H-Diplo | RJISSF Roundtable 14-8 on Schrader, Badges Without Borders

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H-Diplo | Robert Jervis International Security Studies Forum

Roundtable Review 14-8

Stuart Schrader, Badges Without Borders: How Global Counterinsurgency Transformed American Policing. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2019. ISBN: 9780520295629

13 January 2023 |PDF: https://issforum.org/to/jrt14-8 | Website: rjissf.org

Editor: Diane Labrosse | Commissioning Editor: Michael Neagle | Production Editor: Christopher Ball



Introduction by Richard Nisa, Fairleigh Dickinson University. 2

Review by Christopher Agee, University of Colorado Denver. 5

Review by Megan Ybarra, University of Washington. 9

Response by Stuart Schrader, Johns Hopkins University. 12



Of the many significant achievements of Stuart Schrader’s excellent book Badges Without Borders: How Global Counterinsurgency Transformed American Policing, one of the most substantive is that it asks readers to challenge a seemingly foundational geographic assumption underpinning diplomatic relations: the view that the foreign policy sphere is fundamentally distinct from the domestic one. In contrast, and by way of a detailed archival engagement with mobile state personnel, shifting policing strategies and tactics, evolving revenue streams, and technologies of population control, Schrader’s book effectively shifts the boundaries of analyses of US domestic policing into a transnational context. In doing so, it also reframes the geography of war—encouraging readers to take seriously the idea that the contours of US military violence abroad directly shaped the strategies that local police deployed on the streets of the United States and vice versa.

As such, Badges Without Borders offers much-needed pushback against the territorial trap that, although first noted nearly three decades ago by political geographer John Agnew, still plagues so much thinking on global power.[1] Readers of H-Diplo might therefore see this book as part of an emergent conversation with historians like Megan Black and Monica Kim, authors who challenge scholars of foreign and domestic relations to reconsider the territorial and political limits of state and imperial power.[2]

The book also offers scholars of both police and prison abolition a valuable framework—one that is archival as well as methodological—to productively connect their work with the critiques of imperialism, global security, and development. If all politics is local, as the saying goes, Badges Without Borders argues that local politics are also global in significant ways. In connecting the twentieth century American policing of poor, racialized urban areas with US security interventions in the developing and decolonizing world, Schrader’s book can also be productively read alongside Alfred McCoy’s Policing America’s Empire, Nikhil Pal Singh’s Race and America’s Long War, or Micol Seigal’s Violence Work (a book Schrader cites in his response below).[3] Scholars more focused on the violent history of domestic policing will gain much from Schrader’s centering of the imperial circuitry and technologies hinted at in texts like Flint Taylor’s The Torture Machine.[4]

While these authors place the project of US policing into the context of transnational counterinsurgency, Badges Without Borders takes it as central that the flow of policing techniques is far from a single out-and-back path implied by metaphors like colonial boomerang. Instead, the book articulates something more akin to a double helix in which pacifying the urban crisis at home and fighting political radicalization abroad—policing crime and insurgency—are part of a single counterinsurgency project.

In this review forum, historian Christopher Lowen Agee and geographer Megan Ybarra both wrestle with different key arguments in the book by way of their distinct disciplinary entry-points, and each contribution adds much to understandings of the history and present of police power. Their differences do not reflect quarrels with the book’s arguments but rather extensions and complications of Schrader’s work into new contexts. Taken together these two authors highlight tensions at the heart of liberal state power that form the core of the book, namely that, as Ybarra notes, “reforms and training will enhance police capabilities and budgets” but these “will not reduce police violence.”

In his review, Agee—himself a key contributor to historical discourses on the links between liberalism and police power—draws attention to the ways that federal funding was not necessarily the panacea that can be inferred by reading Schrader’s text into the 1980s and 90s.[5] His intervention highlights the complexity that underpins the economics of federal funding and the multi-scalar nature of state power. He draws attention to the difficulties faced by police leaders seeking to introduce the “behavior-oriented model” of policing in the face of budget contractions of the 1980s and later police union resistance. If the book draws into question the easy divisions between foreign and domestic policing, Agee highlights the flexibility of police chiefs and commissioners as they navigated competing interests at multiple scales of state power in the wake of the period studied in Badges Without Borders.

In her review, Ybarra, a geographer whose wide-ranging scholarly and activist work engages with migrant detention and abolition, draws attention to the ways that the professionalization of police forces was linked with the production of “copaganda.”[6] This professionalization obscured the increased violence of police work domestically and served to cultivate “children as intelligence sources for counterinsurgency in countries like Guatemala.” Demonstrating the broad interdisciplinarity of the book, her review also explores the technical and institutional aspects of Schrader’s narrative—like his tracing of the imperial circulation of less-lethal policing tools—to critique the idea of police reform. As Ybarra notes, these reforms enabled an increase in police violence, rather than its diminution. Her review calls into question police training methods themselves, which relied on and reenforced the racial segregation of US cities by conflated calls for racial justice with insurgency and disorder.

Last, in her reading, Badges Without Borders offers abolitionists a context for them to consider how “policing, militarism, and colonialism are fundamentally global institutions.” It is of course possible to remain an anti-imperialist without being a police or prison abolitionist, and similarly feasible (though much less likely) to be an abolitionist with little to say about foreign relations and the violence of empire. But Badges Without Borders provides ample evidence for activists and organizers at both scales to question the utility of imagining these two spheres as being disconnected. Instead, Schrader’s book makes plain that maintaining these stark divisions reproduces what he refers to below as an “unreflexive methodological nationalism,” one that ultimately “obscures more than it reveals” about the transnational sinews of carceral power. As Schrader states in his response below, linking these institutions is a “political imperative with enormous stakes.”



