Photo of Chris Agee
Associate Professor
History

Office: Student Commons Building, Room 3112

Mailing address:
CU Denver History Department
Campus Box 182
P.O. Box 173364
Denver, CO 80217-3364

Physical Location:
1201 Larimer Street
Room 3102
Denver, CO 80204

Office Hours:
By appointment

Expertise Areas:
Twentieth-Century U.S. History, Urban History, Social and Cultural Movements, Modern United States, Criminal Justice System

Ph.D., History, University of California, Berkeley, 2005
B.A., History, University of California, Berkeley, 1998 (Magna Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa)

My research focuses on twentieth-century American history, with particular focuses on political history, urban history, social and cultural movements, gender history, and oral history. I teach courses in the history of crime and policing, the history of the American West, urban history, and modern American history.  I am a Distinguished Lecturer with the Organization of American Historians.

My first book, The Streets of San Francisco: Policing and the Creation of a Cosmopolitan Liberal Politics, 1950-1972 (University of Chicago Press, 2014), revealed the central role policing played in the creation of San Francisco's modern liberal politics. Through personal papers and over forty oral histories, I recovered the seldom-reported, street-level interactions between police officers and San Francisco residents during the 1950s and 60s. I found that postwar police officers exercised broad discretion when dealing with North Beach beats, African-American gang leaders, gay and lesbian bar owners, Haight-Ashbury hippies, artists who created sexually explicit works, Chinese-American entrepreneurs, and a wide range of other San Franciscans. Unexpectedly, that police discretion grew into a source of both concern and inspiration for thousands of young professionals who were streaming into the city's growing financial district and expressing desires for both diversity and security. By the late 1960s, marginalized San Franciscans, young white professionals, and even rank-and-file police officers were rallying around issues of police discretion to forge a new liberal coalition. Promising both democracy and physical safety, San Francisco liberals became a driving force behind a national transformation in urban liberal politics. Today, urban liberals across the country ground themselves in similar understandings of democracy through an emphasis on both broad diversity and tough policing.

My current research examines liberalism and policing in Philadelphia and Houston during the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. This project explores how urban police forces during the 1980s responded to three developments. First, courts and policymakers constricted the authority of police to make arrests (e.g., the Supreme Court voided the nation’s vagrancy laws). Second, crashing city budgets forced decreases in police department funding. Third, court rulings and federal cuts sharply decreased the federal government’s role in both police oversight and general police funding. Philadelphia and Houston are interesting case studies because the police departments in both cities initially distinguished themselves by responding to these challenges with extreme violence. Regarded as the two most backward police forces in the nation, the Philadelphia and Houston Police Departments were selected as the two subjects of the Department of Justice’s landmark study Who is Guarding the Guardians?

And yet by the 1990s, the Philadelphia and Houston Police Departments were at the vanguard of American police reform. In particular, both were implementing “community policing.” Community policing enabled an expansion in police authority and propelled an increase in police budgets. Moreover, the politics of community policing helped the federal government to reclaim its funding and oversight roles through the 1994 Crime Bill. My new book project examines this story, tracing the politics of community policing from the grassroots level to Washington D.C. Along the way, it explores the myriad actors—including downtown business leaders, police officials, police unions, anti-rape activists, victims’ rights advocates, black and white Town Watches and neighborhood associations, civil rights organizers, and LGBT radicals—who promoted and attempted to shape the notoriously amorphous “community policing” concept. In particular, this story examines how community policing principles sprang from black communities and were then perverted and used against black citizens. During the 1980s, arrest rates in Philadelphia were actually on the decline.  By the early 2000s, Philadelphia and Houston had higher arrest rates than nearly every other city in the world.

Hist 4308/5308: Crime, Policing, and Justice in America
Hist 4225/5225: U.S. Urban History
Hist 3349: Social Movements in Twentieth-Century America
Hist 4219/5129: American History since 1930