The Public Interest

“To serve and protect”: learning from police history

George L. Kelling & Mark H. Moore

Winter 1983

OVER the last three decades, American police departments have pursued a strategy of policing that narrowed their goals to “crime fighting,” relied heavily on cars and radios to create a sense of police omnipresence, and found its justification in politically neutral professional competence. The traditional tasks of the constable-maintaining public order, regulating economic activity, and providing emergency services-have been deemphasized, and those of the professional “crime fighter” have increased. Joe Fridays polite but frosty professionalism (“Just the facts, Ma’am”) is a perfect expression of the modern image.  In many ways, this strategy has been remarkably successful.  Thirty years ago, the idea that the police could arrive at a crime scene anywhere in a large city in less than five minutes would have been idle dreaming, yet we now have that capability. Similarly, the idea that the police would have moved out from under the shadow of political influence and flagrant abuses of individual rights would also have seemed unrealistic, yet most people now think of the police as much more honest and professional than in the past. In fact, in many ways the current strategy of policing is the apotheosis of a reform spirit that has guided police executives for over eighty years.

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