by Gregory Saville
Today I write about my friend and mentor, retired University of Wisconsin Law School Professor Herman Goldstein. Today, Herman Goldstein died at home. He was 89.
When I first met Herman 25 years ago, I was impressed by how he so seamlessly dissected arguments, one logical piece after the other, and reconstituted them into a much clearer picture. He did this in his scholarship and, when I asked him personal advice, he did the same. It was a clarity I found refreshing in an academic world rife with politics and insecurities. He helped steer me through a sea of misdirection. It was that kind of clarity that led to him winning the Stockholm Prize, criminology's Nobel, in 2018.
A CAREER ASKING QUESTIONS
Herman’s career goes back to the foundations of modern police reform. In the late 1950s he was a staff investigator for the American Bar Foundation’s 10 year study of criminal justice, where he began riding with and observing police officers. It led to the earliest-known reflections about the nature of police discretion, a seminal finding that influences policing today. In the 1960s he worked on the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice and in the 1970s, the New York City Knapp Commission on Police Corruption, following the Serpico scandals.
Few were more central, and influential, in writing about the police than Herman Goldstein. However, in my mind the single most formative idea by Herman – and one that resonates today more than ever – emerged from his 1977 book Policing a Free Society:
“The strength of a democracy and the quality of life enjoyed by its citizens are determined in large measure by the ability of the police to discharge their duties.”
How many other policing scholars have the insight to study the reality of street policing and discover that a healthy democracy lies in the quality of our police?
In 1979, and then in 1990, he wrote about Problem-Oriented Policing (POP) as path to a safer community and a new relationship between police and community. It has dozens of guidebooks, annual conferences, and publications, coordinated today by the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing directed by Mike Scott.
I recently read Balko’s Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces and Vitale’s The End of Policing. These authors offer salient points about the inherent flaws in policing, but they miss one essential message – they say nothing about what policing does right. They ignored decades of problem-oriented policing that has cut crime and bonded neighborhoods and their cops. They provided not a single reference or hint that problem-oriented policing even existed!
That is irresponsible writing. If they had done their homework, they would know, as Mike Scott once wrote, “that police accountability is intricately linked to society’s understanding of the police function.”
THE BEST IDEA AROUND
Thirty years after the publication of Herman’s Problem-Oriented Policing, and in spite of the persistent crashing of one trend-wave after another, the POP model still floats atop the ocean of police reform movements. There is simply nothing quite like it and I’m stunned when I teach police academy instructors, field training officers, or police leaders, and they know very little about POP. Shame on them! For goodness sake, get a little Goldstein in your life and wake up!
One elegant message that Herman taught me – and that all crime prevention and policing people should learn – is that if you want to make things better, look to where things are done better.
Problem-Oriented Policing is such a place. Herman Goldstein was the thought-leader who created it. It’s now up to courageous leaders to make problem-oriented policing happen beyond the piecemeal lip service we see today, hidden behind the armored personnel carriers, night vision goggles, and predictive algorithms.
Herman Goldstein showed us how to make policing better. We owe him a debt. I know I certainly do.