MADISON – The man who changed policing all over the world sat with a cup of coffee in his apartment here, beneath a framed print of four klezmer band players.
“I have been trying to become a full time zaidie, a grandfather,” Herman Goldstein said. “I’m 86-years-old. But I’m stuck. I still have a foot in it. I still go to the conferences.”
Goldstein took his first steps back in the late 1950s toward a remarkable discovery, when he spent much of two years riding in police squad cars. “We were asking deep questions. That intensive experience got me thinking,” he said. “I wrote all this up, and I contributed to books.”
Specifically, Goldstein increasingly saw that police can be more effective when they aren’t just about solving crimes. They also need to solve problems and they need to look outside their own agency to do it.
He named this idea “problem-oriented policing” and he went on to have a career that would influence the behavior of police departments everywhere. For this, Goldstein this summer won the Stockholm Prize in Criminology, which comes with an award of at least $114,000.
For Goldstein, the presence of Jewish values in his work has been “pervasive.”
“It’s respect for the human being. It’s respect for the stranger. It’s respect for equal treatment,” he said. Though he noted, he’s not a Talmudic scholar.
“In reality the greatest potential for the police in a free society is to invest the vast majority of its effort in preventing crime,” Goldstein said, explaining an important aspect of problem-oriented policing. For him, our questions should be: “What can we do to prevent it from occurring? What can we do to support the victim? What can we do to deter the offender?”
The answers can be detailed and nuanced. Many times, various agencies and businesses must work together. Solutions can be found in a commitment to ask the right questions. The solution can also be mind-numbingly simple, as in these real-life problem-oriented policing examples:
- Reduce bus driver robberies by making bus drivers cashless.
- Transition to plastic glasses in British bars to mitigate against glass being used as a weapon in bar fights.
- Work with city officials to pass an ordinance that gives police the ability to decline business permits based in part on the number of police calls.
- Fight elder abuse by training police to recognize it; develop an at-home visit program.
With his grandchildren
This summer, Goldstein flew to Sweden to accept the Stockholm Prize in Criminology, the world’s most prestigious award in the field. In his speech in Sweden he thanked the hundreds of police officers who allowed him into their squad cars, across decades.
“Scholarship and policy deliberations must seek out opportunities for people in our fields to become immersed in and learn from the gritty, sometimes even messy world of practice,” he said in his speech. Three of Goldstein’s children and four of his six grandchildren, along with professionals in the field who have known him for many years, made the trip.
“When I wasn’t looking, the concept took hold in a lot of other places,” he said in his interview with the Chronicle. “When I went off stage, I was greeted by an officer from Pakistan who said, ‘were doing it.’”
“I met people from Belgium, a lot of people from the United Kingdom, people from the Scandinavian countries, Norway, Sweden, Denmark.
“It was such an intensive experience,” he said, expressing some shyness about people shaking his hand as the father of problem-oriented policing.
The Stockholm Prize in Criminology typically celebrates a career in criminology, though Goldstein often points out he is not a criminologist. He’s also not a lawyer but has taught in law school. He’s not a police officer, either.
Goldstein planned to work in city government as a young man, earning a 1954 master’s in government administration from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He got a job assisting the city manager in Portland, Maine, wound up working on a local police crisis and then got recruited to work on a police study. His 1950s squad car ride-alongs for the study started his path away from city management.
In the 1960s, he worked as an assistant to the Chicago police superintendent and was assigned to help clean up fraud in the department. Goldstein and others in his section were given great latitude, he said, part of an effort to show Chicago police taking internal problems seriously. Goldstein’s 1977 book, “Policing a Free Society,” became a staple on police promotion reading lists, according to Michael S. Scott, Goldstein’s former student in Madison and current director of the web-based Center for Problem-Oriented Policing.
Goldstein taught at University Wisconsin Law School from 1964 until retirement in 1994 and for several years beyond. He took Madison law students in a different direction than most other schools, focusing on studying police function with a goal of helping police develop new ways of working effectively, according to a 2008 article in the school’s “Gargoyle” magazine.
Problem-oriented policing advocates say Goldstein has changed the culture of police.
“Terms like ‘problem solving’ … were actually unknown to police before the 1980s,” said Scott, a former Lauderhill, Florida police chief. Now, police use language like that all the time, he said.
But Goldstein will be the first to tell you there’s a lot more work to be done.
“It’s a hard sell when you’ve got police officers out there saying, ‘Goldstein, I just want to find the bad guys and put them in jail’,” Goldstein said. “The progress has been episodic.”
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About the prize
The Stockholm Prize in Criminology comes with an award of more than one million Swedish krona, which is about $114,000. The Stockholm Prize in Criminology Foundation awards the prize, which is administered by the Foundation, Stockholm University and the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention.