Starting in the 1930s, urban police forces from New York City to Montreal to Vancouver established youth squads and crime prevention programs, dramatically changing the nature of contact between cops and kids. Gone was the beat officer who scared children and threatened youth. Instead, a new breed of officer emerged whose intentions were explicit: befriend the rising generation. Good intentions, however, produced paradoxical results. In Youth Squad Tamara Gene Myers chronicles the development of youth consciousness among North American police departments. Myers shows that a new comprehensive strategy for crime prevention was predicated on the idea that criminals are not born but made by their cultural environments. Pinpointing the origin of this paradigmatic shift to a period of optimism about the ability of police to protect children, she explains how, by the middle of the twentieth century, police forces had intensified their presence in children's lives through juvenile curfew laws, police athletic leagues, traffic safety and anti-corruption campaigns, and school programs. The book describes the ways that seemingly altruistic efforts to integrate working-class youth into society evolved into pervasive supervision and surveillance, normalizing the police presence in children's lives. At the intersection of juvenile justice, policing, and childhood history, Youth Squad reveals how the overpolicing of young people today is rooted in well-meaning but misguided schemes of the mid-twentieth century.
About the author
Tamara Gene Myers is associate professor of history at the University of British Columbia.
"Youth Squad is an excellent and highly accessible documentation of North American changes in thinking about young people and the role of police authority in dealing with their presumed criminal potential as well as the assumption that they needed special nurturing and protection. Both as a historical analysis and as a statement of bureaucratic as well as social science folly, this volume is a must read for anyone interested in public policy and the ways ideology can lead to the intrusive, if well-intended, involvement of authority in the lives of people." H-Socialisms, H-Net Reviews
"Youth Squad is a timely and long-awaited collection of original concepts and creative interpretations of the relationship between children and the police, family and community. Tamara Gene Myers is a gifted top-tier scholar with a very strong international reputation." Linda Mahood, University of Guelph
"New demands for defunding police departments and reallocating resources toward social and mental health provision call attention to Myers' book and make it indispensable in our moment." Historical Studies in Education / Revue d'histoire de l'éducation
"While the police were meant to protect children from the evil that lurked in Canada's cities, to do so they often detained children, thus serving in a capacity that was more repressive than protective. As Tamara Gene Myers astutely demonstrates in Youth Squad, in an effort to change the nature of this relationship and to eliminate the mistrust that some children had of the police, several police forces in urban North America between 1930 and 1970 took a "youth turn" and implemented policies and practices that were aimed at youth. ... Youth Squad highlights the fact that the presence of the police in children's lives has a long and contradictory history." Canadian Historical Review
"Where the interwar and war years are concerned, we know how the "youth turn" in Europe was wilfully channeled into a successful means of fascist indoctrination. That didn't happen in Canada, but Montreal was also the epicentre of a tiny but intense fascist movement with some national outreach. Certainly, as Myers shows, "policing" youth was a favoured solution for many anxious adults. These are all fascinating threads that open the way to further exploration. In the meanwhile, Tamara Myers has produced a study that goes far in laying the necessary groundwork." Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Books