UCSB Professor Howard Giles Publishes New Book on Communication and Policing

News Date: 

Tuesday, November 9, 2021


By Romi Benasuly


In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death and increased scrutiny of law enforcement, UC Santa Barbara communication professor Howard Giles published a book investigating the role that communication plays in policing.

Giles is a distinguished research professor specializing in intergroup communication and the current director of the Volunteers in Policing Program at the Santa Barbara Police Department.

Giles’ new book “The Rowman & Littlefield Handbook of Policing, Communication, and Society” identifies the challenges that confront police and the public today and how they intersect with communication theory.

The book was written with the help of co-editors Edward R. Maguire, professor of criminology and criminal justice at Arizona State University, and Shawn Hill, a lieutenant with the Santa Barbara police department, as well as contributions from 35 authors who are experts in their fields.

In a recent interview, Giles sat down to give us insights into his newly published book.

Q: What motivated you to work on this project?

A: It blended two of my passions, one for law enforcement as I was a reserve officer for 15 years, and my passion for the study of intergroup communication. Most cops don't get much feeling for communication in terms of training so this was an attempt by the three of us to have a compendium of dozens of chapters on different aspects of law enforcement and communication that would sell the importance of communication to law enforcement and also take a unique perspective on it from intergroup communication theory.

Q: How did your experiences as a reserve officer and director of volunteer services for Santa Barbara’s police department influence your perspective when working on this book?

A: I took a course at the Citizen’s Academy at the police department here in Santa Barbara. That gave me insight, theoretically and practically, into what it means to be a cop and what it means to talk to the community. I saw the good in people when I met them, or tried. But after about a year in law enforcement, I found that there are a lot of problematic people who are very verbally abusive to police officers, and so I have that experience. As it happened, I got 13 outstanding service awards as a reserve officer, became a detective and a lieutenant, so that background gave me an understanding of law enforcement that another academic probably wouldn’t have.

Q: How does communication play a role in the public’s perception of law enforcement in today’s society?

A: We have done studies some years ago in Santa Barbara that were a cross-section of the city. When we asked what was the kind of thing people would like to see improved in law enforcement, it was the attitudes and communication of police officers. We also did a study around the world where we found that attitudes toward the police, in general, were determined by how accommodating they had found experiences with officers in the past. The more accommodating the experiences with officers, the more trust you had in them. The more you thought they held high moral standards, the more likely you would be to comply with them.

So, I think that communication is important in two ways. Not only to train officers but also to educate the public, who don’t have any idea what it is like to be a cop — to experience people who are problematic for a 12-hour shift, probably 10 hours of it being very difficult.

Q: How has the death of George Floyd impacted the book’s content?

A: Dramatically. We contracted to have this book completed with the publishers by May of 2020. We were about to complete it and the George Floyd situation occurred. That kind of shocked us because that is not the way to deal with the public, to say the least. And had we submitted the book at that time in May 2020, it would have been out-of-date because it didn’t take into account the massive shift of attitudes toward law enforcement, excessive use of force notions, the George Floyd issue, etc.

In the last chapter, which is a fairly substantial chapter, we hang back and analyze the day-to-day occurrences from news media and videotapes of what was happening in the protests and how it was happening. Because a lot of it was communication in terms of protests, wrecking shops, and people’s views as protestors.

Romi Benasuly is a third-year Communication major at UC Santa Barbara. She wrote this for her Writing Program course Digital Journalism.

(Photo above: Howard Giles and interviewer Romi Benasuly on Zoom)