A critique of the police that tries to differentiate the good officer from the bad reproduces the normal logic of policing. This logic is disseminated by the entertainment industry through crime movies and television shows that are based on the shallow binarism of good cop vs. bad cop. Like in the movies, these images of good and evil are complementary and exist for the permanence of the police as an institution and a predominant political form of persuasion.
The police are a conjuncture of practices and technologies of administration, control, and repression of the population. The most precious technology of the modern arts of government, it is capable of being both individualistic and totalitarian, systemic and localized, reaching each and every person. Its emergence is related to the formation of the state’s sovereignty, as a tool of the Raison d’État. Later, the police developed into an internal security dispositif of liberal governmentality that aims to assure the good governance of affairs and people in favor of the preservation and expansion of the state’s government.
It is with this development that today’s police practices emerged as a means to reinforce security in favor of the production of an unequal and asymmetrical order in capitalist societies based on the protection of private and/or state property. These practices comprise a very complex and heterogeneous set of strategies that articulate ways of reinforcing public health (social medicine), interventions in urban reforms (city planning), and tools for the discipline of the labor force (forms of control and administration of workers, aiming at an increase in productivity).
Therefore, the history of the police is the history of technologies of government that goes far beyond their contemporary form; a form usually only recognized by the police’s role as a repressive state apparatus, the image of the armed man in uniform on the streets or a police team repressing a protest. Actually, the history of the police is intertwined with fields of knowledge such as sociology, political science, and political economy.
In his 1977-78 course, Foucault tells us that “from the seventeenth century, ‘police’ begins to refer to the set of means by which the state’s forces can be increased while preserving the state in good order. In other words, police will be the calculation and technique that will make it possible to establish a mobile, yet stable and controllable relationship between the state’s internal order and the development of its forces.”2Foucault, M. et al. (2009) Security, territory, population: lectures at the Collège de France, 1977-78. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, p. 313. In short, the police, which emerges in Europe linked to the sovereign state, will have as its primary objective the good use of state forces inside its territory for the realization of the splendor of the state.
The police are the direct instrument of the Raison d’État. Its operational tool is statistics: the knowledge of the state about itself. But this emergence of the police-form, or of the techniques of the sovereign police, will mutate, with particularities and different knowledges coming together in different European countries. Nonetheless, all these particularities will become the form and functions of the modern police, or the associated forms of state intervention in societies like we have today. In the territories colonized by the European nation-states, the particularity of the police will be, in a complementary manner, related to flogging, brutality and mass killing, for the splendor of the colonial state.
Following Foucault’s genealogy of the state in this same lecture series, in calling attention to the police as the decisive element in the operation of modern government practices, we will notice that the formation of police technologies will bring together specific knowledges and various institutional practices. Foucault shows that in Germany, at the time not yet a unified territory, the police was a creation of the university, the locus of a police science.
Foucault identifies, in his writings dedicated to the forms of governance, something that in German was called “Polizeiwissenschaft, the science of police, which from the middle or end of the seventeenth century to the end of the eighteenth century is an absolutely German specialty that spreads throughout Europe and exerts a crucial influence.”3Idem, p. 318. Parallel to this theory of the police as a political science produced in Germany, in France–already a centralized administrative state with a demarcated territory–the police at the time were conceived and operated by the emergent state bureaucracy. The police would work by means of decrees and regulations intended to control and circulate commodities in the emergent cities. If in Germany the police was a creation of the university, in France it was a creation of the state bureaucracy with the purpose of regulating goods, people, and wealth.
What is essential from these references gathered by Foucault is not the compilation of facts that comprise the history of the modern police. The reason to put together these references is to understand, genealogically, how the formation of the police comes from within the relations of knowledge-power that shaped modernity. That is to say, the police is related to the arts of governing, i.e., the means to know and control subjects, which is not limited to a judicial instrument or a set of state apparatuses. This genealogy shows the positivity of the police-form in the formation of the modern state. The police is a dispositif with specific functions, objects, and well-defined objectives for the production of an order, the regulation of commerce, the administration of cities, and the disciplining of the subjects.