The Advent of Problem-Oriented Policing

  • Hans Toch
  • J. Douglas Grant


Problem-oriented policing was officially born in April 1979, as a phrase in the subtitle of an essay. The author of the article, Herman Goldstein, was a redoubtable academic, but his essay was the kind of prescription scholars often advance with no expectation of impact. If Goldstein’s concept took hold, it was because it was immensely timely and made sense to many students of policing and administrators of police departments.


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  1. 1.
    Progressive reformers wanted educated officers who were versed in science and concerned with social welfare. MacNamara (1977) writes about Vollmer—the father of the professional police movement—that “(his) prototype police officer would be at home with the microscope or polygraply courageous and physically capable of handling street disorders, trained in fingerprinting and photography, adept at first-aid, a marksman of military bearing and skills, yet so certain of his manhood as to be able to deal humanely, effectively, and sympathetically with lost children, beaten wives, and bereaved parents” (p. 180). Vollmer and his contemporaries envisioned “professional” management for their “professional” officers. They prized the prospect of streamlining agencies, instituting centralized reporting, and efficient chains of command. Paradoxically, they thus reinforced bureaucratization trends that stifle the initiative of officers. Walker (1977) points out that Bureaucratization entailed the development of formal and elaborate internal procedures (civil service, training programs, etc.) that subjected the police officer to more direct control and supervision. The control of the rank and file was in fact regarded as the great accomplishment of police reform. But this was not the same as professionalization, if by that concept we mean enhancing the independent judgment of the practitioner. The police in the 1920s, however, were not evolving in the same direction as the recognized professions. Rather, police officers were regarded as objects to be controlled and directed by chief administrators. If anything, it was the police chiefs who were professionalizing, and doing so at the expense of the rank and file. (p. 136)Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Foot patrol was preferred because of this attribute. An expert of the time (Graper, 1921) points out that “the policeman patrolling on foot has greater opportunities of studying his post and of becoming acquainted intimately with its peculiar needs than has the man who is burdened with a horse or a bicycle. He cannot cover quite as much ground in the same time, but he can cover it more thoroughly” (p. 130). Other perceived advantages included the fact that a patrolman could sneak up on a malefactor, whereas the clatter of hoofs “gives ample warning of his approach” (pp. 131–132).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Graper (1921) refers to the first experiment involving motorized officers. He writes that A novel system of patrol has been inaugurated by Chief Vollmer in Berkeley, California, from whose police department so many progressive ideas have come during recent years. Every member of the force is required to own a gasoline driven automobile and to operate it in the course of his daily work. The men are assigned to regular posts but cover them differently every day. The policeman’s automobile is equipped with policeman’s implements, ropes and hooks to be of aid to the fire department and to help stalled teams and motor vehicles. For the purchase and upkeep of the automobiles the city allows each policeman $27.50 in addition to his monthly salary and furnishes gasoline and oil besides. An ingenious signal system enables the members of the force in a few minutes’ time to surround any block from which trouble is reported at any time of the day. This radical departure from the ordinary methods of patrol indicates that in some cities at least, new methods are being tried and attempts are being made to lift police service to a higher state of efficiency. Reports indicate that the system in use is giving entire satisfaction. (p. 133)Google Scholar
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    As recently as the 1950s, it was assumed that officers would not remain in their cars between calls, but would be foot patrolmen a good portion of the time. O. W. Wilson (1952), for example, insisted that In some respects the distinction between foot and motorized patrol is unfortunate. All patrolmen should be thought of as being foot patrolmen and should be required to perform the usual routine patrol duties including inspectional tasks…The vehicle transports the patrolman from one task to another, brings him to the scene with greater speed and less fatigue, and enables him to capture a fleeing criminal. When the patrolman with an automobile performs all the duties of a foot patrolman, he must spend a large part of his time on foot. This provides opportunity for observation and for contact with citizens and thus enables the patrolman to serve as the eyes and ears of the department—The patrolman who remains in his vehicle hidden in a secluded spot when he is not driving is not providing patrol service. The officer who spends all his time driving neglects his duty to make inspections, to observe, to make himself available for public service, and to make contacts with citizens. Protection against weather and relief from fatigue by occasional periods spent in driving from one location to another are to be used with discretion. (pp. 84–85)Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Most technical innovations in policing have given managers greater control over the behavior of subordinates, and subordinates have exercised ingenuity to evade such control. Walker (1977), in discussing the introduction of two-way radios, mentions that “patrolmen developed ingenious techniques for subverting the effect of the new communications system and preserving for themselves an important degree of autonomy” (p. 136). An earlier innovation was the patrol box, which the officers had to contact at prescribed intervals. This strategy was viewed as inadequate by officials because it “does not necessarily mean that patrolmen are performing their duties for they may loaf in cigar stores, barber shops, restaurants and other places between pulls of the box” (Graper, 1921 p. 152). To such concerns of managers and reformers, the officers reacted with understandable hostility. Walker (1977) explains that “much of police history could be told in terms of a cat and mouse game between patrolmen and their supervisors. From the earliest call boxes to the modern two-way radio, administrators have sought some means of monitoring the activities of their men. Patrolmen, for their part, have been equally ingenious in their efforts to nullify and subvert the latest technological innovations” (p. 13).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hans Toch
    • 1
  • J. Douglas Grant
    • 2
  1. 1.State University of New YorkAlbanyUSA
  2. 2.Social Action Research CenterNicasioUSA

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