What If Arrest Was “Last Resort?


As it is, police are too often trying to arrest their way out of the problems they encounter. It was one of the complaints I heard from Europeans and listed yesterday in my post, “How Others See Us.”

It is a futile, conflict-ridden way to police a community. When beat cops found Problem-Oriented Policing (POP), it was a revelation. It gave them the ability to work with community members in an “upstream,” positive way, that is, they were empowered to work to find the cause of a problem and not just having to deal with the end-results.

One only has to listen to a few of the stories at an annual POP conference (this year it will be held next month in Portland) to get a feeling of this way of providing community police services. The “problem” is that it conflicts with the action-oriented, “arrest-em” mentality of the warrior cop.

That is what has to change. The problem our nation is seeing in the plethora of videos capturing our nation’s police at their worst is attitude; how police think about their job, what they believe they are there for, and how they act when confronting a “problem.”

What POP does is help police move from a lock-em-up mentality to one of let’s work together and fix the problem.

Here’s how I described POP in Arrested Development:

“Herman Goldstein, developer of the problem-oriented policing method, remained a close colleague of mine during the years he taught at the University of Wisconsin Law School in Madison. In 1990, he wrote Problem-Oriented Policing,[1] which offered one of the most significant concepts in both American and international policing. Madison, I’m proud to say, was the first department in the country to implement his ideas. For over 20 years there has been an international conference highlighting work police have done using this method. And in 2003, a national center for problem-oriented policing was established in Madison, and its popular website receives over 10,000 inquiries every month. In addition, the center has distributed over 900,000 guides and publications about the method. The guidebooks they publish are peer-reviewed and cover solutions to hundreds of police problems, from handling aggressive panhandlers to preventing armed robberies.

“Despite this decades-long effort to train and provide resources for police officers and their agencies, the method has yet to be standardized among American police. Links between practitioners and academics in the police field are few and far between. The police field has yet to identify a standard body of knowledge on which both practitioners and academics can build. This has been the primary motivator for me in writing this book. Unless police have these links and learn from and document their experiences, we won’t see them rise above the level they are today. And that will be tragic for our nation.

[1] Herman Goldstein. Problem-Oriented Policing. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. 1990.