Stuart Schrader is an Associate Research Professor in the Center for Africana Studies at Johns Hopkins University and the author of Badges Without Borders: How Global Counterinsurgency Transformed American Policing (University of California Press, 2019) as well as articles in Journal of Urban History, Humanity, Modern American History, Public Culture, and numerous other publications.

Richard Nisa is an associate professor of geography in the Department of Social Sciences and History at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Florham Campus. His book project, The Global Capture Chain: Infrastructures of U.S.-Managed Military Detainment from Truman to Trump, explores the circulatory, political, and technological systems that constitute U.S.-managed wartime detainment spaces. Nisa’s work has been published in The Journal of Historical Geography, Environment & Planning A, and the edited volume Algorithmic Life: Calculative Devices in the Age of Big Data. He is currently co-editing an issue of Radical History Review on the theme of “The Political Lives of Infrastructure,” due out in early 2023.

Christopher Agee is an Associate Professor and Chair of the History Department at the University of Colorado Denver. He is the author of The Streets of San Francisco: Policing and the Creation of Cosmopolitan Liberalism, 1950-1972 (University of Chicago Press, 2014). His article “Freedom, Policing and Urban Liberalism” appeared in the SAGE Handbook of Global Policing (London: SAGE, 2016), and he co-edited and wrote the introductory essay for the Journal of Urban History’s special section, “Urban Policing since World War II” (2020). Agee’s current work considers policing and liberalism in Houston, Texas and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during the last third of the twentieth century.

Megan Ybarra is an associate professor of Geography at the University of Washington, Seattle. She is the author of Green Wars: Conservation and Decolonization in the Maya Forest (University of California Press, 2017), which reveals the role of conservation in military and police violence against Indigenous land defenders in Guatemala. She serves on the editorial boards of The Professional Geographer, Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography, and Environment & Planning D: Society & Space. As a human geographer, her research specialties include abolition geography, Indigenous land activism, and environmental justice.


Stuart Schrader’s remarkable Badges Without Borders examines how American police officers and federal officials stationed in both the United States and its foreign outposts engaged in a common, mid-twentieth century conversation about security and development. After World War II, federal officials believed that their efforts to modernize the economies of both the globe’s poorer countries and the impoverished urban neighborhoods of the United States would result in periods of social disorganization. That disorganization, American federal officials worried, had the potential to devolve into full-blown revolution. Thus, America’s economic modernizers launched parallel counterinsurgency efforts aimed at modernizing the social arrangements within the world’s developing nations and America’s inner cities.

American federal officials turned to law enforcement to spearhead the reorganizations of these societies. They regarded counterinsurgency as a police project and thus looked to police officers to guide supposedly premodern peoples into modern modes of living. But as American officials called upon law enforcement to take over this new role, they believed that they would need to modernize American police models as well. Officials in the United States eventually launched training schools, trade journals, professional organizations, and fellowships that developed and transferred knowledge between the United States’ foreign stations and America’s own urban police departments. These venues exposed generations of ambitious and talented police officers to the American federal mission and ultimately allowed police to become innovators and proselytizers of police-produced social order. Schrader reveals that big-city American police professionalizers were not simply creatures of local politics; they also operated within international policy networks. Those federal networks, Schrader argues, sought to create a system in which front-line police officers used their discretion to implement the vision of officials in Washington, D.C.

Schrader finds that as American officials sent American police chiefs abroad to develop a counterinsurgency program, both the police and their federal sponsors steered towards a behavior-control mode of policing. Under this approach, police dictated modern habits to poor populations through physical force and other punitive measures. Schrader points to police commander Daryl Gates’s establishment of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) unit in 1969 as a signal moment when that international counterinsurgency philosophy was then brought back into the United States. Schrader notes that the racism and militarism reflected in SWAT had long been central to policing in Los Angeles. What made SWAT innovative, Schrader continues, was that Gates self-consciously adopted counterinsurgency’s philosophy of total control and set out to create a program that other domestic police departments could adopt. American police had developed total control philosophies and systems abroad, and now SWAT was transferring those philosophies and systems back into American police departments.

In the final chapter of his narrative, Schrader posits that the coercive behavior-oriented model embodied by SWAT (and counterinsurgency before it) became the philosophical basis for broken-windows policing later in the century. Police leaders received the counterinsurgency model and applied it to American streets. I would like to consider how future research might build out this connection between the international networks that developed in the mid-twentieth century and the broken-windows policing that hit American streets in the 1990s. One initial question is: What took so long? What happened during the nearly thirty years between the introduction of the SWAT model and the emergence of order-maintenance policing as the guiding philosophy of American law enforcement?

Recently, scholars have linked 1960s policing theories and models with late-twentieth-century policing strategies by pointing to the role of federal dollars and technology transfers.[7] By the 1970s, Schrader asserts, police departments were “relying” (119) on the “heavy purse” (141) of the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA). Under these circumstances, he continues, the LEAA created policy feedbacks and path dependencies as police departments suffered from an “addiction” (139) and “craved” (114) federal funds. LEAA left behind a “legacy of continually expanding police forces” (155) and transformed police departments into “fortresses of solicitude” (139). From this perspective, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act in 1994 (the 1994 Crime Bill) was less a turning point in the federal funding of American police than a culmination of decades of federally driven expansion of the carceral state.

