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Over time, police discretion and the nonscientific nature of many law enforcement actions would come to be widely recognized. In one court decision, dealing
with whether police could stop persons when the description of a criminal suspect consisted primarily of the suspect’s race and gender, and absent any showing of discriminatory intent, the court held: “Officers rely on their ability to act on nonarticuable hunches, collected experience, intuition, and sense impressions— all of which are crucial in carrying out a criminal investigation. Officers would be forced to justify these intuitive considerations in order to meet an accusation that race was the sole factor motivating the encounter. The unworkability of such a regime is self evident.”5 In 2000, when this decision was rendered, it seems reasonable to acknowledge that much of police work is discretion and judgment, but in 1963 such an acknowledgement was shocking to most people.
In 1964, Goldstein joined the faculty of the University of Wisconsin Law School and continued his work on policing and the police function. In 1979, he wrote an article that some knowledgeable observers have said would “pave the way for policing in the 21st century.”6 As Marie Simonetti Rosen, the long-time editor of the Law Enforcement News, and one of the leading authorities on policing in the United States noted, “‘Improving Policing: A Problem-Oriented Approach,’ which appeared in the journal Crime and Delinquency, prompted a number of progressive police departments, including those in Baltimore County, Md., Newport News, Va., and Madison, Wis., to experiment with this bold new method of thinking about and conducting the business of law enforcement.”7 In 1990, Goldstein followed with a book, Problem-Oriented Policing.
Goldstein describes problem-oriented policing as a process that “places the major emphasis on the need to re-conceptualize what the police are doing more generally, to focus attention on the wide range of specific problems that police confront and to try to encourage a more analytical approach to those problems. Then, as a result of that analysis, to think through different strategies”8
As simple as this may sound, it was a new way for police to look at themselves and their jobs. It was not more of the same: hire cop, train cop, put cop on beat, cop locks up bad guy, repeat as necessary. It was an attempt to define the true crime problems in the community, study what was causing them, develop strategies to stop them, and then test those strategies in real time and adjust as necessary. Problem-oriented policing might well engage elements of the community or of the civil service infrastructure in unique, never-before-tried partnerships and, if they did not work, disengaged from those partnerships. It might mean changing shifts, patrol patterns, equipment, uniforms, procedures, or literally learning a new language. (In areas with heavy immigrant populations, communication, particularly in times of stress, can be difficult and could lead to unfortunate consequences. Simple words and phrases in another language, like “police,” “stop,” “put your hands up,” “are you hurt?” and “do you need help?” can make a world of difference.) Essentially, the possibilities were endless, as long as they seemed to make sense and were directed at the problems. It was, perhaps, the ultimate in police discretion: not the routine discretion of old, to lock up or not to lock up, but the discretion to define the function’s mission in a way that seemed to make
RETHINKING THE ASSUMPTIONS
more sense, both to those charged with carrying it out, the police, and those for whom it was intended, the citizens.
As problem-oriented policing developed, it did not do so in a vacuum. Other theories were talked about and other initiatives were being tried. Over time, some of them began to touch, then blend somewhat and, in a few instances, become almost synonymous with one another. One of these was community policing. Goldstein describes it as follows:
I’ve always assumed that community policing, and the package of changes commonly conveyed by that term, is designed to place emphasis on one great need in policing, which is to engage the community, to emphasize the point that the job of social control essentially in our society depends upon networks other than the police, that the police can only facilitate those networks and support them.9
Goldstein recognizes that community policing is also a concept that brings some powerful political baggage with it, usually positive, noting:
Community policing in particular has a very strong, positive, value attached to it in the political forum because it conveys a sense of a more intimate, caring relationship on the part of the police for the community. The term itself almost conveys a sense of added security, and that has enormous attraction to political leaders. They are likely to buy into it for that reason, which has the positive value of increasing support for the efforts. But to the extent that it is not a very well informed perspective, it can create problems down the line.10