Monday, April 13, 2009

State Police as Social Resources Theory, by Kam C. Yong 5/25/08

Woke up to a bunch of emails about Talmudic Law and references to an article of mine at Rense. I was like, huh? So I go check it out and sure enough, I can see that it's definitely my writing but I had to go look on my ACL: Talmudic Law page to see if that's where it had come from. And it did. My first reaction was to ask Rense to pull it, but it's already shown up on forums. I wrote a note that will be added to the piece, explaining it in the context it was written.

While I appreciate the reception my work gets from people, and I've always encouraged them to reprint and distribute everything at the ACL, I wasn't expecting this kind of distribution. I have a very different writing style when I plan to send a piece out to the "magazines" than when I blog or race through a topic page at the ACL.

I am working on a new article about Community Oriented Policing, a shorter version this time for the general public. I have a whole new angle to pursue now too, thanks to Professor Kam C. (Yin?) Wong who wrote and asked me to publish his "State Police as Social Resources Theory." Professor Wong is the Chair of the Dept of Criminal Justice at Xavier University. (His books on criminal Justice at Amazon)

Wong wrote me in response to my "Join the Quiet Revolution" article (that I did submit to online magazines last month). We are now engaged in an email discussion of his radical new policing theory, and I wonder if this exchange doesn't belong on my resume alongside my other academic recognition. I got so few responses to my Quiet Revolution article, and this was one of them?

Here's his theory:

State Police as Social Resources Theory

Kam C. Wong1

14775 – 10494


Paper presented at

Brown Bag Forum

April 25, 2008

Division of Criminal Justice

University of Cincinnati

Not to be cited without permission

All rights reserved


Introduced in the 1970s (in the United States), community policing is a philosophy and strategy to involve and engage the public to fight crime and improve quality of life in their own community.

A cursory review of literature reveals that in spite of its success there is no scientific – logical, predictable, refutable - theory explaining and explicating, predicting and refuting CP practices. This is a first attempt to do so.

The theory being proposed: “State police as a social resource theory” (SRT) is a people’s theory of policing. It seeks to answer four questions that perplex policing scholars and befuddle police professionals: What is police in a democratic society? What are their role and functions? What is the relationship of police and people? Why do people call the police?

As a people’s theory policing, SRT looks at the nature of crime and functions of the police from the people, not state, perspective View in this light, crime are problems (unmet expectations) to individuals. Police is a kind of emergency social resource made available to the people to augment their resource inadequacies.

Key words: theory of policing, community policing, Goldstein POP, democratic policing

State Police as Social Resources Theory

The value of criminal records for history is not so much that they uncover about a particular crime as what they reveal about otherwise invisible or opaque realms of human experience.

Muir & Ruggiero (1994)2

The American city dweller’s repertoire of methods for handling problem including one known as “calling the cops.”

Egon Bittner (1970)3

If the people were allowed to manage their affairs for themselves. They could do that with half of the number of policeman who were now employed.

Halley Steward, MP (1888)4



Introduced in the 1970s (in the United States), community policing (CP) is a philosophy and strategy to involve and engage the public to fight crime and improve quality of life in their own community. The ultimate purpose of CP is to provide for better – responsive and responsible, efficient and effective – police services. CP takes many forms, e.g., team policing, and is realized in different ways, e.g., problem oriented policing (POP).

CP, as a democratic practice, seeks to actualize Sir Robert Peel’s principles of “police are the people, people are the police.” CP requires the police to work together with the community in identifying, prioritizing and dealing with crime, safety and order issues.

A cursory review of literature reveals that in spite of its success there is no scientific – logical, predictable, refutable - theory explaining and explicating, predicting and refuting CP practices. This is a first attempt to do so.

The theory being proposed: “State police as a social resource theory” (SRT) is a people’s theory of policing. It seeks to answer four questions that perplex policing scholars and befuddle police professionals: What is police in a democratic society? What are their role and functions? What is the relationship of police and people? Why do people call the police?

As a people’s theory policing, SRT looks at the nature of crime and functions of the police from the people, not state, perspective View in this light, crime are problems (unmet expectations) to individuals. Police is a kind of emergency social resource made available to the people to augment their resource inadequacies.

This article is organized in the following manner. After this brief “Introduction” (Section I), there will be a short discussion of “What is community policing (CP)?” (Section II) to contextualize the study. This will be followed by an overview of “State Police as Social Resources Theory: A Statement” which details the major propositions and defines the basic concepts of the theory. Section III discusses the “Theoretical Foundation and Support” for the theory. Section V is “A Summary” outline of the following theoretical issues: What kind of theory is SRT?” “Is SRT a good (enough) theory?” “Is SRT a scientific theory?” “Is SRT a good theory?” What are the contributions of SRT? What are the problems and issues with SRT? What needs to be done to perfect the theory? Section V is a “Conclusion” which recaps why SRT is a sound policing theory and strategy.


What is community policing (CP)?

In the United States, CP resulted from an overall failure of policing.5 Traditional policing reacts to incidences of crime and disorder.6 Professional policing is not responsive to the people.7 Legalistic policing is too impersonal.8 Technocratic policing isolates the police from the people. Para-militaristic policing is too confrontational. 9 Random patrol does not (seems to) deter crime.10 Incidence driven policing does not solve problems. Speedy response has little success in catching criminals.11 Detectives rarely solve (cold) cases (without ID). 12 In the end, people were frustrated and dissatisfied with traditional – professional policing. They wanted changes.

At this juncture, researchers were able to show that taken care of “broken windows” thaws crime,13 well kept neighborhood improves quality of life14 and foot patrol reduces fear of crime.15 Police started to change their policing strategy.16 Instead of reacting to crime, they started to look at crime as a problem to be dealt with.17

A lingering question remains. What is CP?

The seventh of Sir Robert Peel's nine Principles of Policing provides a solid foundation for CP:

To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen, in the interest of community welfare and existence.

There are two mainstream approaches18 to defining CP, i.e., as a philosophy or as a strategy. The philosophical approach described CP as:

“a new philosophy, based on the concept that police officers and private citizens working together in creative ways can help solve contemporary community problems related to crimes, fear of crime, social and physical disorder, and neighborhood decade.”19

Alternatively, Bob Trojanowicz described CP as:

“a philosophy of full-service, personalized policing where the same officer patrols and works in the same area on a permanent basis, from a decentralized place, working in a proactive partnership with citizens to identify and solve problems. “20

In South Africa the “main objective of CP is to establish and maintain an active partnership between the police and the public through which crime, its causes and other safety-related issues can jointly be determined and appropriate solutions designed and implemented".21

Approach this way, CP is democratic governance in action, i.e., providing or promoting public participation in policing, from input of ideas22 to engage with operations to monitor on outcome.

As a strategy, CP has variously been associated with police public relations, team policing, foot-patrol and crime prevention. Whatever the strategy, it is directed at:

"the enhancement of human relations, a community-sensitive and user-friendly police service, consultation on the needs of communities, respect for human rights, cultural sensitivity, continuous positive contact with community members, discretion on the part of police officers when they enforce the law, and the establishment of mechanisms to enhance the accountability and transparency of the police".23


Theory of State Police as Social Resources: A Statement

Proposition#1: People confront problems routinely and some of them are called crime.

Proposition#2: Criminal acts cause multiple problems for the victim and others.

Proposition#3: People call the police because they do not have the necessary resources to deal with their problems, crime and non-crime.

Proposition#4: Police power is a kind of emergency (social) resources made available to the people to solve their problems. 24

Proposition#5: The more resources at the disposal of the people the less problem the people will be confronted with.

Proposition#6: The more resources at the disposal of the people the less they have to call on the police when problem (crime) happened.

Proposition#7: The more (appropriate) resources at the disposal of the police the more effective they are in solving people’s problem.


“Police” is defined as: “Police is a depository and coordinator of social resources. Police is also an all purpose emergency problem solver who is authorized to use coercive resources to solve problem in a domestic situation and during peaceful time.”

“Problem” is defined as: “An unrealized expectation of wants or needs due to resource deprivation.”

“Resource”25 is defined as “Things of all kinds, including to power, time, materials, skills, culture, ideas, knowledge, which can be used to satisfy ones expectations of want and needs.”26


Theoretical Foundation and Support

A Radical Theoretical framework

“State Police as a Social Resource Theory” (SRT) looks at police as a social resource for solving people’s problems (including crime) through empowerment and self-help.

SRT starts with a basic observation which informs this theory throughout, i.e., in a democratic state, common people’s experience with crime and perception of the role of the police controls and dictates people’s action, e.g., whether, when and how much to call and tell the police.27

From the perspective of the state, crime is a legal violation. From the perspective of the people, crime is a set of life experience, and a multi-faceted personal happenstance, aspects of which are called problem.

From the perspective of the state, police power is a political resource to secure control, maintain order28 and command obedience.29 Under this rubric, police power is defined coercively, structured legally, organized bureaucratically and imposed unilaterally.

From the people’s perspective, police power is a social resource made available by the state and draw upon by the citizens to handle personal problems of an emergency nature or crisis kind. More significantly, in the eyes of the people, police power should not be structured by law or organized bureaucratically. 30 Police as a resource should be freely available to the people on demand and negotiated to fit the personal expectations and situational needs of the time.

The theory of state (police) powers as social resources argues that the definition and availability of police power as a political resource happens at a structural-macro level, e.g., legislative process and political debate,31 and the initiation, distribution, disposition of police power as social resource happens at the personal-situational-micro level, e.g., reporting crime and preferring charges.32

Policing from the people’s perspective

Looking at police role and functions from the public’s perspective can be justified on a number of grounds:

First, SRT calls for looking at life course problems from the people’s perspective, as a matter of birth right and natural maturity. In Kant’s words:

“Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one's understanding without guidance from another. This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another.” 33

This means empowering the people and supplying them with the necessary resources, on demand and as required.

Second, SRT corrects the lopsided relationship between police and the people by returning the people to the center stage, and in control,34 or communalization,35 socialization36 or personalization37 of crime.

Third, SRT marks a shift of focus from a state centered community (oriented) policing to a people’s oriented policing.38 While COP calls for the police to listen to and serve the needs of the community as a mean to an end, e.g., leveraging community resources to fight crime, SRT asks the police to be responsible and accountable to the people as an end.

Fourth, SRT gives “social” meaning and lends “emotional” content to otherwise sterile people - police activities, which is what policing is all about, i.e., dealing with human problems and personal difficulties of one form or another.39 In so doing it socialize and humanize the police – people interface, making police business a truly peoples’ business.40

Fifth, SRT liberates the police from the sterile confine of the law and stifling restrains of the bureaucracy. It gets away from one size fits all “Mcdonaldization” of police (burger, cheese burger, double cheeseburger is still a burger) strategy and practices.

Sixth, SRT recognizes police work should be as diverse and complex as people’s problem, i.e., policing changes with time, place, people, context, circumstances and situations.

Seventh, and most importantly, SRT allows the people to be heard, speaking from the heart than from the brain, experientially than cognitively. For all too long, the public is an object of policing when in fact they are, and should be, the subject of policing. Instead of being policed, they should be engaged in problem solving.

The legal anthropologist has contributed much, through the study of “trouble cases,” to our understanding of how indigenous people of other cultures settle dispute and deal with problems. Such research informs that the problems of everyday life look and feel very differently from the inside than from outside.41 The lesson to be drawn from such studies is that legal classifications of a personal encounter, e.g., murder or rape, do not usually capture the true nature and felt impact of such an encounter, as experienced by the person involved. Problems as experiences are anchored within a constellation of personal relationships, shaped by a multiplicity of social factors, circumscribed by intersecting norms (moral, custom, ethics) and moved along by situational dynamics and personal interactions.42 Simply, as experience, no crimes are alike.

The theory as proposed – people solving own problem with state resource - is consistent with the civil society movement,43 privatization of police trend,44 and Alternative Dispute Resolution initiative.45 The theory, if ever fully realized, allows the people to be the master of their own affair. Ultimately, all people have the right to define, dictate and control the extent and manner of the state’s involvement in their life and experiences.

Policing as empowerment

When the state police power is used to enforce the law, e.g., arrest and prosecution, or invoked by the people to deal with a problem, e.g., report of crime or call for assistance, it automatically transforms the nature and affects the handling of the “situation”46 on hand.

When the people call the police, it gives the state the opportunity to intervene and transform a purely private/personal matter to a solely public/ legal one. This amounts to the bureaucratization/ legalization/ professionalization of a private or personal problem. The bureaucratization/legalization/ professionalization of a problem transforms/converts a personal problem into one that is recognizable by the police and actionable in court.47

For example, a case will be prosecuted if all the elements of a crime can be proven in a court of law beyond a reasonable double: (1) a conduct (actus reus) (2) a criminal intent (mens rea), (3) a harm, (4) a causation, (5) a law against it. In being captured by law, a personal problem loss much of its attributes and meaning derived from the social milieu, communal setting, interpersonal relationship, historical context and situational dynamics of which it is an integral part, or what the “situation” is all about.

Before the police intervene, a personal dispute between two office lovers ending in a street fight at night registers a rupture of a personal relationship, derailment of a marriage plan, disruption of office work, damaging of career prospects, not to mention hurt ego, tested confidence, loss of face. When the police is called, the street fight becomes a “public nuisance’ and the lovers turned into “complainant” and “defendant.”

In the process of transformation/conversion, the personal problem loses much of its original meaning and natural feeling to the actors directly involved and others who are variously afflicted, e.g., the sons, daughters and neighbors of a “criminal.” More significantly, what matters most to the actors involved, i.e., emotion, and people affected, e.g., relationship, are of least concern to the state.

For example, criminal law does not recognize “motive” as a justification or excuse for illegal action. Legally speaking, intentional killing of one depraved person (e.g., Hitler) to save a million innocent people (e.g., Jews) is as guilty as killing a million innocent people (e.g., Jews) to satisfy ones deprave mind (e.g., Hitler). The murder is still prosecuted and punished in accordance with the law. Likewise killing a person to relief his pain is no less killing than the cold blooded murder at will and randomly. 48 This is because under criminal law, intent to harm and not motive to kill is considered important. However, communal custom and personal morality has always been concerned with motivation, why a person kill is as important, if not more important, than the fact that someone intentionally killed.49 This is most clearly illustrated by Kobben’s observation of conflict between local custom and government law:

In the village of Ajumakonde a man and a woman are caught in flagrante delictor. A few of the woman’s brothers want to beat her and the man, but the man fight back. In the heat of the flight he is bitten by one of his assailants. The man goes to Mungo to ledge a complaint with the police; before going into the office, he rolls about in the mud to make himself look really pitiable. The police go to Ajunmakonde, where they arrest two men (“not even the one who did the beating”) …The event is the talk of the whole district. People are indignation at the man’s action but equally at the police. “The one who broke the rules is put in the right and the others in the wrong. The police are stupid, they should ask what was the reason for the fight. It is just like a snake; when it is lying curling up and a person passes, it won’t do anything. Only if a person treads on the snake will it bite. That is what we do; we don’t justice strike a man; we only strike him when there is a reason.50

Another example, criminal law assumes that people are rational, a fact that is not borne out by experience or supported by empirical evidence. Criminal law build upon the foundation of utilitarianism,51 denies emotions of everyday life. Thus killing emotionally is no less guilty as one who intentionally kills, unless it can be said that the emotions overwhelms the individual rational faculty, justifying diminished capacity claims. Likewise, jurors were instructed not to use their emotion in deliberation lest it allows personal sympathy to influence the outcome of the case.52 In both cases, basic constitution (emption) and core value (of a person is denied in favor of rational administration of the law.53

The process and effect of transformation of a private affair into a public matter on the precipitating event, consequential matters and associated people involved is best described by Manning:

As the message moves the system, it loses the implicit, connotative meanings associated with the polysemic nature of what was reported to have happened and becomes more denotative, represented in police classification, and is treated by the organization more as something to sort out and deal with and less as a reflection of a complex, emotional, sensate event. I shall refer to this as bureaucratization of social and personal problems.54

Manning’s observation was elaborated upon in concrete details by Canadian criminologist Jorgensen who examined 16 hours of police calls – 820 telephone conversion, 210 dispatches and 53 request reports – from a large suburban police station in Central Canada. In concluding, Jorgensen clearly observed legal and administrative considerations come before the citizen’s concern:

“We have seen that C.O. (communication officers) do not mechanically act on caller requests. Conversations are difficult and require the application of interpretations. Citizen explanations and concerns are not necessarily police consideration and concerns…All trouble announced to the police may potentially involve “chargeable” matters, or prove otherwise…The C.O. is concerned, our findings suggest, more with managing and negotiating caller requests than, perhaps with satisfying caller demands. By placing calls under legal definitions, C.O.s can achieve and maintain the most administrative control.”55 (Underline supplied).

Legalization of a problem also shifted the ownership and arena of dealing with the problem from the private to pubic, informal to formal, personal to official. For example, once a family problem (dispute) is acted upon by the police as a legal violation (assault) the parties involved (husband and wife) cannot (re)claim ownership of the problem (which is theirs in the first place and affects them most afterward), until such time the police has determined it is no longer in the state’s interest to proceed with the case.

Stills, there are formal and informal ways the parties can influence the legal process and outcome. Battered wives have refused to testify against abusive husbands, or turn adverse witnesses, under penalty of law, i.e., contempt of court. The police and prosecutor also have long respected the rights of the victims not to prosecute.

Otherwise, the law allows for private prosecution if the police or state refuses to move forward. 56 More recently, the victim’s right movement successfully reforms the law to allow the victims to participate in the sentencing of the offenders57 and the re-integration shame theorists have made it possible for the victims to play a key role in having some control over the disposition of cases. All these argue for a prominent role and active involvement of the people (victim, defendant) in the management of their own business and problems.

The state police power as social resource addresses this observed state-police dominance of private and personal matter by empowering the public to deal with their own problems.

The theory also serves to redefine the role of and relationship between the police and the people. Under this theory the police are an agent of the people and police power is a resource for the people to use. This arrangement empowers the people as it gives the people much more control over their own affairs. In so doing, the public will be actualizing one of the central tenants of democratic policing, i.e., people policing themselves. For example, the state can make a law clearly stating the kinds of cases or circumstances under which the citizen has a right to expect police service and conditions upon which the police powers can be used. Such law should spell out the right of the public to determine whether to warn, summon, arrest or prosecute an individual causing a problem for the complainant. The public may also be allowed to use the range of acceptable remedies and punishment deemed acceptable to the public in resolving a “troubled case” under the supervision of the police.