But would developments like the creation of the SWAT team have been “impossible without LEAA funding” (215)? Gates certainly painted his development of the SWAT team as renegade work, but he had been hand-selected by the LAPD chief to head the new Tactical Operation Planning Units, and on multiple occasions police leadership authorized an increase in personnel under Gates’ command. The LAPD itself funded part of the SWAT team’s initial budget, and the LEAA’s contribution to the unit could be measured in one-thousandths of a percent of the total LAPD budget.[8]

Similarly, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Houston, Texas—the nation’s fourth- and fifth-largest cities, respectively—federal funding during the 1970s did not play a determinative role in department priorities. Houston officials through the 1970s largely resisted federal aid as anathema to their free market principles, and the police department received relatively little LEAA funding.[9] When federal grants to Philadelphia peaked between 1974 and 1979, they contributed to less than 3 percent of the overall Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) budget. Philadelphia’s own local budget increases outpaced federal contributions far beyond the LEAA’s grant-matching requirements. Thus, when the LEAA denied Philadelphia a grant to hire more police officers, the city’s law-and-order mayor was unfazed and promised to grow the PPD’s ranks with city dollars, “even if I have to cut areas to do it.”[10] Federal aid became even less significant between 1980 and 1995. During a period that saw the introduction of ballyhooed federal programs like Weed and Seed and asset forfeiture from drug arrests, federal grants never exceeded 1.1 percent of the overall PPD budget. Indeed, for three years, federal contributions constituted just 0.6 percent of police spending.[11]

During the 1980s, the dominant theme of police budgets was contraction, not federally driven expansion. In real dollars, the PPD’s budget in 1994 was only 85 percent of the size of the police budget in 1980 and only 75 percent of the size of the 1978 PPD budget. The number of PPD officers, moreover, declined by 20 percent between 1979 and 1994. Other big-city police departments experienced similar personnel and real-dollar budget declines.[12] In Houston, the police department closed its Police Academy for three years in the late 1980s and stopped replacing retired officers.[13] In Portland, Oregon, the police department cut 60 officers in 1984.[14] The New York Police Department lost roughly 5,000 police officers between the late 1970s and mid-1990s.[15]

The budget contractions of the 1980s made it difficult for the police leaders participating in the federal networks to implement behavior-oriented counterinsurgency as a domestic strategy. The heads of the Philadelphia and Houston police departments were both products of the international, federally funded networks Schrader uncovers. Houston’s Commissioner Lee Brown published articles in the US Department of Justice’s Perspectives on Policing, served as president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and traveled on junkets to China, Sweden, Germany, and Japan.[16] Philadelphia’s Commissioner Willie Williams conducted research for the federally sponsored Police Executive Research Forum and attended federally funded management courses at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Public Policy.[17] Both Brown and Williams promoted a community policing model that hoped to imbricate officers into neighborhoods and dedicate them to behavior-based, quality-of-life policing.

Broken-windows policing, however, was officer intensive and required—especially in sprawling cities like Houston—the construction of expensive neighborhood stations that were well-staffed enough to provide a full range of services to officers on the beat. As police budgets shrank through the 1980s, Brown, Williams, and leaders of other big-city police departments found that they lacked funds to expand upon pilot projects.[18] Indeed, the era of contracted budgets gave rank-and-file officers leverage to resist transitions to order-management policing. The shift to broken-windows law enforcement required more cops on the beat, and in a period of shrinking funds, police leaders could only secure more patrol officers through the ‘civilianization’ of desk jobs and changes to existing patrol assignments. At the rank-and-file’s urging, police unions in Houston and Philadelphia stymied these efforts with grievance filings and lawsuits.[19] Police unions even prevented Brown and Williams from forming command staffs supportive of broken-windows law enforcement.[20]

Through the early 1990s, Brown and Williams built the political and financial capital necessary for order-management endeavors by crafting local coalitions of downtown elites and neighborhood activists.[21] The passage of the 1994 Crime Bill was a watershed moment because it allowed these local coalitions to hire and deploy new officers without ruffling the feathers of the existing police corps. But even the Crime Bill was not determinative. Philadelphia did not implement broken-windows policing until a neighborhood-downtown political coalition forced its implementation at the end of the 1990s.[22]

The significance of Schrader’s narrative to this late twentieth-century history can be appreciated if we consider the American state as “many states” rather than a monolith.[23] Lisa Miller, for instance, has illustrated how legislative processes at the federal and state levels often took a parochial approach to issues of crime and punishment. Miller shows that the construction of the carceral state was not always a coordinated effort but one in which different levels of government often took their own paths in the same direction.[24] Badges Without Borders brilliantly reveals that innovating police chiefs and commissioners straddled two levels of the state. Locally, they spent the 1980s and 1990s building coalitions that were supportive of order-management policing. At the same time, the international federal networks provided them with venues to share knowledge, burnish their credentials, and train future generations of police officials in behavior-oriented policing. The 1994 Crime Bill allowed police chiefs and commissioners to bring the federal and local levels of the state into productive contact. Police chiefs had helped mobilize a local coalition ready to support a transition to order-management policing, and those same police leaders had produced a generation’s worth of federally funded models with which to implement the counterinsurgency vision.

Badges Without Borders reveals the role American police officers played in developing counterinsurgency policy abroad and then bringing those philosophies and strategies back into the United States. In doing so, he forces scholars to reconsider the multiple levels of the state that police chiefs and commissioners occupied through the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. Future scholars must now explore how police leaders managed the demands of those different levels of the state and the ways in which federal and local political realities influenced their policies in periods of both budget contraction and budget expansion.


Badges Without Borders excavates the histories of US police training as fundamentally international—both in terms of the United States’ intention to teach other countries how to ‘professionalize’ their policing, and in terms of how those practices, equipment, and weapons were received and used in developing US policing institutions. Schrader provides a corrective to a common narrative of twentieth-century history that researchers and organizers of social movements have been taught: rebellions in the Third World were followed by state violence, and then rebellion in the US occurred that was quashed by state violence. Instead, Schrader copiously details the ways that counterrevolution in the US and in the Third World developed in advance of and together with insurgency, as well as the cross-pollinations of police and military forces through the United States Agency for International Development (AID) training programs. This builds on histories of development as a continuum from colonialism that emphasize the struggle for rule within and beyond urban centers.[25] This account centers on the importance of relationship building across counterinsurgency and ‘order maintenance’ policing (255) from after World War II until Section 660 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1974 made these programs illegal. As public safety assistance was outlawed, the so-called ‘War on Drugs’ emerged as a justification for the CIA, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and AID to continue their advisory roles with Third World countries. In this review, I focus specifically on the lessons and history that Badges Without Borders offers for abolitionists who are considering Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s invocation that “abolition must be international.”[26] Schrader’s book demonstrates that one reason for this argument is that policing, militarism, and colonialism are fundamentally global institutions.

Schrader’s book traces the move towards what he calls the ‘professionalization’ of policing that cut back on bribes and overt patronage systems, leading to further collaboration with academics and technocrats, and higher police wages and protections against accountability through collective bargaining agreements. A crucial piece of professionalization means that police did not just unionize in the United States, they also engaged in what is popularly known as “copaganda.”[27] Even as policing became more widespread and more violent, police experts were paid as part of their job to do things like educate children in schools about why police are good and advise popular media, especially television shows, in producing fictional works that represent police as heroes. The first, and popular, tv show, Dragnet, came together as part of a broader set of efforts from a police expert who advised groups ranging from Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) to overseas, including those who undertook Germany’s post-World War II reforms. In terms of technocratic teaching, the US AID brought police to elementary schools in order to cultivate children as intelligence sources for counterinsurgency in countries like Guatemala. This was an effort to capitalize on the notion that younger children might not understand the consequences of sharing secrets. These programs then reverberated back to programs like Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) in Los Angeles (221). The genius of copaganda is that it maintains the imaginary of a blue-collar working-class man who puts his life on the line for “us,” even as the police themselves make more money and enjoy greater legal protections than most other industries. (Indeed, twentieth-century shows like Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (SVU) wildly claimed that protecting people from sexual violence was a prestigious and well-funded effort, while in real life evidence languishes without examination for years and even decades.) Likewise, while copaganda places police lives on the line every episode, the actual danger of dying on the job is lower for police than for agricultural workers, roofers, and grounds maintenance workers.[28]

The later chapters of the book, especially Chapters 5, 6, and 7 demonstrate ways that police “reforms” have always served to increase police power. In each instance, reforms led to more money for the police forces, more policing, more tools, and more opportunities for violence. Chapter 7, “The Imperial Circuit of Tear Gas,” demonstrates how a move towards less-lethal weapons resulted in police becoming more likely to engage in violence against communities of color. In brutal detail, Schrader traces the consequences of trading CN for CS, a less targeted and more painful chemical agent that the Johnson administration continued to call “tear gas” in a successful effort to conceal the difference (195). When the National Guard doused Sproul Plaza at the University of California Berkeley with CS during community protests, in addition to injuring 51 people and killing one person, innumerable people were gassed. (My father, who had just returned as a veteran from Vietnam, noted that the only time he had ever been tear gassed was while he was studying in the library that day.) While the supposed reason for using tear gas was to ameliorate the problem that “white police were brandishing and firing guns too frequently in Black crowd-control and protest situations” (194), the use of more potent tear gas instead led to another element of mass police violence against unarmed protestors. Likewise, the adoption of “nonlethal weapons” did not mean that police killed fewer people—instead, the average figures on police killings rose from 245 people to 359 people per year from 1950 to 1973. One reason for this is that the spectacle of tear gas forced people to flee to confined spaces, where they could be shot by police with guns (211). Today, the US military does not use CS as a form of chemical warfare abroad, but local police use it on US residents at home.

From riot schools to the invention of SWAT (Special Weapons & Tactics), Schrader demonstrates that the institutional police interest in maintaining order is fundamentally about resisting racial justice and social change. In particular, police forces view segregation as a way to maintain social order. Indeed, riot schools like the California Specialized Training Institute used mock cities for training on how to marshal segregation and protect white upper-class communities. These fictional cities, as activists discovered, trained police to treat Black and Chicano neighborhoods as sources of potential insurgency that would have power in solidarity. To prevent this, riot schools instructed police to think about how “the white area could be protected by dividing Black people from Chicano people, using the [Chicano] strip as a racialized spatial and political buffer” (189).[29]

One of the main architects of this riot school, Colonel Louis O. Giuffrida, had also advocated for the use of mass internment of Black people during civil unrest (188). It is important to note that maintaining order does not mean that the police themselves followed the law. Instead, the “thin blue line” as a metaphor was coined by an LAPD chief to advocate against police officers being held accountable for dragging 7 Chicanos from their home on Christmas morning to the station house where over a hundred drunken police officers beat them. The “thin blue line” guarantees that officers can riot without accountability, and that order is maintained if their riots target poor and racialized communities.[30]

A running theme throughout Badges Without Borders is the ways that supposedly technical training also served a social function. Indeed, police trainers specifically invited military and national guard to attend US-based trainings with the goal of increasing coordination in emergency situations. In additional to transnational circuits, there is the simple fact that the professionalization of policing led to collaboration between the CIA, FBI, and local police forces to spy on people who were thought to be radicals, have international ties, etc., including elected officials (242). Police violence continues to rock the nation, as do debates over how to stop it. Badges Without Borders is a reminder that, on a global scale, more reforms and training will enhance police capabilities and budgets—it will not reduce police violence.



I am deeply grateful to Christopher Agee and Megan Ybarra for their responses to Badges Without Borders, as well as to Richard Nisa and the editors of H-Diplo, especially Michael Neagle, for organizing this conversation. Nisa proposed the original idea for a roundtable in H-Diplo concerning Badges Without Borders right around the time when COVID-19 changed all of our lives, including the cancellation of the in-person conference panel that was supposed to be its basis. Needless to say, a good deal of time has passed since then, and the participants have changed, but I appreciate everyone’s efforts under difficult conditions.

The reviews by Agee and Ybarra, which are empirically rich contributions unto themselves, offer fine examples of what I would hope my book would encourage: rigorous reflection on how the transnational and imperial dimensions of the security state matter to the policing of US streets. One primary goal of the book is to encourage all of us who write about the carceral state to avoid unreflexive methodological nationalism. That means that we should consider if and how the imperial matters to our analyses, rather than to assume from the outset that it probably does not.[31] I believe the carceral, as a coercive and violent dimension of state and sometimes private power, is an especially rich field for consideration of the influence of foreign policy. Perhaps, I might argue, when it comes to the carceral, a division between foreign policy and domestic policy is an unhelpful analytic heuristic that obscures more than it reveals. Similarly, I would hope that anyone who is interested in writing about US empire, in whatever of its aspects, would consider its domestic reverberations, as well as how the racialization processes that underpin and result from carceral power are always more-than-national. In this sense, for H-Diplo readers, I would suggest that carceral state history can and should be considered foreign-relations history.[32]

Agee points to a vexing analytic problem for scholars of the carceral state: timing. Despite fairly widespread consensus that the 1960s mattered due to the initiatives of the Johnson administration and the politics of Nixon’s presidential campaign and first term in office, the changes that we tend to ascribe to the carceral state, including the advent of “mass incarceration,” did not occur until well over a decade later.[33] In fact, in my original conception of the project, which was influenced by Ruth Wilson Gilmore and David Harvey, I thought I would deal with this analytic challenge more directly than I ultimately did. As it is, the book concludes in 1975, around the peak of federal investment in local law enforcement. (The next peak would come two decades later or so.)

As Agee suggests, the federal infusion of funding into law enforcement during the 1970s via the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA)—with police getting the initial bulk of it—did not radically change the fiscal fortunes of police departments. The $7.5 billion the LEAA spent was still a small amount of overall expenditures. In fact, the 1970s saw budget difficulties for police in many places, with inflation, reduced federal support for cities, increasing compensation for public employees due to collective bargaining and arbitration awards, and declining tax revenues. Austerity then persisted well into the 1980s. Federal support from the LEAA was never enough, and the cumbersome requirements within the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act, the enabling legislation for that federal support, made it difficult for many cities to access the funds they desperately needed. Further, once police departments had to comply with equal-opportunity provisions and oversight to be eligible for LEAA funding after 1972, the money may have often seemed like more trouble than it was worth. Federal grants did come with matching requirements, as Agee points out, but these were not enough to dramatically transform the overall fiscal picture. I would argue that federal funding stimulated local demand, but it did not quench it. Contrary to contemporary positions, defunding the police was very much on the menu of policy choices throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

In this sense, Agee’s review supports one strong thread in the historiography of the carceral state, which contends that the federal role tends to be overemphasized, at the expense of paying close attention to the precarious political coalitions operating at the scale of the city or even state.[34] (The reason is surely methodological in part; federal record-keeping laws can make researching the carceral state through the National Archives and Records Administration easier than conducting research in notoriously impenetrable municipal police archives.) Some scholars even argue that a focus on the importance of Washington confuses the history.[35] Yet if the federal influence on local law enforcement cannot be quantified as critical, at least in budgetary terms, was it qualitatively critical? Yes, and Badges Without Borders offers one explanation of why.

Badges Without Borders argues that the LEAA replicated the structure of the Office of Public Safety, the overseas police-assistance arm of the US government that operated in more than 50 countries in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Just like the Office of Public Safety did overseas, the LEAA offered technical expertise, gadgetry and hardware, and fiscal support for local and state police agencies in the United States. It did not replace or pre-empt them; by design, it enhanced their capacities. Further, I show that a number of figures affiliated with the Office of Public Safety interacted with the LEAA throughout its existence, from its conceptualization to its actual day-to-day operations. The ease with which police traversed foreign-facing and domestic-facing agencies is a central point of my book: policing experts have always imagined their field and their task as global because the threats of disorder, political revolution, and crime were mobile, border-crossing, and often internationally solidaristic.

But the LEAA was one among many federal agencies that mattered. Many Office of Public Safety advisors had experience in agencies like the Border Patrol or Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as in army special operations. When narcotics control and counterterrorism became enhanced federal priorities during the Nixon administration, the Office of Public Safety, as I mention in the book, stood ready to pivot to these priorities, away from the focus on counterinsurgency that had enabled its birth. As Micol Seigel shows in her book Violence Work, which provides a complementary analysis to my own, the private security contracting field ballooned in the 1970s, in part in direct response to controversies involving the Office of Public Safety. Privatization skirted the Congressional initiative to promote transparency in foreign affairs. Here, too, the staff of the Office of Public Safety was ready to pivot.[36] Most of them were always looking forward to new opportunities in the security and law-enforcement world. But when they took up those opportunities, their overseas experience in police advising still mattered. One retired advisor remarked, after he returned home to become a small-town police executive, that his experience in Vietnam remained prominent in his mind. The point here is that the LEAA’s emergence was but one effect of the experience of US police assistance overseas. And the Office of Public Safety was one major condensation point for dense transnational networks of police power, but it was not the only one. A full catalog of the myriad federal law-enforcement agencies and their global itineraries, as well as the military’s role, still needs to be constructed. This scholarly and political project must be a collective one.

