Problem-oriented policing stalls in the age of terror

 

MADISON – The father of problem-oriented policing, who was guided by Jewish values in developing it, reports his creation could use more attention.

Herman Goldstein won the Stockholm Prize in Criminology this summer, earning an award of at least $114,000 for inventing the problem-oriented policing concept and for a lifetime of police-oriented work. But it’s work that has come with both successes and shortfalls.

Goldstein said there were about 30 people at the first problem-oriented policing conference in 1980 and the annual event drew more than 1,000 in the 1990s. It was an exciting time for “POP.”

“Now it’s fallen off. It’s fallen way off,” Goldstein said. “Because police are diverted to terrorism. Police are fragile and they respond to public interests.”

Professor Michael S. Scott of Arizona State University’s School of Criminology & Criminal Justice was once Goldstein’s student in Madison. Scott is the current director of the web-based Center for Problem-Oriented Policing.

“I’d put it on a bit of a backslide,” Scott admitted, echoing that problem-oriented policing waned after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 as emphasis shifted to counterterrorism. Goldstein said police once had greater access to government funding to attend the annual conference.

Police culture

But not to overstate the backslide, Scott points out the culture of police departments has changed. The idea that law enforcement should not just react has “pretty well permeated the criminal justice field.”

Beyond that shift in culture, more specific progress is episodic, according to “POP” advocates. It comes down to officers at every level choosing to be “POP champions” in their departments, they say.

That Goldstein is in Madison has helped around here, Scott said. “We were able to reach a lot of the Wisconsin police agencies.” Scott said. “So I think it’s in stronger shape in Wisconsin.”

But it’s everywhere.

“It resonates with a lot of police officers,” said Karin Schmerler, a public safety analyst with the Chula Vista Police Department, near San Diego. “But change is always hard.”

Applying the principles of problem-oriented policing that Herman Goldstein developed, the Chula Vista Police Department in California created these domestic violence cards for officers to read or hand out.

In the late 1980s, while at her first job out of college, she was introduced to problem-oriented policing and Goldstein. “I got to meet him and thought he was inspirational and wanted to do this kind of work. I’ve been doing it pretty much ever since,” she said.

Recently, she’s been working on a problem-oriented policing program that progressively ramps up the intensity of police contacts for domestic disturbances and loud arguments. An experiment that had police reading and distributing warning cards tested well in a quarter of the city from 2015-2017. Next, the cards, which are based in part on language and practices from other departments, may be expanded to the rest of the city.

“That’s something the officers can give to these couples. No crime had occurred. We wanted to give the consistent message that this is serious: We take this seriously. We need this to stop,” Schmerler said.

Jewish values

“What I discovered in this recent experience in going abroad is that it has taken off and it’s thriving in various forms in various places. There are impediments to it but it’s alive,” Goldstein said. “The current progress in this country is episodic. But I’m encouraged. My experience going through Stockholm gave me new confidence in it.”

Goldstein tries to go to the annual conference, but it gets harder as he gets older. He loves it, hearing officers from all levels telling “spectacular” stories of problem-oriented policing. They lament to him over “all those wasted years when I was just responding.”

For them, it’s better policing. For Goldstein, it’s that indeed, and it’s also an expression of Jewish values.

Goldstein was raised in an Orthodox shul and has for decades considered himself Conservative. He served on the Hillel board at the University of Wisconsin – Madison and on the board of Beth Israel Center in Madison.

“I have found great consistency and support in my Jewish values for a concept in policing that has … the dignity of the human being, equal rights, the treatment of people of various backgrounds in a similar fashion,” he said.

“In working in policing I feel I am working to support and extend Jewish values, from my perspective.”