Policing as self-help

As structured, the theory gives credence to CP in that it openly acknowledges in theoretical terms and explicates in concrete detail why and how the public should play a key role in the deployment and disposition of police power as a social resource in search of a solution to their own problems. To that extent this is a theory about “self-help,”58 “private ordering” and “personalized justice.”59

This theoretical approach – looking at police services from public’s perspective and as personal/community problems - is anticipated by Cumming, Cumming and Edell, Goldstein, and Bittner, though all three of them did not carry their analysis far enough in addressing the central proposition of this theory – people should be empowered60 to solve their own problems.

Cumming and her colleagues properly discovered the “support” function of the police but fail to discuss its theoretical import and operational impact in terms of people’s policing.61

Goldstein properly identified the “community problem solving” functions of the police but stopped short of recognizing the people having an inherent right as individual citizens to demand police resource to solving their own problems. 62

Bittner properly demonstrated that the police bring with them the “capacity and authority” of using coercive force to solve situational problems of all kinds without also realizing that in actuality police possesses a range of other resources - diverse capacities and multitude authorities, the most sought after one is legitimacy - which made them valuable to the people in their problem solving ventures.

All these scholars contributed significantly to my thinking about people-problem oriented policing (PPOP) but none of them envisions a re-conceptualization of the roles (problem oriented) and relationship (people’s oriented) of the police to the people.

Hereunder is my reflection on the contribution of Cumming, etal., Goldstein and Bittner to my theoretical thinking.

Cumming, Cumming and Edell on police service role

Cummings and her colleagues were the first to discover the dual roles performed by the police, i.e., as a control vs. supportive agent. “Finally, besides latent support, the policeman often gives direct help to people in certain kinds of trouble.” After analyzing 801 calls over 82 hours, Comming and her colleagues found that over 50 percents of the police calls sought help of one sort or another. The research team concluded that instead of enforcing law or fighting crime the police were asked by the people to help solve their problems, i.e., in acting as philosopher, guide and friend to people in need. This research is important because it breaks with traditional conception of police (in 1960s, the height of professional policing) in openly recognizing the social role and service nature of police work.

For our purpose, what social service the police rendered is less important as the fact that the police are not solely political controller, law enforcer and crime fighter. They help people to solve their problems of all kinds. Like so many other researches to follow, the research failed to draw upon the empirical findings to articulate a police theory calling for a renew understanding of police role, focusing on problem solving and resource distribution. This task is left to Goldstein.

Goldstein on police non-legal functions

In a seminal article Goldstein observed and lamented that there is a “tendency in policing to become preoccupied with means over ends.”63 The example he used was a bus speeding by bus stops full of people waiting without stopping, just to be on time. By that Goldstein observed that traditionally police agencies in America have structured their activities around law enforcement and crime control when they should be orientating themselves to the “substance” of policing, i.e., solving crime and related problems of the community. In so doing, he was one of the first to re-orient police functions from reactive crime fighting to pro-active problem solving in the community. He called for a shift in police strategy and activities to that of “problem oriented policing” (POP) which has since then become the organizing principle of police reform in the 1980s. “The police must give more substance to community policing by getting more involved in analyzing and responding to specific problems citizens bring to their attention.”

This invitation for the police to shift its role and function from dealing with crimes to solving community problems, challenges the police to look at the nature (complexity of causes), extent (diversity of manifestation) and remedy (variety of alternatives) to community problems beyond the narrow confine of the tradition role of police as law enforcer and crime fighter.

“This calls for a much heavier investment by the police in understanding the varied pieces of their business, just as the medical field invests in understanding different disease. It means that police, more than anyone else, should have a detailed understanding of such varied problems as homicide involving teenage victims, drive-by shootings, and carjackings…Analyzing each of these quite different problems in depth leads to the realization that what work for one will not work the other, that each may require a different combination of different response."64

In so doing, the police no longer fight crime and enforce law but engage in community problem solving.

My theory while agreeing with Goldstein’s POP approach differs from his in a number of important ways.

First, Goldstein’s POP is in the main a strategy to solve “community” and not “personal” problem. Goldstein argued that the police should not be driven by law, focused on crime and reacting to individual incidents. Instead police work should have a larger reference and more pragmatic focus in dealing with the root causes of crime. Individual calls for service is used to understand the nature, extent and cause of a larger community problem, e.g., repeated calls about robberies in a neighborhood tells the police that this is a criminal “hot spot.”

Theoretically, the focus on community and not personal problem is an important distinction for three reasons. First, Goldstein is less concerned about dealing with individual level problems as he is pre-occupied with eradicating community and or society level problems. More bluntly, Goldstein looks at individual problems reported to the police as indicators of larger problems in the community, not a problem worth attending to unto itself. Ultimately, a conceptual qua theoretical question presents itself, i.e., how did Goldstein define the term “problem” in POP? In this the corpus of Goldstein’s work is of no help. Goldstein did not define the term, and allow the practice speaks for itself. The failure to define “problem” belies larger philosophical, i.e., role of police in democratic society, and practical concerns, i.e., limits of police action.

Philosophically, why should police attend to problems of crime in a community, and not crime as problems to individuals? Who is the police serving? Practically, should the police be dealing with crime and disorder problems at their roots, e.g., shutting down bars near schools, or should the police be dealing with the various problems associated with a “crime”, e.g., rape related emotion-psychological trauma?

I argue in my theory that both are important, but from the perspective of the people (victims) it is the later that is more important. That is why people called the police in the first instance, i.e., to seek help to deal with crime precipitated and related problems.

Second, Goldstein’s theory is a “police” not a “people’s theory. Goldstein’s main contribution is in having the police looking at the larger picture beyond the immediate, to discover problems lurking behind every crime and disorder in the community. My theory is a pure “people” theory of policing. It asks the police to look at crime, disorder and other problems from the perspective of the people. In so doing, what is a problem to the people (as individuals) is considered ipso facto a problem for the police. There is an interesting question whether the police can ever disagree with the people over the existing, classification and assessment of a problem. They can. However, under the theory, the police as an agent cannot override the people’s (as a principle) assessment of a situation, however irrational or objectionable. The police of course can offer his advice as an expert consultant as to how best to deal with a personal problem. This necessary gives the police the right to dissuade the citizen from using the police for what to the police is a non-problem, problem. Lastly, the police can certainly limit the availability of resources based on commonly agreed upon objective criteria written into law and policy.

Third, Goldstein expects the police to solve community problem with the help of the community. My theory wants the people to solve their own problem with or without the help the police. More importantly, police resource is only one of the many resources potentially available.

Fourth, Goldstein wants the police to have more expansive police power to solve the crime problems, e.g., nuisance abatement law. My theory wants to empower the citizens themselves (e.g., learn how to deal with disputes) or with the help of others (e.g., police, social worker, friends, relatives) to solve their own problems. While I do not object to police having more power to serve the people, such powers should only be activated and used with the people’s consent and at their direction and control. The ultimate objective is to transfer as much resources to the people as possible, as a global strategy. In this, it is fair to say that the police is working themselves out of a job.

Fifth under Goldstein’s formulation, police problem solving will lead to more police penetration into communal lives. Under my theory the police will be playing a lesser and lesser role in the community with the people getting better and better in taking care of their own business. Goldstein’s theory allows the police to enter the people’s life at will in search of a solution. My theory empowers the people to control the police once he is called to serve. In sum, Goldstein wants to enlarge the role of the state, I want to create more civil society space.

Table I: Goldstein POP vs. Wong’s SRT

Goldstein Wong
Definition of problem Police in consultation with the public People identifying their own personal or community problem
Ownership of problem Police People
Solution to problem Police provide solution to problem People draw upon the police as a resource to solve personal problems
Mean to solve problem More police resources Varieties of community/ personal resources
Role of police State control agent People’s problem solving – resource agent
Role of citizen Community participation (policy consultation) and assistance (eyes and ears) Citizen consult, engage, or direct police to solve problem.

Bittner on police as coercive resource

In an equally important and provocative article Bittner convincingly argued that “the role of the police is to address all sorts of human problems when insofar as their solutions do or may possibly require the use of force at the point of their occurrence.”65 More specifically, police: “is best understood as a mechanism for the distribution of non-negotiable coercive force employed in accordance with the dictates of an intuitive grasp of situational exigencies.”66

Bittner came to this definition of American police role after observing how police work in the field in a Rocky Mountain State, U.S.A.. He observed that the police is the only social institution empowered to use legitimate force to settle problems in our society in peace-time. For example, he gave this illustration of why police are called

“In a tenement, patrolmen were met by a public health nurse who took them through an abysmally deteriorated apartment inhabited by four young children in the care of an elderly woman. The babysitter resisted the nurse’s earlier attempts to remove the children. The patrolmen packed the children in the squad car and took them to Juvenile Hall, over the continuing protests of the elderly woman.”67

But what about the majority of situations when the police are called but not expected to use force, e.g., police help in finding lost children? Does this not detract from Bittner’s definition? Bittner argued not. While it is true that in most cases when police are called, force is not needed and never will be used. However, that does not mean that force might not be necessary, as a last resort. In essence, to Bittner it is not the actuality or even probability of using force that define the role of police, it is the possibility (no matter how slim) and potentiality of use of force (not matter how contingent) which justifies the definition of police role.

More pertinent for our analysis, Bittner postulated that everyone expects the police to use force to solve problem when they call the police:

“There is no doubt that this feature of police work is uppermost in the minds of people who solicit police aid or direct the attention to problems, that persons against whom the police proceed against have this feature in mind and conduct themselves accordingly, and that every conceivable police intervention projects the message that force may be, and may have to be, used to achieve a desired objective.” 68

Bittner and I agree on one thing, people call police as a resource to solve their problems. However, I do not agree with Bittner that all or even a majority people call the police because of the police’s “capacity and authority” to use coercive force. My disagreement with Bittner is based on the following arguments:

  1. The public call the police for a variety of reasons, not all of them require the use of force. In fact most the calls for service from the public defy the use of force for a satisfactory resolution. For example, when the police is called to help locate a lost relative, to unlock a vehicle, or put out a fire, the public do not expect the police to use force because force is not contemplated and of little use. Take the case of a fire in a rural area with no fire department nearby. As I have made clear, people call police to put out a fire because they lack the resource to do it themselves – fire fighter equipment (technology resource), fire fighter skill (knowledge resource), fire fighter personnel (people resource). While the “capacity and authority” to use force is certainly one kind or resources needed to remove anyone who obstruct and impede with the fire fighting, this is not the only or most important kind of resources sought by the public when he/she called 911. Coercive force, if ever to be used is such situations, is quite remote and very contingent. The people who call the police certainly do not anticipate such far-fetched theoretical possibility. Bittner is stretching his logic in order to make a point.

  1. According to my theory, people call the police to solve their personal problems because they do not have the personal or community resources to deal with the problem on hand. That is to say that if people have the necessary resources to solve the problem on hand they will not call the police. Since, personal or community resources to deal with a given problem, e.g., fighting a small fire, is not evenly distributed, this means that some will be calling the police for help while others will not. For the people who opt to take care of the fire problem themselves, they will be using whatever resources available to them to do so, e.g., calling their relatives to help. This certainly does not include the use or potential use of force. If the same problem could be solved by the citizens without force, it is far fetch to claim that people who call the police on the same kind of problem are calling the police because the police has a “capacity and authority” to use force as a “contingency,” however remote. The fact of the matter is from the people’s perspective most problems they have to deal with defy forceful and coercive intervention, e.g., when people are depressed and want to commit suicide. In fact, for most of the time and with nearly every matter the police is called upon to deal with by the people, forceful invention is inappropriate if not even counter-productive.

  1. In some cases, the people call police precisely because they do not want force to be used. For example, people may be calling police as an arbitrator in a family dispute. An irate wife may call the police to affirm that her husband had a lady in the car when he crashed in the early morning. A frustrated father may call the police to tell his daughter, who insisted on going out to the local bars, how dangerous it could be to go out at night to such a rowdy place. The irate wife, is drawing upon the police’s information power to show the husband that she has a right to be upset. The frustrated father, on drawing upon the police’s expert power, wanted the daughter to learn a lesson before making up her mind in going out. In either case, the parties do not want force to be used.

