The Discipline and Punish Podcast
The Discipline and Punish Podcast
E2: The Commemoration of Death and Police Culture (w/ Michael Sierra-Arévalo)

On this episode, Professor Sierra-Arévalo and I discuss one of his most recent publications: “The Commemoration of Death, Organizational Memory, and Police Culture” — When a police officer is killed on duty, their fellow officers memorialize that person in a variety of ways. We talk about how these memorials influence police culture and why it matter for the rest of society. We also talk about what drew Professor Sierra-Arévalo to study policing and even chat a little bit about Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.   

Michael Sierra-Arévalo is an Assistant Professor in the Rutgers School of Criminal Justice. His research focuses on policing in the United States and uses both quantitative and qualitative methods to investigate police culture, behavior, and legitimacy. His current book project uses ethnographic observations and interviews across three urban departments to explore how police officers are formally and informally socialized to emphasize danger and the threat of violence in their work, as well as how the constant demand for officer safety shapes police culture and encourages behaviors that perpetuate inequalities in the criminal justice system.

Michael’s research interests also include gangs, firearms, social networks, and violence prevention. His research has appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Criminology, Law & Society Review, Crime & Delinquency, Annual Review of Law and Social Science, and multiple edited volumes. In addition to peer-reviewed research, he continues to work with practitioners to use data-driven approaches to enhance public safety.

Michael holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from Yale University and a B.A. in Sociology and Psychology from the University of Texas at Austin.

Tom Baker has been a PhD student in UMSL’s Criminology and Criminal Justice program since 2017. Tom received his BA in Political Science from Arizona State University and worked as a police officer for approximately nine years. His research interests include police culture, use of force, and qualitative research methods.


Police scholars document that although there is fragmentation of the so‐called “monolithic” police culture, historically consistent features of the occupational culture of police exist. By drawing on ethnographic observations in three U.S. police departments, I describe how one consistent feature of police culture—the preoccupation with danger and potential death—is maintained by the commemoration of officers killed in the line of duty. Through the use of commemorative cultural artifacts, officers and departments construct an organizational memory that locally reflects and reifies the salience of danger and potential death in policing. Furthermore, commemoration of fallen officers is not restricted to a department’s own; the dead of other departments are commemorated by distant police organizations and their officers, maintaining broad, occupational assumptions of dangerous and deadly police work that transcend a single department and its localized organizational memory. Implications for the study of police culture, inequalities in policing, and police reform are considered.

Sierra‐Arévalo, M. (2019). The commemoration of death, organizational memory, and police culture. Criminology, 57(4), 632-658.

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