Title: The Constitution of Community in Policing Everyday: Legal Implications of an Emerging Criminal Justice Paradigm
Name: Ron Levi
Centre of Criminology
University of Toronto
130 St. George Street, 8th Floor
Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5S 3H1
Year: 2001
Type: Dissertation Fellowship

Reliance on the "community" has a substantial history in crime control efforts and academic criminology. Yet there remains little research on how the idea of community is deployed in legal forums. We thereby have little empirical evidence of how competing visions of community are embedded within legal responses to crime and its control, and how legal actors mobilize and work through this prime concept of sociological criminology.

This dissertation draws on three case studies, each representing a different use of community in responding to crime: the community notification of sex offenders, community policing strategies designed to address gang loitering, and the proliferation of private gated communities. Each of these case studies reflects approaches to crime control that have gained salience in recent years, including an emphasis on actuarial risk assessment, concern over visible signs of disorder in public spaces, and the defence of neighbourhoods through private security measures.

In the context of community notification, I focus on the legal adjudication of Megan's Law in New Jersey, and find that the integration of the community in policing is closely linked with shifting understandings of how "risk" ought to be assessed and managed. Actuarial expertise, while a critical component to the legality of community notification efforts, is simultaneously displaced in favour of lay knowledge, through which residents are to themselves assess risk, monitor offenders, and govern their own behaviour accordingly. This provides the basis for transferring to individual residents much of the responsibility for preventing future offenses, mandating state intervention in information delivery while insulating the state from political criticism and legal challenge.

In the context of community policing strategies to address gang loitering, I focus on Chicago's 1992 Gang Congregation Ordinance, and investigate the construction of a "community harm," from residents' testimonies before City Council, through analyses of the municipal ordinance and police department regulations, to the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the ordinance's constitutionality. Here, the concept of community has the effect of rendering residents' concerns into harms that are actionable by the state, and identifying the community's welfare - and how it is to be determined - then becomes the central object of legal specification, with effects on the resulting municipal ordinance, police regulations, and constitutional adjudication.

In the legal adjudication of cases involving the borders of private gated communities I find that the form of community that is invoked and instantiated by gated developments is sharply resisted by U.S. courts. By isolating the case law that deals with the borders of gated communities, I find that courts are highly suspicious of the localism that residents or homeowners associations seek to assert, and consistently intervene to articulate a vision of community that is distinct from that instantiated by the gate. This suggests that private deployment of the concept of community, tied in here with spatial reconfigurations of the urban landscape in an effort to manage crime, is equally subject to negotiation, resistance, and redefinition in legal sites.

The case studies demonstrate that these invocations of community do not operate on their own: rather, "community" interacts with other operative concepts, such as risk, harm, or the spatial form that community may be taking. In addition, while much theoretical work explains the reemergence of community responses to crime as part of a broader political shift toward neoliberalism, this dissertation instead finds that governing crime through community is not as stable as theories of advanced liberalism suggest - and that the resulting hybridities have practical effects for creating, implementing, and adjudicating crime prevention efforts.