What’s Improved?


I know, I know… some of you think that I am too critical of our police. Maybe.

But in my defense I would like to say that I began this job over 50 years ago with high expectations for those of us who do the work. My high expectations have never receded.

Police in a free society have a special and unique role to protect liberty and reinforce the important values that make for a great nation. To expect less would be to minimize the great work that not only our nation’s police can do, but, in fact, continue to do on a daily basis.

Talking with my good friend and colleague Herman Goldstein about the “state of the art,” we highlighted these improvements in our nation’s system of criminal justice:


  • The breaking-down of gender, racial, and sexual orientation barriers in police hiring which has resulted in more diversity in the ranks of police which better reflects the communities they serve.[1]
  • A growing increase in the academic level of police throughout the years from that of a high school diploma to at least 2-years of college. Similar increases in the length of pre-service training.[2]
  • Reversing the focus on arresting and prosecuting prostitutes to viewing them as victims, and their customers and pimps as the offenders.
    Intensive new interest in sex trafficking which is a more appropriate focus for dealing with prostitution.
  • Revising various questionable police practices (e.g. “lineups”) to prevent wrongful convictions.


  • Deleting records of misdemeanor violations after a certain period of time so that violators have one less barrier to employment.
  • Enormous spread and success of innovations in the area of criminal courts (For example, see www.courtinnovation.com).


  • Major moves to reduce number of inmates in state and federal prisons — early release; changes in sentencing practices; reductions or abolition of mandatory sentencing, focusing on high cost of incarceration.
  • Restoration of the idea of providing college-level education for inmates in prison.


  • Decriminalization of marijuana; decisions not to arrest for minor possessions even if laws are maintained.
  • Growing concern about, and limits placed on use of solitary confinement in jails and prisons.
  • The existence of “innocence  projects” which seek to gain release for those improperly convicted.

While things have improved, and are improving, in the field of criminal justice, much more needs to be done.

The people I am counting on to do this are those of you who are following this blog and feel that “fire in the belly.” That fire is a deep passion and a calling to seek top leadership and lead forward. When you get there, be a strong leader and an impassioned voice for the constant pursuit of excellence.

[1] Nationally, the number of women in policing has grown over the past 40 years. In 1970, women comprised only 2% of sworn officers. By 1991 that number was 9% and 12% in 2007. Today, small to medium departments have 9-10% women in their ranks and larger departments around 15%. A “glass ceiling,” however, seems to exist with regard to the small number of women in upper management ranks. With regard to race, most recent data indicate that 13% of our nation’s police are members of a racial minority. As to sexual orientation, little data exist regarding the numbers of Gay and Lesbian police officers. It appears that being an openly Gay or Lesbian police officer is more acceptable in our nation’s largest cities. There also exists a growing number of Internet sites about the topic of being “Gay and blue.”

[2] In a recent sample of 3000 police departments, 98% had an educational requirement for new recruits; 18% had ‘some type’ of college requirement; nine percent required a two-year degree and less than one-percent required a four-year degree. (Local police departments, 2003 (NCJ210118). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.) The one-percent of departments requiring a baccalaureate degree may signify that professionalism for policing is stalling. However, it must be taken into account that there have been enormous improvements over the past 60 years with regard to police and education. Since the 1950’s, increasing numbers of local police departments began requiring at least some college. In the late 1990s, 65% of police officers had at least one year of college and 23% a four-year degree. The consensus today is that the average educational level of our nation’s police is thankfully on the rise.