Once sensitized to the importance of looking at urban policy and law enforcement in a more-than-national frame, some of the strange permutations we encounter in the archives become more salient and legible. For instance, in 1987, Andrew Young, the African American civil rights leader and mayor of Atlanta, visited Guatemala on a mission to assist the police there. This trip was controversial among Central America solidarity activists. Young’s argument was that he believed he could help instill a concern for human rights within this notoriously brutal force.[37] But I would wager that someone could dig deeper into this story: might Guatemala have helped plug a budgetary gap for the city of Atlanta if a contract were signed for police training? Or, more simply, was Guatemala a potential source of investment in Atlanta more generally, one that would have been distasteful at the time due to its otherwise horrifying record of (US-backed) human-rights abuses? Today, police training junkets are happening all the time, with US officers going overseas and foreign police coming to the United States. The funding for these visits often comes from private sources, but a full picture of their scope, complexity, and impact remains to be developed. The role of Washington, and the links to its foreign-policy goals, need further research as well.[38]

Agee accepts my argument about the importance of counterinsurgency theory to order-maintenance policing, or, put another way, the parallelism between the two. But he again raises the timing question. I argue in the book that what we have come to understand as “broken windows theory” emerged from the intellectual milieu that, due to federal investment, Americanized the counterinsurgency theory of the 1960s.[39] In this sense, I was trying to alert readers to the possibility of alternate intellectual histories than the sometimes overly innocent, methodologically nationalist ones to which we are accustomed. A more transnational account that is focused on counterinsurgency troubles the assumption that broken-windows theory arose in response to increasing crime and urban decline.[40]

In Agee’s analysis, order-maintenance policing is a labor-intensive, and therefore expensive, form of social control that did not garner the necessary funding until the 1990s at the earliest. Arguably, policing has always been concerned with order maintenance, or the “fabrication of social order,” but this theoretical position does not help us explain shifting repertoires.[41] During the police professionalization era that my book analyzes, and even in the period of austerity as that era waned, policing remained capital-intensive. With LEAA aid, police leaders hoped that expensive technological shifts could solve the challenges they faced: think helicopters, advanced telecommunications, automobiles, etc.[42] But the federal fiscal contribution could not solve the more expensive labor deficit. Thus, even if counterinsurgency theory influenced the intellectual project of latter-day order-maintenance or broken windows policing, the LEAA, which also emerged from counterinsurgency’s orbit, was insufficient to bring about this revision of policing tactics. The broken-windows version of policing gained popularity because of its synergy with a new urban political economy, focused on tourism, property values, and consumption, but histories should not confuse its application with its origins.[43]

Overall, why the carceral state emerged when it did remains a challenging question, which scholars will continue to debate. What we mean by the term carceral state may even depend on this question of periodization. Even if one does not accept the contention of Badges Without Borders that the Cold War and the US response to decolonization across the globe were crucial factors in its emergence, I hope the book will convince historians in this growing field that foreign policy is important to take into account, as it can help transcend the “backlash” versus “frontlash” binary.[44]

It is gratifying to see that Megan Ybarra’s review focuses on the aspects of Badges Without Borders that can inform contemporary political activism. The police experts at the center of the book were reformers first and foremost, she notes. Their global travels were designed to introduce police reform across the globe as a weapon in the Cold War. It is for this reason that I am critical of police reform. It was an essential ingredient of counterinsurgency, serving at least two major purposes. First, it enhanced police capabilities by promoting technical and tactical prowess and efficiency. Second, it promoted police legitimacy by making the police seem less lethal, more competent, and even more democratic. The irresolvable contradiction at the heart of this project was that enhancing police capacities for violence tended to undermine their legitimacy, as well as that of the state more generally. As Ybarra points out, in the past decade in the United States, it has been easy to observe this very process.

In response to the nationwide protests after the police killing of Michael Brown, Jr., in Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York in 2014 and Freddie Gray in Maryland in 2015, the Obama administration initiated a police-reform program that was designed to upgrade the legitimacy of the police. In general, police themselves were nonplussed about the reforms, and police killings did not decline nationally. Almost six years later, after the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, a larger, more diverse, and more ferocious wave of protests swept the country. Its effects are still unfolding. It is clear, however, that the failure of the Obama reformism to decrease police violence stimulated the frustration the 2020 protests expressed, leading to the widespread rejection of reform and the adoption of an abolitionist perspective, encapsulated in the demand to defund the police.

Ybarra also highlights the importance of “copaganda,” or media narratives that center, naturalize, and defang the police perspective. These narratives are meant to inoculate people against such radical political demands. Police reformism has long relied on copaganda, as I show in the book. And the project of copaganda is a transnational one, even as the message of so much copaganda is insistent localism and communitarianism. Ybarra’s review highlights some of the possibilities for international and foreign-relations history to excavate the global routes of copaganda. Enterprising Anglophone scholars working in multiple languages will be able to elucidate differences and similarities in various countries’ efforts to increase police legitimacy. After the closure of the Office of Public Safety, the importance of police assistance from other countries, even in the Western Hemisphere, increased.[45] A full accounting of international police-assistance programs by countries other than the United States during and after the Cold War remains to be developed.[46]

In conclusion, as I reflect on Badges Without Borders three years after I approved the final page proofs, I see it as part of a conversation in foreign-relations history that investigates the blurring of foreign and domestic policy through intellectual, personal, and institutional practices within and through US empire.[47] And it is also part of a conversation on the carceral state, the history of policing, and abolition. My hope, which Ybarra’s review articulates well, is to see the merger of these conversations more fully in the coming years. This merger is a political imperative with enormous stakes.



