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"Puppycide by Gavel: How the Judiciary Uses the Police Killing of Dogs to Reinforce Justifications for Police Violence" (by Jeremy Smith): Review 2

Published onFeb 07, 2024
"Puppycide by Gavel: How the Judiciary Uses the Police Killing of Dogs to Reinforce Justifications for Police Violence" (by Jeremy Smith): Review 2

Vote: Publish pending major changes.

The paper is interesting, timely, and well-written but needs to demonstrate more meaningful theoretical engagement.

Thank you for the opportunity to read and review Puppycide by Gavel: How the Judiciary Uses the Police Killing of Dogs to Reinforce Justifications for Police Violence. I found this to be a compelling and engaging paper that leverages textured description to outline an argument about the relationships between dogs and police violence, specifically police canicide. This subject is a timely and relevant window through which we might consider the material violence and cultural forces of police power, and the paper usefully illuminates how the law has reinforced the lethal discretionary power of police. Despite its many strengths, the paper needs significant revision to offer a more theoretically engaged contribution to contemporary critical analyses of police.

The paper is organizationally clear and strong: the sections unfold in a clear and logical order that meets the reader’s expectations. Some paragraph-to-paragraph transitions are a bit bumpy, so I would encourage the author to make a final editorial pass with smooth transitions in mind. A few examples of rough transitions can be found in the transition from the first paragraph to the second (“the punishment or execution of pigs for infanticide…”) is abrupt, as is the transition that begins at the end of page 3 and carries on to page 4 (“A common interrogation tactic within…”). The paper would benefit significantly from a close editorial read for these kinds of bumps in the writing.

The methods section feels well-written and clear and seems to comprehensively explain the methodological dimensions of the project/paper. I’m not totally certain, though, that the paper’s methodological components are really so compelling or innovative (I don’t mean that pejoratively, just that I am not sure that the paper’s greatest strength is as a methodological intervention) that they warrant this degree of explanation or attention. I do realize, of course, that this is a submission for a methods-focused journal, and the paper does work well as an illustration of how this sort of methodology functions, but as a reader, I found the methods section a bit unnecessary. I suggest that the methods section be revised with an eye toward minimalism and — as much as possible — a bolstered narrative tone that keeps things as engaging as the prior sections did.

Most substantively, the paper needs to be revised to include more meaningful theoretical engagement. As it stands, the paper relies almost entirely on a close reading of legal decisions and the events preceding them, with brief definitional and descriptive notes and commentary drawing on voices from traditional critical criminology (Kraska, Kappeler, etc.) and public/popular criminology (Balko, Alexander, etc.). These come together to form a compelling narrative direction, especially in how the author has historicized the argument, but they don’t offer any new theoretical insights into what police power is and its relation to the violence of the police. Here, I think the author needs to revise to explain canicide in the context of more critical and contemporary critiques of police power and the cultures of cops. Much of this work is underway in criminology and adjacent disciplines by authors like Travis Linnemann, Tyler Wall, Jarrod Shanahan, Mark Neocleous, Charmaine Chua, Idris Robinson, and many more, and I think the present paper would be significantly improved by more thoroughly engaging with those contemporary critiques of police. At the same time, the literature the paper currently engages with is given inadequate attention, I think, and so those should be more fully leveraged by the author.

Finally, some of the claims about the origins of police power feel to me to be thin. There is significant emphasis on the parts of police rooted in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, but narrowing the conceptual, philosophical, and material history of police down to that small a circle results in a stunted concept of “police.” The clearest example of this in the present paper is its use of “militarization” as an epoch-making moment in police power, a framework that only reinforces the “bad apples” theory of police power that always frustrates efforts to move beyond the violence of police (both Naomi Murakawa and Dylan Rodriguez have written vitally on this issue). In the present paper, the author has uncritically accepted the epoch of militarization, and so how police and military power have always been intimately entangled are invisible. Thinking in these broader historical terms about police power and its collisions with the animal, the human, the dog, etc., the paper might make much more timely and critical interventions into what police power is and how it is exercised through violence. Here, I think the most critical and crucial revisions the author might consider are to engage with the work of Mark Neocleous on the ties that bind war power and police power (and, less critically, Neocleous’s work on animals and the ‘universal adversary’ that obsesses police) and Markus Dubber on the patriarchal origins of police. Both might give the author a more thorough and compelling theoretical framework. Similarly, Tyler Wall’s work on police as producing ‘civilization’ might help make some interesting and novel claims about how the police mandate to produce a ‘civilized order’ means that police imagine themselves as wrestling that order out of a world of animals. Travis Linnemann has also written a lot on how police contend with the world of the nonhuman, which might also help make the paper more compelling and criminologically engaged. Finally, in green criminology, people like Piers Beirne and Ragnhild Sollund have written extensively about how humans make animals through violence, and the present paper might find some useful insights there. As it stands, the paper relies very heavily on legal proceedings and law articles, and I think with some thoughtful revision, its capacities to contribute to contemporary critical criminology will be much clearer.

My recommendation is that the paper undergo major revisions in order to smooth out the writing, and to make more meaningful steps towards offering a theoretical and criminological analysis of police power’s canicidal tendencies.

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