My Dinner with Herman

“The quality of a democratic society depends on the quality of its police” – Herman Goldstein


Prof. Herman Goldstein

Early this year, I had the privilege of a long, discursive supper with a man who, for 45 years, has been a close friend, mentor and colleague, I first met Herman Goldstein through Prof. Frank Remington (another mentor of mine whose absence in my life after his death is strongly felt). Frank and Herman taught at the University of Wisconsin Law School and played an important role in helping me lead the Madison Police Department through two decades.

Herman has received the prestigious Stockholm Prize in Criminology. No one better deserves this. Herman has been a bright beacon in democratic policing since his first book, Policing a Free Society (1977) appeared and then was followed by Problem-Oriented Policing (1990) which was the focus of the award in Stockholm. Both books continue to influence police throughout the free world and as Herman so succinctly reminded us in his acceptance speech in Stockholm, “The quality of a democratic society depends on the quality of its police.”

downloadFor decades, Herman taught University of Wisconsin law students (Madison police recruits) about police, their issues, and challenges. This generated a close working relationship between the UW Law School and my department. I would hope that most law schools throughout our nation would follow this collaborative model.

These relationships between academics and practitioners brought law students to interact and ride along with police for many years. A practice Herman developed early on in his career. Our relationship also encouraged many Madison police officers to attend law school. These kind of relationships need to be forged in every city that has a university. They will help build vital connections between academics and clinicians and assure the continued development of constitutionally-based policing in America.

So, what else did we talk about that night at dinner? We were both hopeful that that which has been put in place can continue; that police can continue to grow academically and develop into leaders who have developed broad critical-thinking skills. Perhaps a national, academically-based four-year leadership academy for those who aspire to lead our police? Something similar to West Point and Annapolis, or the Police College at Bramshill in the U.K?

Can we consider lateral entry for budding police leaders (like the military does with its ensigns and second lieutenants)? After all, our nation’s military has war ”colleges” and graduate programs for its officers. Can we do the same for our police? (Ed. Note: And don’t tell me that the FBI Academy is already doing this!)

download-2When we talked about the failure of Problem-Oriented Policing to presently take root in our nation’s police (in spite of the fact that a true “body of knowledge” exists at and is freely available and hosted by the University of Albany School of Criminal Justice.

We went on to discuss the role of higher education in the development of policing and Prof. Gary Cordner’s “wake-up” blog, “The Monster that Ate Police Education.”

“There isn’t a single U.S. university that can claim (with a straight face) to have a serious commitment or investment in police higher education. The typical undergraduate degree in criminal justice (or criminology) requires one or two police courses. It is a mile wide and an inch deep… let’s get serious about teaching the police what we’ve learned over the past 50 years about policing.”

Both Herman and I share Cordner’s sadness. Why don’t we systematically teach police what has been learned throughout the years? We must develop thinking, creative, bold leaders to advance policing our society.

Others have surmised that the reason both Community and Problem-Oriented Policing have not taken a firm root in American policing is because of the failure to develop supportive leaders in many of our police agencies. Too often, police organizations look and act more like industrial organizations of the 19th century rather than those of today’s high tech companies; organizations in which participation, creativity, and continuous improvement are driving values.

Herman and I also talked about Simon Sinek’s book, Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action (2009) and how Sinek challenges his readers with a primary question:

Why are some people and organizations more innovative, more influential, and more profitable than others?”

“People like Martin Luther King Jr., Steve Jobs, and the Wright Brothers had little in common, but they all started with WHY. They realized that people won’t truly buy into a… movement, or idea until they understand the WHY behind it.”  

What is the WHY behind policing? Doesn’t that question apply to the dilemma that seems to confound police today with regard to the need to manage their uses of force and rebuild lost trust?

It’s really not about WHAT police do, or HOW they do it, but WHY do they do what they do? Why do they act as they do? (This calls me to think about today’s the Blue Courage movement and what it is doing for police today – resurrecting the WHY – the challenge, honor, and integrity of policing a free society. Almost every police officer the time of his or her recruitment uttered these words: “I want to be a police officer because I care for and what to help people.”

It is what the PERF report on use of force guidelines attempts to capture in their first of thirty recommendations:

“The sanctity of human life should be at the heart of everything an agency does. Agency mission statements, policies, and training curricula should emphasize the sanctity of all human life—the general public, police officers, and criminal suspects—and the importance of treating all persons with dignity and respect.”

Is sanctity of human life the WHY of policing? Do police need say this and act it out because they deeply believe in protecting the lives of others? Do they hold certain “unalienable” truths about sanctity/sacredness of human life, along with “liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”? I think so, and I suggest it is the WHY of policing which now needs to become a visible reality.

In further discussing today’s police problems, both of us have been perplexed that the method of Problem-Oriented Policing is not being used to address today’s use of force issues. Could police use a “Sentinel Event” process now used in learning from mistakes in medical practices; a process of “no shame, no blame,” but preventing future mistakes? Could not a Sentinel Event process be used in response to police uses of deadly force? Especially those in which a police investigation and district attorney determines are justifiable, legal acts, but those in which, at a later date, a civil jury awards millions of compensatory dollars to the family of the deceased?

We went on to remember our early days. Herman began his entry into policing as a young assistant to a newly-appointed chief of police in Chicago, “O.W.” Wilson in 1960. It was the same year that I left the Marines and began policing in a suburb of Minneapolis. Twelve years later we met in Madison, Wisconsin.

Since that time, Herman has greatly influenced how I have come to see policing in a much larger picture and helped me understand my “WHY” — why I did what I did during my career and came to believe as I do today.

Both of us find ourselves as participants in the tumultuous 1970s to the place we find ourselves today. We both have strong beliefs about the importance of policing a free and democratic society – for us, there is no greater calling.

If I can speak for both of us, our hope lies in the future; that the seeds, the ideas, which we have help plant will one day blossom and bloom. These seeds reside in that which Herman has taught police over the past half century. They must not be overlooked or forgotten. Some have sprouted, others remain dormant; perhaps waiting for an opportunity.

The field of policing still needs educated men and women from diverse backgrounds who will go forward and turn Herman’s ideas into practices. Our nation needs leaders who understand the moral imperative of an educated, well-trained, compassionate, ethically-sound police committed to working with community members to solving problems and not running from incident to incident; having time and support to fix that which needs fixing and continuously improving, while deeply listening to the community, all that police do.

As Herman wrote in Policing a Free Society:

“New ways will have to be found to deal with complex problems that have previously been handled, albeit temporarily and often quite ineffectively, with the mere assignment of additional manpower. Currently the public is afforded the luxury of acting impulsively and somewhat emotionally to problems in policing because they are not equipped to respond rationally – the consequences of adopting one alternative over another are not made clear. The greater visibility that the police themselves can provide of both their capacity and their current policies should increase the degree of responsibility with which the public reacts to proposals involving the police… That is why more widespread understanding and discussion of the fundamental issues in policing, to which this book is intended to contribute, constitutes one of the great hopes for the future.”


To learn more about Herman Goldstein and his work I invite you view the video and other information surrounding of his award HERE.

And learn about the 28th annual Problem-Oriented Policing Conference in Providence HERE.

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