Policing’s Body of Knowledge?

UnknownOne of the marks of a profession is that it has a “body of knowledge;” that is, a collective of the best known methods of its practice. For many years, the profession of policing has been without such a body, let alone one that is agreed-upon.

Actually, we need look no further than the Problem-Oriented Policing Center (POP Center) to find a strong foundation for our body of knowledge.

Here’s what I wrote about it in 2012 — in addition, I have also written about the importance of connecting the Problem-Oriented Method to Community-Oriented Policing. 

“One of the top examples to enhance community-oriented policing is the problem-oriented method…[1] It was then that many police, researchers, and policymakers became interested in improving the effectiveness of police. Research during this period pointed out the limitations of some very sacred assumptions police held—assumptions about random patrol, rapid response to calls, and follow-up investigations. These sacred cows of policing had been the basis for police practices for many years.

“Instead, there was a new recognition that:

  • Police deal with a range of community problems, many of which are not strictly criminal in nature. Arrest and prosecution alone—the traditional functions of the criminal justicesystem—do not always effectively resolve problems.
  • Giving police officers, who have great insight into community problems, the discretion to design solutions is extremely valuable for solving the problems.
  • Police can use a variety of methods to redress recurrent problems.
  • The community values police involvement in noncriminal problems and recognizes the contribution police can make to solve these problems…[2]

“As problem-oriented policing has evolved over the last two decades, it has emphasized evaluation of problems and the importance of solid analysis, development of pragmatic responses to the problem, and the need to strategically engage other resources such as members of the community and other city departments as well as local businesses and service organizations, as partners…

“There are many reasons new ideas in policing don’t thrive, not the least of which is the American political penchant for throwing out everything your predecessor did, effective or not. But I suggest that the failure of this method to become standard practice among our nation’s police is the fact that it directly challenges the police organization itself by empowering rank-and-file police officers—not just command officers—to develop effective and successful responses to problems in collaboration with community members. It also challenges one of those four obstacles to improving policing – anti-intellectualism…

“Nevertheless, something is happening in the police field with regard to this method, as the national Problem-Oriented Policing Center demonstrates. In spite of the failure of our nation’s police to shift from responding to incidents to becoming more problem-oriented, officers around the country have continued to show tremendous interest in this method.

images-2“Since the publication in 2001 of the first problem-oriented policing guide, nearly one million copies of the guides and other publications offered by the center have been sent out to individual officers and police agencies. These materials are now widely used in police training and college courses. Two years later, the center launched its website which provides curriculum guides, teaching aids, problem analysis tools, innovative learning experiences, and an immense range of information. Today, the site receives an average of 1.5 million visits each month, offers more than 3,000 full text PDF files for download, and more than 2,000 files are downloaded daily…[3]

“With all this interest and activity, 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…

“According to 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.[4]

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

images“‘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.’[5]

“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…

“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.” (From Arrested Development: A Veteran Police Chief Sounds Off About Protest, Racism, Corruption and the Seven Steps Necessary to Improve Our Nation’s Police, 2012).


[1] Herman Goldstein. Problem-Oriented Policing. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1990. [2] http://www.popcenter.org/about/?p=history. December 27, 2010; 2205 hrs. Also the work of James Skolnick and David Bayley in 1986: The New Blue Line: Police Innovation in Six American Cities. New York: The Free Press. [3] http://popcenter.org and my conversations with Michael Scott, director of the Problem- Oriented Policing Center. [4] Ibid. On Further Developing Problem-Oriented Policing: The Most Critical Need, The Major Impediments, and a Proposal. Crime Prevention Studies, vol. 15. 2003. [5] 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.