Policing a Free Society

Policing a Free Society Cambridge, Mass: Ballinger Pub. Co. (1977)

Univ. of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1349

374 Pages Posted: 24 Apr 2015

See all articles by Herman Goldstein

Herman Goldstein

University of Wisconsin Law School


The quality of policing has a very direct effect on the quality of life in a democracy. Yet, the American public persists in ignoring the complexity of policing, the importance of the police, and the demands we place upon them.

This groundbreaking book penetrates beyond popular and ofttimes misleading notions of what the police do by uncovering the practices and strategies that have hardened into contemporary policing. The author measures the current state of affairs against a standard that not only seeks greater effectiveness but places the highest priority on adhering to democratic principles.

Exploration focuses, first, on an examination of the incredibly diverse nature of the police function. What is the role of the police in coping with serious crime? To what extent are the police effective or inadequate? What about the police role in responding to the wide range of noncriminal and often conflicting demands they are commonly expected to meet: aiding individuals who are in danger of physical harm but cannot care for themselves owing to their age or physical or mental state; resolving conflicts of all kinds, between individuals or groups; protecting the constitutional rights of free speech and assembly; creating and maintaining a feeling of security in the community; and facilitating the movement of people and vehicles? Many of these tasks fall to the police for lack of other provisions in the community for dealing with them. Heavily dependent on the use of the criminal justice system in responding to crime, the police, for lack of other resources, adapt elements of that system for responding to their other varied tasks, with results that are often unsatisfactory and may have negative consequences. A chapter in the book is devoted to a movement within progressive policing to adopt more straightforward and satisfactory alternatives.

The police have extraordinarily broad discretion in carrying out their varied functions. Such discretion poses complex questions about the most effective forms of citizen input into police decision-making. How can the police be held accountable to the body politic for the manner in which this discretion is exercised? How can the actions of the police -- individual officers, agencies, and their leadership -- be controlled to adhere to the law, make use of agreed-upon policies, and avoid breaches in integrity, such as the age-old problem of corruption?

The concluding chapters of the book formulate proposals for the long-range reform of the police as in institution. They focus on the development of critically needed leadership; the upgrading of personnel; and the roles that higher education and further research can play.

Keywords: Police Function, Serious Crime, Alternatives to the Criminal Justice System, Structuring Discretion, Directing Police Agencies, Political Process, Controlling Police-Citizen Contacts, Corruption Problem, Critically Needed Leadership, Upgrading Police Personnel, Higher Education, Effecting Change

Suggested Citation

Goldstein, Herman, Policing a Free Society. Policing a Free Society Cambridge, Mass: Ballinger Pub. Co. (1977), Univ. of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1349, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2596883

Herman Goldstein (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin Law School ( email )

975 Bascom Mall
Madison, WI 53706
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics