Trashing the POP Center

 COPS DOJFeds Trash the Problem Oriented Policing Center:

Another Example of Anti-Intellectualism (among other things…)

One of the push-backs I occasionally receive from my former colleagues is about my position with regard to the existence of an “arrested development” within policing.

I maintain that an attitude of anti-intellectualism* pervades the field all the way into the federal government. To me, anti-intellectualism has been the major impediment to police professionalization and their ability to continuously improve. You can read more about this in my latest book. In the meantime, here’s an excerpt about what I am talking about:

“The problem of applying [academic findings**] to a police department is an old one. It is one I had often encountered during my career. It made little difference whether or not a case study was from the Harvard Business School or the International Chiefs of Police, police leaders have difficulty accepting findings from other areas of work. Even good practices from other police departments. Over the years, I can’t tell you how many times I have heard these responses from police leaders: ‘Yes, but it doesn’t apply to my department’ or ‘We tried that, but it didn’t work.’ The lack of a foundation of rigorous academic training makes it difficult for police leaders to digest any kind of research or case study. This is the continuing and oppressive effect of anti-intellectualism in the police field and why it remains a major obstacle.”

Now comes another anti-intellectual blow against policing. It is the decision of the Department of Justice and its Community Oriented Police Services to defund the Problem-Oriented Policing (POP) Center which is one of the hallmarks of police improvement and professionalization.

Until recently the Center has been led by Prof. Michael Scott who, until this decision, was at the University of Wisconsin.  Scott is a former chief of police who is well-versed in this successful method and committed to improving policing. The idea of this new method was first developed by Herman Goldstein in 1990 in his book of the same name. Scott had been assisted by Professors Ron V. Clarke at Rutgers and Graeme R. Newman at the University at Albany, both practical criminal justice academics.

Since that time, the Center’s nationally acclaimed website has provided curriculum guides, teaching aids, problem analysis tools, and an immense range of information to rank-and-file police officers world-wide. It is the best example I have yet to see of a library of the “best known methods” of policing. Something that is sorely needed in our field.

Since 2001, the Center’s efforts have resulted in over ONE MILLION copies of the POP guides being distributed to police practitioners throughout the world. There are over 60,000 visits to the site resulting in nearly TWO MILLION page views EACH MONTH. The materials at the Center are widely used in police training and college courses. The interest in the Center and its website remains high to this day.

In addition to the curriculum guides, teaching aids, and problem analysis tools are the Problem-Specific Guides that inform police about the best research and practice-tested methods for addressing the many specific crime and disorder problems that police are commonly called upon to deal with. This is what makes the POP Center so distinct from other police research enterprises: it focuses on the substance of policing, rather than on the administration of policing.

While the website remains up, thanks to the University of Albany, much is about to be lost. There will no longer be staffing to create new information, address newly-emerging problems, updating old information, or doing any maintenance to the website. This is a tremendous loss for our nation’s police.

So why would our government not fund this important source of effective policing practices? And still yet, why won’t our nation’s police leaders rise up and demand funding for this important effort be continued? (Incidentally, I have yet to receive a reply to this question from the Office of Community Police Services.) But I would also ask where is the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP)? And where is the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF)?

POPOur government needs to support good policing — it’s in all of our interests to do so. The government needs to look beyond providing low-priority hardware to police (like military surplus armored vehicles and other paraphernalia to our nation’s police because the problem with policing today is not the lack of hardware, it’s the lack of software — the intellectual stuff of what works in policing — a great deal of which can be found in the work of the Problem Oriented Policing Center’s.

You can visit the POP Center by CLICKING HERE. A short browse of the materials (free and downloadable) on the site will quickly demonstrate what I am talking about and why we need to maintain this important intellectual center of policing.

In the meantime, police leaders need to stand up and be heard and start supporting what’s right for the future of policing.


* “Anti-intellectualism is hostility towards and mistrust of intellect, intellectuals, and intellectual pursuits, usually expressed as the derision of education, philosophy, literature, art, and science, as impractical and contemptible…”

** The example I used in my book was  Jim Collins’ Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t. New York: Harper-Collins. 2001.

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About improvingpolice

I served over 20 years as the chief of police in Madison (WI), four years as chief of the Burnsville (MN) Police Department, and before that as a police officer in Edina (MN) and the City of Minneapolis. I hold graduate degrees from the University of Minnesota and Edgewood College in Madison. I have written many articles over my years as a police leader calling for police improvement (for example, How To Rate Your Local Police, and with my wife, Sabine, Quality Policing: The Madison Experience). After retiring from the police department, I answered a call to ministry, attended seminary, and was ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church. At the present time, I serve a small church in North Lake (WI), east of Madison. Sabine and I have nine adult children, eleven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. She is also a retired police officer and we both continue active lives.

6 Responses to “Trashing the POP Center”

  1. I check POP website and boy, the articles I found there was fantastic like crimes occurring in hotel. I know a Motel 6 that I gone to seem to have the troubles because when I return to my motel room after doing some things, I find the police there. The area where the Motel 6 was located was a mixed residential/resturant area that was a good one 50 years ago.

  2. As a retired police chief (San Diego PD 2004, Anaheim PD 2013), I’m not surprised that PERF won’t step up and publically support the POP Center. The PERF director is competing with the POP Center for funds to run PERF. In the 80’s and 90’s that same director was in charge of funding and research for the annual POP Conference held in San Diego. When the director had a falling out with various POP police managers, he stopped supporting the only research and development organization that partnered with police practitioners.

    I hope someone in the Department of Justice, other than the COPS Office, will recognize the need to investigate and decide on the value of both organizations. If not them, then what does the IACP or any State Chiefs’ organizations think about the loss of the ONLY body of knowledge on police practices and effectiveness? I ask that any of you reading this post log on to and form your own opinion. At that site, opportunities for police and community to truly work in a partnership are bountiful. If more people would actively support the problem oriented approach to crime, we could all drastically reduce crime and continue developing new ways of preventing crime before victimization happens.

    John Welter
    San Diego, Ca.

    • John, thanks for your insightful comments and acknowledging the pettiness which often pervades a field to which we have devoted a good share of our lives. You are right about the ONLY significant body of knowledge that exists for police. One thing I have seen about the POP method is that some bosses have such a need for control that they refuse to support the men and women in the ranks who love this method because it WORKS, it is collaborative and it deeply involves our citizen-customers in the solution. As one of the early members of PERF, I was chosen for the leadership award in 1993. And they even published two of my books. When they asked me to come and be part of a membership discussion of Jim Collins’ book, “Good to Great,” in 2005 I was shocked at how little we had progressed since I retired. That led me to write “Arrested Development.” We need today what we had originally thought PERF was going to be — a forum to discuss ideas, to challenge one another, to seek to promote the best methods of policing. Sadly, after Gary Hayes, that did not happen. And Chuck Wexler still doesn’t return my phone calls… But as they say, “it ain’t over till it’s over!” I am still hopeful for the emergence of an another New Breed of police leaders coming along and making the changes they know need to be done and committed to our Constitutional values and people we serve!

  3. Reblogged in the “Center for Problem-Oriented Policing” group on LinkedIn.

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