Settling institutional uncertainty: Policing Chicago and New York, 1877–1923

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We show how both the Chicago Police Department and the New York Police Department sought to settle uncertainty about their propriety and purpose during a period when abrupt transformations destabilized urban order and called the police mandate into question. By comparing annual reports that the Chicago Police Department and the New York Police Department published from 1877 to 1923, we observe two techniques in how the police enacted that settlement: identification of the problems that the police believed themselves uniquely well equipped to manage and authorization of the powers necessary to do so. Comparison of identification and authorization yields insights into the role that these police departments played in convergent and divergent constructions of disorder and, in turn, into Progressivism's varying effects in early urban policing.





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Koehler, J, and T Cheng (2023). Settling institutional uncertainty: Policing Chicago and New York, 1877–1923. Criminology. 10.1111/1745-9125.12337 Retrieved from

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Tony Cheng

Assistant Professor of Sociology

I study how strategies of state legitimation shape urban inequality, with a particular interest in the politics and inequalities of policing. My forthcoming book “The Policing Machine: Enforcement, Endorsements, & the Illusion of Public Input” (2024, University of Chicago Press) is about how police resist institutional reforms by cultivating political capital from the community constituents they empower.

My research has appeared in the American Journal of Sociology, Criminology, Social Problems, Law & Society Review, Criminology & Public Policy, City & Community, and Politics & Society. It has won awards from the American Sociological Association, American Society of Criminology, Law & Society Association, and the Society for the Study of Social Problems. I have a Sociology PhD from Yale University and a J.D. from NYU Law School. Previously, I was an Assistant Professor in UC Irvine’s Department of Criminology, Law & Society.

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