‘Snitching and the code of the street’ by Richard Rosenfield Essay

This review will evaluate and assess the merits and flaws of the article investigating the ‘social meaning and consequences of snitching’ by Richard Rosenfield, Bruce A Jacobs and Richard Wright (Rosenfield et al from here on). It will also draw from it the usefulness of the findings and what the reader can learn about police and offender relationships. The article draws upon 20 interviews with active street offenders whom ranged in age from 20- 52 years, the researchers use the responses to the questions and discussion gained in semi- structured interviews in order to make statements about the effects that ‘snitching’ (the exchange of incriminating information in exchange for reward or leniency; Rosenfield et al) can have on an individuals’ respect levels from peers. It also uses the responses to depict explanations and theories of the criminal underworld and the hidden rules of the “code of the street”.The authors have a lot of experience in the criminological research field, and all have an impressive collection of articles, books and awards.

Rosenfield is currently the professor and chairman in the department of Criminology at the University of Missouri, St Louis. He has done numerous amounts of research in different areas of the social sciences. Jacobs also has an experienced, professional background in the social sciences and particularly criminology, and is a representative of the faculty council at the University of Missouri, St Louis. He also produced a book with the third member Richard Wright who as well as being professionally involved at the University of Missouri, he is also the editor-in-chief of the British Journal of Criminology.From the backgrounds discussed before, it is clear that the authors are highly experienced and recognised for their research and literature. However this doesn’t exclude them from scrutiny by other researchers. For example, because the research is based in Missouri, St Louis, it could be argued that in fact they aren’t measuring or investigating ‘snitching’ and the different forms of this term thoroughly enough. For example, it is stated in the article that some forms of snitching are more acceptable than others ‘cooperation under pressure that does not harm others does not seem to qualify as snitching’ however these forms and their acceptability may be different in other states of America, or even in London, where there are a high number of criminal subcultures.

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Regarding this issue, it is brought about that the research may be more useful if it was ethnocentric; meaning if the research was repeated in other states of America different responses may have been discovered and thus the research would be more informative and valid. It can also be questioned from this whether the research lacks representativeness for all cultures.In relation to representativeness, the sample was highly representative of ages, as stated before the age ranged from 20-52 years; this was interesting as stereotypically it is thought that street crime relates to the younger generations; particularly in relation to drugs and drug dealing which the criminals in this article are mainly involved with. However, a criticism is that Rosenfield et al didn’t gather any evidence for the much younger generations for example, 13-19 years, although there is other literature on this age, it would have been an interesting contribution to the way that snitching is viewed by criminals and whether it differs from the younger generations to the older.There is however implications which come with having a relatively small sample size of 20 interviewees. For example, can the results be generalised to other cultures when the stimulus is so small? Rosenfield et al stated that they aimed to “encompass the diversity of views found among the population of ordinary street criminals”. However, I struggle to agree that they could have collected a diverse amount of views from 20 participants who are all from the same area.The method used was semi-structured interviews; this strengthened the ecological validity of the interviews.

I believe it was a suitable method for the research because it allowed the offenders to speak freely about their experiences of snitchers and snitching whilst at the same time maintaining some control over the questions asked. Semi structured interviews have a sense of informality and so the interviewees can be more likely to open up and express feeling as questions flow on to one another and they elaborate more, as opposed to having a list of set questions without being able to pry deeper into different aspects of the interview. Also, Rosenfield et al state that by using nicknames instead of the offenders’ real names, created a ‘relaxed atmosphere’ and raised confidence levels.The research contributes to other literatures well as it gives real insight to the police scrutiny against offenders with real stories and experiences from offenders.

However, this could also create a bias for the reader against the police because it is only one side of what happened. Although Rsenfield et al do acknowledge the interviewees could have lied to them or exaggerated their behaviour, and their focus is around the criminal, it would have been beneficial for the researchers to investigate what the Missouri police force had to say about criminals, and the idea of the police encouraging crime and violence. This would have given either supporting or created an argument against the statement made in the article that ‘the police spend most of their time engaging in unjustified intrusions on the civil liberties of our respondents and others like them’.

The quotes and anecdotes provided to the reader in the article create a suitable understanding into the criminal underworld and the ideology behind snitching has been clearly explained and identified through their references to the responses. Despite the criticisms afore mentioned, the article, I believe, has completed what it aimed to do, and by doing so the article is worth reading as it gives a useful insight into the policing culture and is somewhat encouraging to do further reading into this aspect of criminology.


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