Mapping police power and the limits of reform

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


In the response to mass protests calling to reform, defund, or abolish the police, a number of U.S. police departments have recently grappled with reforms. In a familiar cycle of periodic crises that lead to calls for police reform, many proposed reforms end up funneling more money into police departments while doing little to address entrenched and systemic forms of racism. In this article, I analyze a city-run reform effort in Lexington, KY that seeks to “dismantle systemic racism” in policing and other government agencies. I show how the police reform committee struggled to address everyday practices of policing that lead to racially disparate outcomes and, instead, largely focused on animus and bias exhibited by individual officers. In response to the perceived lack of data on racially uneven policing practices, in this article I argue that we take seriously minor ‘crime’ data as indicators of police discretion and priorities. To those ends, I map the uneven geographies of marijuana possessions enforcement, showing how they intersect with existing forms of vulnerability. In mapping enforcement, I offer a replicable means to shift the framing through which reform efforts are conceptualized and show how the existing, entrenched model of policing produces, amplifies, and reifies systemic racism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)122-131
Number of pages10
StatePublished - Nov 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Elsevier Ltd


  • Critical cartography
  • Police reform
  • Policing
  • Racism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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