no means does philosophy have all the answers to debates today over policing, but it has a role to play in them.