Arrest as a Last Resort



As it is, police are too often trying to arrest their way out of the problems they encounter. It is a futile, conflict-ridden way to police a community. When police have to make an arrest it is often a sign of failure. When beat cops ran across Herman Goldstein’s idea of “Problem-Oriented Policing” (POP), it was a revelation — a new and better way to work.

POP gives rank and file police officers the ability to work with community members in an “upstream” way, that is, work to find the cause of the problem and not just having to deal with the result which often ends in arrest. POP is all about prevention and enabling community members to work with their police in solving crime and other disorder in their neighborhoods.

One only has to listen to a few of the stories at one of the annual POP conferences to get a feeling of how effective this way of providing police service can be. The problem is that it conflicts with the action-oriented “arrest-and-lock-em-up” mentality of the warrior cop.

That’s what has to change. No more “camoflage-uniformed,” warrior cops. The problem our nation is seeing in the staggering number of videos capturing our nation’s police at their worst. And worse yet is the negative way some police think about their job, their treatment of others, and how their response when confronting problems is often more like that of a soldier in an occupied country.

What POP does is help police move from that kind of “lock-em-up” mentality to one of “let’s work together.”

Here’s how I described POP in “Arrested Development:”

“With all this interest and activity [concerning problem-oriented policing], one would think this method would begin to take hold and modify the traditional police response to incidents. But doing problem-oriented policing means that police officers, supervisors, and commanders have to change their ways. And change in policing isn’t something that begins easily or is able to sustain itself without considerable long-term commitment and persistence.

“Problem-oriented policing can thus help police to build that critical body of knowledge that will improve their effectiveness in most of the things they do, something vitally necessary for the future.

“According to  [Prof.  Herman] Goldstein, there are four major impediments to problem-oriented policing.

  • The absence of a long-term commitment on the part of police leaders.
  • The lack of analytical skills within a police agency.
  • The lack of a clear academic connection.
  • The current police subculture.[1]

“So why has the problem-oriented method not become the standard method of policing? Goldstein goes on:

Improvements in policing… will not come about by simply increasing the numbers of police and by augmenting and modernizing the equipment they use. We need to invest proportionately and more heavily in thinking—in an organized, systematic, and sustained way—about what it is that the police are called on to do—and how they should do it.[2]

“What he is saying is that these things have, so far, proved insurmountable: the commitment of police leadership, the failure to train the necessary skills for problem-solving (primarily analysis and evaluation), the lack of a formal relationship with academia, and the oppressive nature of the police culture. Fortunately, the problems he cites can be resolved through sustained leadership, training, and public education – subjects that will be addressed in the chapters that follow along with the seven steps necessary to improve our nation’s police.

“A vast body of research has demonstrated that the problem- oriented policing method works, that it is effective in managing and controlling a wide range of crime and disorder. This isn’t a new method anymore—it has been around for three decades. Departments that have never attempted to implement it should; and departments that have tried to implement it should now do it again—and, this time, do it correctly – with leadership.”

  • It is time for our nation’s police leaders to remove the four impediments to problem-oriented policing and  move  too have it be the way of policing  today. Let’s face it: this style of policing can begin to rebuild the trust of our nation’s police.
  • In short, “thinking—in an organized, systematic, and sustained way—about what it is that the police are called on to do—and how they should do it” is the way forward.

[1] Ibid. On Further Developing Problem-Oriented Policing: The Most Critical Need, The Major Impediments, and a Proposal. Crime Prevention Studies, vol. 15. 2003.

[2] Herman Goldstein: On Further Developing Problem-Oriented Policing: The Most Critical Need, the Major Impediments, and a Proposal in Mainstreaming Problem-Oriented Policing, Crime Prevention Studies, Volume 15, edited by Johannes Knutsson, Criminal Justice Press, Monsey, New York, U.S.A. 2002.




  1. When I first heard of community policing an article said they were trained to work with social workers and often took them on domestic calls with them so that if possible the social worker would advise how to resolve this problems. Similar programs don’t involve police they have home visitors that help at risk mothers and studies have shown they save enormous amounts of money and prevent things from escalating much more effectively.

    One of the things they do is teach about how child abuse escalates to more violence.

    Or at least that is what they were supposed to do; but unfortunately even though evidence supported this politicians demonized and cut it while escalating militarization.


  2. Chief,

    I know this wasn’t the pain point of your post but it got me curious since you mentioned camouflage uniforms. My department wears the basic dress uniform that I guess is what you see most police departments wearing. Recently it seems even this uniform is being viewed as more and more militaristic. My question is style of uniform do you think police should adopt that would not be considered militaristic?


    1. Two suggestions: go back to what has been worn for years — Buttoned shirt and trousers with gun belt. Not the baggy BDUs or external vests.
      Or, what I did in the early 70s: blazers and trousers with the weapon inside the sport coat on a belt. But better yet, ask the community what kind of dress they want their police to wear. See my early blog on this:


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