  1. According to my theory, whether a citizen is calling on the police’s “capacity and authority” to use force certainly depends on whether the citizen have the “capacity and authority” to use force relative to the police, thereby making the police’s “capacity and authority” superfluous in many cases. In those cases where the citizens have the “capacity and authority” to use force, e.g., arresting and turning a thief over to the police, they have no need to invoke the police for its “capacity and authority” to use force but only to process the person through the next stage of the criminal justice system. In such cases, the public again have no intention of invoking the police’s coercive power.

  1. Most people call the police because the police’s other more important and unique “capacity and authority,” e.g., the police is a legitimate state authority. In this regard, people are used to seeing police as a moral authority representing the state, or what is called in my theory a “legitimacy resource.” As such, people follow the police instruction voluntarily and instinctively, and expect others’ to do the sane. In this way, the police will be listened to, not because he/she has the “capacity or authority” to use force but as the British had it, they are the representative agent of the people (some said state) and thus carry with them the moral authority of the people and state.69 The importance of legitimacy and moral authority in securing compliance and helping people to resolve problems within relevant in-groups is well established. In imperial China, the instruction of the father (delegated police authority) is instantly obeyed, less so because he can use force to exact compliance and more so as a result of his elevated social status and established moral authority. Within the Church, the admonition of the Pope is never challenged because he possesses ultimate religious stature and moral authority. In a corporation, the security chief’s order is never questioned, not because he can use physical force to enforce his will but because he is empowered by the company to compel performance from the employee. Within the scientific community, the lead scientist has the final say over a scientific project because he has expert authority. The whole point being, different people in different walks of life can draw upon different capacity and authority to compel people to act. Likewise, police possess different capacity and authority to move along people as expected. Force is only one of the many resources used by the police to put things in order.

  1. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Bittner’s formulation assume that all people in all culture at all time on all matter look at police (coercive) role the same. More pertinently, all people have the same expectation of the police role and relations. This presupposition runs counter to the first lesson learnt about studying policing and society. How the people of a given society in a certain era conceive of the police and their relationship with society must of necessity depends on the cultural understanding of that society about the role, functions and relationship of the police with the public in point of time. In pre-history time, the tribes police their members with high priests who were readily obeyed without the threat or use of force. In modern time, private security of a company is able to police without resort to force in that company because their authority is accepted by the employee to be legitimate.

Individualized self-help

PPOP fashioning individual self-help promotes individual justice over and above legal or universal justice. Instead of asking whether there is a crime? The question is asked which law can be used to solve the problem on confronted by the people? Applying “individual justice” to criminal case while not the norm within the Anglo-American criminal justice system, is not entirely unheard of. The juvenile justice system is based on individual justice approach where the juvenile is not being treated as a criminal but as a person with a problem of adjustment in need of help. “The principle of individualized justice is more inclusive than the principle of the offense. It contains many more criteria in its framework of relevance…The principle of individualized justice suggests that disposition is to be guided by a full understanding of the client’s personal and social character and by his “individual needs.”70

Crime problem as a function of resource deprivation

As intimated above, when people call the police, they do so because they have “unmet expectations,” or experienced “resource deficit”. Expectations can be met by deploying proper and adequate resources. For example, a simple theft is a problem because it breaches a number of expectations: victim does not expect to be violated; victim does not expect to loss money; victim does not expect to have to walk to work, etc.

The victim might not need to call the police if he has resources to meet those expectations, e.g., if victim is rich he might be protected by security guards and if he has a car he might not need to walk. The most appropriate way to deal with crime as a personal or social problem is, First, define what kind of problem(s), if at all, that is confronted by the people; Second, afford the people the necessary resources to prevent or resolve such problems.

This is exactly what imperial Emperors did; they avoid crime through enrichment (material resource) and education (mental resource) of the people.


SRT: A Summary

“There is nothing quite as practical as a good theory.”

Kurt Lewin (1952)71


This section briefly summarizes the construction, contributions and issues with the SRT. 72 It starts with a brief discussion of “What is a theory?” before assessing the nature, constitution, scientificness and merit of SRT. The essay is organized to address the following issues, one by one:

I: “What is a theory?

II. “What kind of theory is SRT?”

III. “Is SRT a good (enough) theory?”

IV. “Is SRT a scientific theory?”
V. “Is SRT a good theory?”

VI. What are the contributions of SRT?

VII. What are the problems and issues with SRT?

VIII. What needs to be done to perfect the theory?

I. What is a theory?

A theory is a generalization of experiences. It categorizes and systematizes a large number of observations to allow us to see the world in a certain orderly73 and meaningful way. In this regard, it is a model or framework for understanding74 - describing, explaining,75 and predicting - of phenomena.

Scientific theories are universal statements. Like all linguistic representations they are systems of signs or symbols. Theories are nets cast to catch what we call ‘the world’; to rationalize, to explain and to master it. We endeavour to make the mesh even finer and finer.76

According to Stephen Hawking in A Brief History of Time,

"a theory is a good theory if it satisfies two requirements: It must accurately describe a large class of observations on the basis of a model which contains only a few arbitrary elements, and it must make definite predictions about the results of future observations.”77

Doty and Glick observed that there are three criteria in qualifying a theory: (i) identification of constructs; (ii) specification of relationships among these constructs; and (iii) able to be tested, i.e. falsifiable.78

II. What kind of theory is SRT?79

Usually, a theory can be prescriptive, descriptive - explanatory, predictive, or practical.

A prescriptive theory tells people what to do and how to do it in pursue of certain agenda or goals, or driven by some value assumptions. For example, as a democratic theory build upon communitarian foundation80 SRT requires us to look at police role and functions from the perspective of the people. It also tells the police to look to the people for instruction and supervision, as social service agents.

A descriptive – explanatory theory tells people how things work – when, where, how - at groud zero. The kind of research that typifies this theoretical approach is historical, anthropological, and case studies. It contributes to our understanding of the micro process of how people solve problems resulting from crimes, from how gather resource to how to when to seek out police resources. For example, SRT explains the process and factors why people do or do not call the police.

A predictive theory tells people what to expect in theoretical terms when certain conditions occur. For example SRT predicts that people who have many resources – economic, social, physical, intellectual - will not call the police (as often). It also predicts what kind of people will call police at what time, e.g., students will call police at examination time for computer help.