About the Jervis Forum

The Robert Jervis International Security Studies Forum is a joint project of H-Diplo, an H-Net network, and the Arnold A. Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University. It is named in memory of Robert Jervis (1940-2021), the founder and founding executive editor of the forum. Jervis was the Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Politics at Columbia University.





[1] John Agnew, “The Territorial Trap: The Geographical Assumptions of International Relations Theory,” Review of International Political Economy 1:1 (1994): 53–80.

[2] Megan Black, The Global Interior: Mineral Frontiers and American Power (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018); Monica Kim, The Interrogation Rooms of the Korean War: The Untold History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2019).

[3] Alfred W. McCoy, Policing America’s Empire: The United States, the Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2009); Nikhil Pal Singh, Race and America’s Long War (Oakland, California: University of California Press, 2017); Micol Seigel, Violence Work: State Power and the Limits of Police (Durham: Duke University Press Books, 2018).

[4] Flint Taylor, The Torture Machine: Racism and Police Violence in Chicago (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2019).

[5] Christopher Lowen Agee, “From the Vagrancy Law Regime to the Carceral State,” Law & Social Inquiry 43:4 (2018): 1658–68. Christopher Lowen Agee, The Streets of San Francisco: Policing and the Creation of a Cosmopolitan Liberal Politics, 1950-1972 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014).

[6] Megan Ybarra, “Site Fight! Toward the Abolition of Immigrant Detention on Tacoma’s Tar Pits (and Everywhere Else),” Antipode 53:1 (2021): 36–55; Megan Ybarra, “‘We Are Not Ignorant’: Transnational Migrants’ Experiences of Racialized Securitization,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 37:2 (2019): 197–215.

[7] The works leading this important new area of research are Heather Ann Thompson, “Why Incarceration Matters: Rethinking Crisis, Decline, and Transformation in Postwar American History,” Journal of American History 97:3 (December 2010), 731. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/jahist/97.3.703; Naomi Murakawa, The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014); Elizabeth Hinton, From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2016)

[8] Hinton, From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime, 206; Max Felker-Kantor, Policing Los Angeles: Race, Resistance, and the Rise of the LAPD (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018), 52-53; Daryl Gates, Chief: My Life in the LAPD (New York: Bantam, 1992),

[9] Susan MacManus, Federal Aid to Houston (New York: Brookings, 1983), 13, 18, 23.

[10] Anthony Lane, “Rizzo Vows to Add 1,500 To Police Within 1st Term,” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 5, 1972, 5A.

[11] The Mayor’s Operating Budget in Brief (title varies slightly) (City of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA: 1970-1999).

[12] The Mayor’s Operating Budget in Brief (title varies slightly). (City of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA: 1978-1994).

[13] Christy Drennan, “Fear of HPD Turns to Faith,” Houston Chronicle, 19 April 1987, 1; Deborah Tedford, “HPD Response Times Worst since Early ‘80s,” Houston Chronicle, 20 July 1989, 17.

[14] Christopher Agee, “Crisis and Redemption: The History of American Police Reform since World War II,” Journal of Urban History 46:5 (2020), 955. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0096144217705463.

[15] Themis Chronopoulos, “The Making of the Orderly City: New York since the 1980s” Journal of Urban History 46:5 (2020), 1090. https://doi.org/10.1177/0096144217705459.

[16] Lee P. Brown, “Community Policing: A Practical Guide for Police Officials” Perspectives on Policing, no. 12 (September 1989), 1.

[17] Willie L. Williams, Problem-Oriented Approach to Drug Enforcement Case Studies (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Police Department, 1989).

[18] Houston Police Department, “Statement of Impact: Fiscal Year 1986 Proposed Budget,” 12. Woodson Research Center Special Collections and Archives, Rice University. Lee Brown Papers, Box 24, Folder “Statement of Proposed Budget 1986.”

[19] Editorial, “A Kinder, Gentler FOP?,” Philadelphia Inquirer, 8 October 1990, A10; Bill Coulter, “Critics Out to Arrest Plans for Police Command,” Houston Chronicle, 12 June 1989, 11; Andrew Benson, “Boundaries of Police Patrol Beats are Changing,” Houston Chronicle, 31 December 1985, 11; Christopher Hepp, “Under Tucker, New Image for Phila. Police,” Philadelphia Inquirer, 27 May 1988, A14.

[20] Henry Bryan, “The New Commissioner Williams Starts Out With Handcuffs,” Philadelphia Inquirer, 14 July 1988, A23; Bill Miller, “Shake-Up Expected for Police,” Philadelphia Inquirer, 29 December 1990, B1; Michael Schaffer and Thomas Gibbons, Jr., “City Police Promotions Ruled ‘Null and Void,’” Philadelphia Inquirer, 20 April 1991, A1.

[21] “HPD Commends Area Companies,” Policing: The Official Newsletter of the Houston Police Department, July 1983, 1. Woodson Research Center Special Collections and Archives, Rice University. Lee Brown Papers. Box 23, Folder Policing 1983-1988.

[22] Dave Davies, “Was his Decision Totally Academic?” Philadelphia Daily News, 13 February 1998, 4.

[23] Theodore Lowi, “Why is There No Socialism in the United States: A Federal Analysis,” International Political Science Review 5:4 (1984), 375. https://doi.org/10.1177/019251218400500404.

[24] Lisa Miller, The Perils of Federalism: Race, Poverty, and the Politics of Crime (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).

