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History at Work: Police Work

Justin Gregory, on police work

For a police department that is always looking for diverse mindsets and knowledge sets, cops with bachelors degrees in a range of subjects can be a major asset. That includes the subject of history. Justin Gregory, the Deputy Chief of the Athens-Clarke County Police Department, put it this way: “History plays a huge role in what we’re going through now. We are living history right now. And it’s a burden. But there will be a time when I look back and say, ‘I was part of [working to change] that,’ and I hope it reveals itself to be a positive thing when I’m done.”

But history isn’t just useful for what it teaches us about the present. Historical thinking is also valuable for the critical thinking skills that it cultivates — because when it comes to being a cop, “handcuffs aren’t the only solution.” For one thing, it helps to appreciate how complex an issue can be. Although there are situations on the job that unfold in an instant, police work also involves strategies of the longer term: thinking more expansively, building relationships with communities, and figuring out how to tackle new problems as they arise. It means considering factors at play that work deeply and sometimes invisibly, factors like race, mental illness, poverty, and trauma.

For the ACCPD, that might mean organizing Problem-Oriented Policing Projects, which involves bringing together different community members and experts to "think outside the box" — to draw on a range of experiences and knowledge in order to develop ways, beyond the use of force, to resolve the problems that communities face. The ability to consider different perspectives (another essential analytic of historical thinking) is also crucial to police and community work alike, to recognize and move beyond our implicit biases in order to see each other as human beings whose particular experiences and points of view need to be taken into consideration. 

(Back to History at Work Speaker Series)

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