A causal theory tells people the relationship between two inter-related events one (independent) event giving rise to a subsequent (dependent) event. In SRT problem is a function of resource. For example, police lack of legitimate resource (legal authority) causes police to use illegal resources (coercion) in criminal investigation.

A practical theory helps us to do things better in process and outcome. For example, SRT helps police to work more efficiently and effectively by equipping themselves with the right kind of resources in anticipation of problems arising, or problem oriented resource deployment.

Table I: The Nature of STR

Nature of Theory Articulation of STR
Prescriptive SRT is prescriptive to the extent it is based on democratic ideas and communitarian ideal.81 It requires academics, police and public to look at crime and policing from the peoples’ perspective and experiences. The three prescriptive principles that inform SRT are:
  1. People’s understanding of situation should be contextualized in history, culture, community, experiential and personal terms.
  2. The people have a right to (not) call the police for help to solve their unique problems.
  3. The police have a duty to help the people with their individual problems.
Descriptive – explanatory SRT is descriptive – explanatory to the extent it tells us what people think about their life experiences, including what to do with problems.
Predictive SRT is predictive to the extent that it predicts:
  1. when problem arises, i.e., when there is an unmet expectation;82
  2. when will the public call the police, i.e., when people do not have the resource at their disposal to solve the problem;83
  3. when will the police draw complaints from the people, i.e., when there is a mismatch between public demand for resource (nature of problem) and police supply of resource (kinds of resources);
  4. when will the police use coercive force to extract confession from people, i.e., when supply of police resource (time, investigation skills) is overwhelmed by public demand of resources (terrorism, serious crimes).
    SRT is a causal theory to the extent is explains:
  1. Resource deprivation causes (crime) problem with the public;84
  2. Unresolved problems result in call for the police (resource).85
Practical SRT is practical to the extent it helps to improve:
  1. Theory: rethink POP can apply to individual and personal problems or PPOP;
  2. Policy: empower the people – community to prevent – solve problem themselves;86
  3. Policy: transform the police from resource dispenser to resource depositor and coordinator, e.g., establishing volunteer community resource persons;87
  4. Practice: teach people how to identify, prioritize and solve their own problem;88
  5. Practice: transfer resources to the people to prevent or solve problem, e.g., arm the public to deter crime;
  6. Practice: teach police how to manage and distribute resources.89

III. Is SRT a good (enough) theory?

A good theory should satisfactorily address the following questions:

(1) What are the essential elements of a phenomenon, i.e., construct and variables?

In SRT the constructs are “democratic”, “people”, “police”, “ownership”, “control” “problem” and “resource”. All these constructs are necessary to answer the research questions in a democracy, who are the police? Why do people call the police?

(2) How do constructs relate to each other in logical and meaningful ways?

The SRT addresses the following relationship issues: Who are the police? What do police do? Specifically, what is or should be the role of police in society? What is or should be the relationship between people and the police? Specifically, who is in control in solving social, communal and personal problems? What is a problem? Specifically, what is the relationship between resource and problem? How are personal or communal problems solved? Specifically, why do people call the police?

(3) What are the basic assumptions underscoring a set of human behavior?

The SRT is a “democratic” theory with communitarian overtone. It is also a “naturalistic” theory. To the extent that “democratic” theory derives from “naturalistic” assumptions, i.e., people have a right as well as tendency to take care of their own business, there is substantial overlap if not even convergence between the two assumptions.

(4) What is the boundary of the theory? What are the limiting conditions?

SRT is a democratic theory. It answers questions about social and not political role of police. It addresses issues of relationship between police and the people. It does not address relationship issues between police and political authority. It does not address relationship issues between political authority vs. police vs. people. It does not address relationship issues between people vs. police vs. people. It does not addresses police roles and relationship with the people during war time or in emergencies.

IV. Is SRT a scientific theory?

What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of a scientific theory?

A competent scientific theory should be:

  1. Logical with propositions;
  2. Predictable of events;
  3. Refutable by empirical evidence.

Table II: Is SRT a theory so called?

Necessary Conditions Assessment of SRT
Logical GTO propositions are all logically stated and inter-related:

(1) The stated (inverse) relationship between resource and problem (expectation) is logical.90

(2) The stated (positive) relationship between problem (crime) and call to police (resource) is logical.91

(3) The stated relationship between police (resource) and crime (problem) is contingent on (mis)match between kinds of police (resource) and types of crime (problem).92

Predictable SRT propositions are predictions of future event:
  1. Expectations predicts problem, i.e., the higher (absolute or relative) expectation the more, bigger or difficult the problem;
  2. Resource predicts problem, i.e., the more resource the less, lesser or easier the problem.
  3. Resource predicts call for police, i.e., the less the personal or communal resource, in quantity and kind, the more call to the police.
  4. Police (resource) availability predicts public satisfaction with police, i.e., the better resourced and resourceful the police the more satisfied the public.
Refutable All SRT propositions are refutable through empirical hypothesis testing:

Do rich vs. poor people have more crime, and crime related problems?

Can police solve white collar crime problem?

V. What is a good theory?

A good theory answer questions of what and why:

“We agree with scholars like Kaplan (1964) and Merton (1967) who assert that theory is the answer to queries of why. Theory is about the connections among phenomena, a story about why acts, events, structure and thoughts occur. Theory emphasizes the nature of causal relationships, identifying what comes first as well as the timing of such events.”93

In terms of structure a good theory should be general, universal, simple, direct explicit, and useful. Theory is general when it can be broadly applied to different cases, context, or situation, from a specific case under observation. Theory is universal when it is not contingent. Theory is simple when it is parsimonious and succinct. Theory is direct when it is not mediated or be conditioned on by any other events. Theory is explicit when it is clear on its face. Theory is useful when it helps us to understand and predict things.

Table III: How good is SRT?

Criteria Assessment of SRT
General SRT is a general theory of a middle range.94 As such it helps us to understand concrete idea in abstract form and particular action in a general way. Abstraction allows us to see things beyond the immediate and concrete, e.g., crime as problem and police power as resource. Generalization allows us to apply what we observe to other cases and situations, in time and space, e.g., resourceful people do not call police for help.
Universal SRT is a universal theory subject to no exception and contingency, with time, place, and people. All people have problems.95 All problems result from resource deficits.96 All people call police for help as a resource in the last resort.97
Simple SRT is a simple theory. It has very few general principles:

First, the principle of resource driven problem.