[25] Gilman, N. 2003. Mandarins of the Future: Modernization theory in Cold War America. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press. U. Kothari, “From colonial administration to development studies: a post-colonial critique of the history of development studies,” In A Radical History of Development Studies: Individuals, institutions and ideologies, ed. U. Kothari, 47-66. London and New York: Zed Books.  Cooper, F., and R. Packard eds. 1997. International Development and the Social Sciences: Essays on the history and politics of knowledge. Berkeley, CA.

[26] Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Change Everything: Racial Capitalism and the Case for Abolition (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2022).

[27] Tsika, N. 2021. Screening the Police: Film and Law Enforcement in the United States: Oxford University Press. Harkins, G. 2020. Virtual Pedophilia: Sex Offender Profiling and US Security Culture: Duke University Press.

[28] Ehrenfreund, M. 2015. “Charted: The 20 deadliest jobs in America,” The Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/01/28/charted-the-20-deadliest-jobs-in-america/ published January 28, 2015

[29] Lawrence, K (1985) "The New State Repression." International Network Against New State Repression; It’s Going Down, https://itsgoingdown.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/510.lawrence.new_.state_.repression.1985.pdf.

[30] According to The Washington Post database of current police shootings, police are 2.5 times more likely to kill Black people and two times more likely to kill Latinxs than white people. Julie Tate, et.al., “Fatal Force: 930 people have been shot and killed by police in the past year,” Washington Post (November 6, 2021).

[31] On “the imperial” as an analytic category, see Paul A. Kramer, “Power and Connection: Imperial Histories of the United States in the WorldReview” The American Historical Review 116:5 (2011): 1348-1391.

[32] Stuart Schrader, “A Carceral Empire: Placing the Political History of US Prisons and Policing in the World,” in Brent Cebul, Lily Geismer, and Mason B. Williams, eds., Shaped by the State: Toward a New Political History of the Twentieth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019): 289–316.

[33] Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2007); Elizabeth Hinton, From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America (Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 2016); Julilly Kohler-Hausmann, Getting Tough: Welfare and Imprisonment in 1970s America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017); Naomi Murakawa, The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014); Vesla Weaver, “Frontlash: Race and the Development of Punitive Crime Policy” Studies in American Political Development 21:2 (2007): 230-265. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0898588X07000211.

[34] Agee’s own monograph is a sterling example of how to analyze these coalitions. Christopher Lowen Agee, The Streets of San Francisco: Policing and the Creation of a Cosmopolitan Liberal Politics, 1950–1972 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014).

[35] Andrew S. Baer, Beyond the Usual Beating: The Jon Burge Police Torture Scandal and Social Movements for Police Accountability in Chicago (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020); Stuart Schrader, review of Beyond the Usual Beating, The American Historical Review 126:3 (2021): 1296–1297. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/ahr/rhab404.

[36] Micol Seigel, Violence Work: State Power and the Limits of Police (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018).

[37] Kirsten Weld, Paper Cadavers: The Archives of Dictatorship in Guatemala (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014).

[38] I am grateful to Keith Riley for alerting me to this story and sharing this document: Tom Watson, “Andy’s South American Folly” Creative Loafing, October 17, 1987; see also, Stuart Schrader, “Defund the Global Policeman” n+1 38 (Fall 2020): 11–23.

[39] Bernard E. Harcourt, The Counterrevolution: How Our Government Went to War Against Its Own Citizens (New York: Basic Books, 2018).

[40] See also, Stuart Schrader, “To Secure the Global Great Society: Participation in Pacification” Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism, and Development 7:2 (2016): 225–253.

[41] Mark Neocleous, A Critical Theory of Police Power: The Fabrication of the Social Order (New York: Verso, 2021).

[42] Brendan Hornbostel, “‘Public Order is the First Business of Government’: The Law Enforcement Assistance Administration and the Making of a Liberal Counterinsurgent Police-Industrial Complex” Small Wars & Insurgencies 33:4-5 (2022): 607–632. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/09592318.2021.1956108.

[43] Mason B. Williams, “How the Rockefeller Laws Hit the Streets: Drug Policing and the Politics of State Competence in New York City, 1973–1989” Modern American History 4:1 (2021): 67–90. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/mah.2020.23; Bench Ansfield, “The Broken Windows of the Bronx: Putting the Theory in Its Place” American Quarterly 72:1 (2020): 103–127. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1353/aq.2020.0005.

[44] Tarak Barkawi and Stuart Schrader, “Interview with Stuart Schrader” International Politics Review 8 (2020): 41–56. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/s41312-020-00082-x; Weaver, “Frontlash.”

[45] See, e.g., Fabian Bennewitz & Markus-Michael Müller “Importing the ‘West German model’: Transnationalizing Counterinsurgency Policing in Cold War Costa Rica” Small Wars & Insurgencies 33:4-5 (2022): 581–606. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/09592318.2021.1961046.

[46] One exception is the well-characterized British Advisory Mission to South Vietnam, as well as the little-known East German mission to North Vietnam. See, e.g., A. Varsori “Britain and US Involvement in the Vietnam War during the Kennedy Administration, 1961-63” Cold War History 3:2 (2003): 83–112. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/713999980; Ian F.W. Beckett, “Robert Thompson and the British Advisory Mission to South Vietnam, 1961–1965” Small Wars & Insurgencies 8:3 (1997): 41–63. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09592319708423184; Martin Grossheim, “Fraternal Support: The East German ‘Stasi’ and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam during the Vietnam War,” Cold War International History Project, Working Paper #71 (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center: 2014).

[47] For instance, Megan Black, The Global Interior: Mineral Frontiers and American Power (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018); Amy Offner, Sorting Out the Mixed Economy: The Rise and Fall of Welfare and Developmental States in the Americas (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2019); Monica Kim, The Interrogation Rooms of the Korean War: The Untold History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2019).