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On similar difficulties reaching veterans, see Neil J. Diamant and Kevin J. Fortunately, access is improving, especially for those who have ties to the security world. Using her prior experience teaching English to police officers in Beijing as a calling card, the first author spent 21 months getting to know a number of street cops and learning about their work.
From September to January she used snowball sampling to set up 59 open-ended interviews with 31 officers in Hunan, Hebei, Shaanxi, and Beijing. The age and experience level of the interviewees ranged from new hires in their mids to recent retirees in their late 50s. All but six were men.
About half were low-ranking patrol officers or entry-level station workers, while the others held mid-level positions such as detective or patrol leader and had some supervisory responsibilities. She also interviewed one station chief and one assistant station chief. Meetings always took place in social settings, often with a mutual contact present.
Second or third interviews, when possible, were typically more informative as officers warmed to the idea of recounting their experiences and frustrations to a foreign researcher. Police officers are one of the more visible faces of the state, but most of what we know about them comes from the citizen side of the state-society equation. Lacking the perspective of police themselves, we are left with a partial view of policing that ignores the men and women behind the uniform. Sitting down with street-level officers to learn what they have to say rounds out the story and gives us entry into the frustrations they experience and the cross-pressures they encounter.
Who is Dissatisfied? Front-line policing in China is somewhat different than policing in many industrialized countries. Unlike typical beat cops who go out on patrol and perform duties like responding to service calls and making arrests, Chinese police are rooted in the paichusuo [local police stations] where they depend on neighborhood cooperation and social relationships to prevent crime and resolve disputes.