Second, the principle of people driven problem solution.

Third, the principle of police as a social resource.

Fourth, the principle of supply and demand of resource.

Direct SRT is a simple theory. All postulated relationships are not mediated nor contingent. Thus:

Resourceful public will have little reason to call police.

Police must be as resourceful as the problem.

Explicit SRT is explicit with its assumptions (democratic), definitions, relationships and testing process. Nothing is hidden from view.
Useful SRT is useful to the theorists, policy makers, practitioners and public.

VI. What are the contributions of SRT?

SRT is useful for police scholar and practitioners. For the former, SRT makes a number of theoretical advances, challenging old paradigm and prospecting new ideas. For the later, it offers new ideas to improve police work, making it more democratic, efficient and effective.

First, SRT is seeking a paradigm shift in policing (from state policing, to people’s policing, from police as service provider to police as resource manager, from POP to PPOP) and conceptual change with police as professionals (in identity, values, role).98

Second, SRT offers a true scientific theory that is logical, general, predictable and refutable.

Third, SRT is build upon general principle and abstract concepts which allow us to connect to, benefited from and enrich by other intellectual realms.

Fourth, SRT allows us to interrogate the old, e.g., questioning the definition and limitations of “problem” (Goldstein), or challenging the understanding of police as a coercive force (Bittner).

Fifth, SRT helps us to prospect the new. What is a crime to the people? How do crime look and feel like beyond the confine of the law or outside the bureaucracy of the police? How to make old police CSO (community service officers) to become new CRO (community resource officers)?

Sixth, SRT offers a theory which answers three of the most important questions posed about policing in modern society. What is (role and functions of) the police? Why do public call the police? What is the relationship between police and the people?

VII. What are some of the problems and issues with SRT?

There are a number of issues that still need to be worked out:

  1. If it is up to the individual or community to solve a problem, what is the role of the police with respect to a problem within its mandate, e.g., serious crime (not social crime)?
  2. If it is up to the individual or community to solve a problem, what if the individual or community is willing but not able, or able but not willing to take care of the problem? What is the role of the community in relationship to the individual?
  3. If it is up to the community to solve a problem, what if there are different values and interests within the community and they do not agree? How can such a problem be solved?

VIII. What needs to be done to perfect the theory?

There is much work to be done:

  1. We need to develop typologies for the manifestation and effect of (crime) problems on people, e.g., one time vs. recurring vs. long term; demand vs. supply; material vs. psychological; simple vs. complex; economic vs. emotional problems.
  2. We need to develop typologies and functions of various resources, available at individual, community society and police level.
  3. We need to investigate how different kinds of people (SES, ethnic, sex, age, culture) conceive and solve different problems.
  4. We need to investigate how different people use different kinds of resources to solve different problems.
  5. We need to investigate when and how different people (not) invoke police resource to solve different problems.
  6. We need to investigate what kinds of resources police have access to for different kinds of problems.
  7. We need to investigate how police react to different people demand for resources with different problems.
  8. We need to investigate the convertability of coercive vs. incentive resources.
  9. We need to investigate how to audit problems and resources at individual and community level;
  10. We need to investigation how to match police resources with people’s problems.
  11. We need to investigate the pattern and process of supply of resources vs. demand of problem resources in a community.
  12. We need to investigate the relationship between supply of police resources vs. demand for resources by public.
  13. We need to investigate the affect of supply vs. demand of resources on police conduct.



The whole purpose of this long article is to introduce a new way of thinking about CP, making policing a people’s business and problem solving exercise. This new way of CP is encapsulated in a new theory of policing: “State Police as a State Resource Theory”.

SRT argues there are many reasons for engaging the people in policing themselves:

First, the people have the right to participate in their own governance. This is the idea and ideal of localism in the U.S.99 wherein all the powers of the central government come from the people. While federalism envisions a government from the top down, localism conceives of a government from the bottoms up. The legal status and relationship of local associations to central authority (state) is best captured by the U.S. Supreme Court in Avery v. Midland County 100 “Legislators enact many laws but do not attempt to reach those countless matters of local concern necessarily left wholly or partly to those who govern at the local level.” 101

Second, the people have the responsibility to fight crime. This is the notion of “communitarianism” in which is defined as “a mindset that says the whole community needs to take responsibility for itself. People need to actively participate, not just give their opinions … but instead give time, energy, and money.”102

Third, the people is in the best position to see that “people’s justice” is done, including making decisions on who to police, what to police and how to police. This is idea that the community notion of order and justice prevails over the rule of law.103

Fourth, the people were deemed to be more motivated, thus more vigilant, as an oppressed class to detect the counter-revolutionaries. This is idea that citizens of a state, as with employees of an organization, naturally seek responsibility if they are allowed to “own” a problem. “The average human being learns, under proper conditions, not only to accept but to seek responsibility.”104

Fifth, the people are in the best position, being more able, efficient, and effective in conducting the people’s business. This is the notion in that the public is the best source of intelligence for the police.105

Sixth, the police could not be everywhere the same time and in any one place all the time. This is especially the case in the sparsely populated area: e.g., border and rural areas It is unlikely that the police could be informed of illegal activities unless informed by the people.106


Anonymous said...

Dear Niki, Thank you for your work. I just finished reading and bookmarking for re-reading, your article at NewsWithViews, The Quiet Revolution.
Best regards,

MAST said...

Great job Niki and may the police be with you.
BTW: Would you happen to know why police (english) and policia (spanish) as well as pulizija (maltese) are all the same? If you can solve this maybe you'll win a pulitzer.

the tent lady said...

Thanks BR, I've avoided keeping up with the COPS program since I don't live in Seattle anymore, but with the whole topic of fusion centers in the news I thought people might want to know where the idea originated.

I sent Prof Wong my rebuttal to his conclusions and he sent his response and promised more to come. I will post this exchange if people want to see it. I couldn't understand why he would send me a theory based in communitarianism when I am so obviously against it.

Mast I can't watch you tube on my connection. what am i missing? And I have no idea why they are all the same, although Dr. Kelly Ross attributes the creation of the word "police" to Hegel. And, if I wanted a Pulitzer I'd write porno.