Unwarranted: Policing Without Permission Book Review


Police play an indispensable role in our society., says Barry Friedman. But the peoples failure to supervise the police has left us all in peril. Unwarranted: Policing Without Permission is a critical, timely intervention into debates about policing, a call to take responsibility for governing those who govern us. The book is interesting and certainly gets you to thinking while at the same time brings you through a range of emotions as you read the ideas, discussed in the book.

For me, someone who was a police officer for 30 years I have certainly seen the United States Constitution, state and local laws, and procedures adapted by police in efforts to bring about justice. Some may have been abuses but most I feel were police applying their knowledge to situations unfolding on the street which is all too often gathering the pieces of the puzzle in dangerous and rapidly changing conditions, with little time and not enough resources. Not an excuse for abuses but it is a reality in much of policing.  Mr. Friedman does work with police officers and states in the book:

Given the nature of this book, and the unfortunate reality of twenty-first century America, you are about to read one story after another about some way in which policing went off the rails. These stories implicate everyone from cops on the beat to the head of the National Security Agency. And you'll meet many perfectly innocent people who did not deserve what happened to them. (You'll meet plenty of guilty people too, though we still should ask questions about the methods used to apprehend them.)  

Even so, this is not a book about the failures of the police. I want to make that clear at the outset. I am going to call out two responsible parties repeatedly throughout this book, and neither are the police themselves. 

The first actors responsible for the woes of policing today are the courts, which have done a perfectly appalling job of one of the chief tasks we have given them: protecting our basic liberties. 

...The second party is the rest of us. we have abdicated our most fundamental responsibility as citizens in a democracy: to be in charge of those who act in our name. 

Unwarranted tells the stories of ordinary people whose lives were torn apart by policing—by the methods of cops on the beat, which is where I worked. He also discusses throughout the book those modern technological methods used by the FBI and NSA, in an effort to stop terrorist attacks. Friedman says; "Driven by technology, policing has changed dramatically. Once, cops sought out bad guys; today, increasingly militarized forces conduct wide surveillance of all of us."  In the United States we have always been arguing the balance of freedom and security and as time change we most likely always will. Freedom is so dear to Americans as it should be. This topic always brings to my mind the words of Benjamin Franklin:

"Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”

Many police who will read this book may feel that Friedman is anti-cop but after reading every page, my opinion is,  he is not. He is a academic, a scholar, who seems legitimately and deeply concerned  about not the police themselves but with how the courts have broadened the United States Constitution to the point its intent has been clouded.

My experience has been police officers get much training and updates on their local and state laws but very little training in the constitution. Upgrading and officers knowledge in the United States Constitution to a high level of professionalism, you would think would be an obvious thing, to ensure police work within the confines of it. This I would argue was suppose to be the courts systems job, with prosecutors and judges independently overseeing a police officers work, to ensure they are working within the law. After-all cops are not lawyers!

Police play an indispensable role in our society. But our failure to supervise them has left us all in peril. Unwarranted is a critical, timely intervention into debates about policing, a call to take responsibility for governing those who govern us. 

I  agree with Barry Friedman that police should be monitored by the people. This in my humble opinion was suppose to be what the courts do? He is big throughout the book on more rules and procedures and less police discretion will help in this area. I would argue, its more discretion police need, not less.The constitution and laws gives all the rules we need. However policing has added policies and procedures to the mix, which i would argue have created more problems, in stifling police officer initiative and overall efforts of the beat cop to use his discretion on the street, which would in many cases end with police officers giving consideration to people they police. Policy and procedures have often under the guise of "procedures are just guidelines" and the beat cop still has discretion, turns into "it just easier to follow the procedure, despite the law" so the cop stays out of trouble, internal trouble, that is!

Over my 30 years of policing police discretion has slowly evolved into cops being afraid to make decisions on the street, many of those decisions I submit would lead to, youth or mentally ill, substance addicted people, being counseled in the field or handle with treatment or some other alternative to arrest. Too many rules have lead to decisions, all too often being made with liability and more numbers (arrests, citations, criminal complaints), in mind, not the best outcomes. A police officers mission is to protect and serve, hence decisions should be made on how best to help and reshape a situation in communities, not solely on the numbers and statistics.

"Cause is what spells the line between lawful and lawless policing: without just cause a good reason the governments use of coercive force runs the risk of being arbitrary, discriminatory, or just plain senseless." 

I have never been more conflicted about what is the right way of policing a free society, than i have been over the last few years of my career. I do believe police do a great job under tough conditions the vast majority of the time.   Yes we have had our bad apples and those bad apples when they wield the power to take someones freedom away can have a profound affect on how people view the police. But policing has few real leaders willing to address the problems such as insufficient training and education that lead to a high level of professionalism.  Yes policing has more highly educated people, more people with degrees. Knowledge is important but all too often formal education and the paper degree is not enough. Training and development must be our focus as well. This takes that knowledge a formal education gives us, and brings new meaning to training, which is, how to do. Education or, how to think and develops people who can adapt to changing conditions and reach the outcomes the seek which are all too often complex and rapidly changing crisis situations.

Unwarranted:Policing Without Permission is and interesting and important read for 2017. Well written and thought out, with examples that are painful to think about but show, we need to continually learn and fix the system. The cops can't do it alone. Community Policing a philosophy that works when its robustly applied, but is all too often a buzzword sparsely implemented. Community and Policing working together is what it does mean. Sir Robert Peels seventh principal does apply:

“Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and 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 interests of community welfare and existence.”

Unwarranted: Policing Without Permission brings to mind numerous thoughts and questions for me: How do we alter public expectations? How do we reshape the view people have of the police? How do we help people understand that to police fair and impartially and procedural just that at times police must, use force up to and including deadly force? How do we get people to understand that in policing a free society, freedom that which we value so much can be taken away? This is a tightrope act for policing that’s very tough to walk. Herman Goldstein points out in his book Policing a Free Society:


The police are constantly criticized for not meeting goals that cannot possibly be achieved. A newspaper editorial, for example, chides the local police for a rising crime rate. A group of citizens complains that then police have failed to enforce the prohibition against the use of marijuana. An investigating commission castigates the police for failing to remove several hecklers from admits a large and unruly audience. In all these situations the police are seriously limited in what they can do by the laws under which they operate, by tactical considerations, by the lack of adequate personnel, and by factors over which they have no control. This, for example, in the case of crime, factors like the birth rate, unemployment, the sense of community that exists in a given neighborhood, and even the weather probably have much more to do with incidents of crime than do the police.

Yet most view the inability of the police to deal with these problems as a failure. In order to avoid such criticism, the police often attempt the impossible. This may involve taking shortcuts, acting improperly or illegally, or following unwise procedures. Aside from inviting more criticism, such responses perpetuate public expectations that are unrealistic.

The police must ask themselves is presenting a tough, albeit undefined, stance is of such importance that it offsets the cost in not sharing with the community a more precise description of police capabilities. Greater openness regarding their true capacity in handling various aspects of their business would greatly reduce the pressures now brought to bear upon the police. It would increase the willingness of the public to provide the police with additional resources when such a need is demonstrated. And it would increase the likelihood that the public would more aggressively explore alternatives for dealing with some of the problems now regulated to the police a development which is long overdue.

The situation is so aggravated, at the moment, that the chief of police who is truthful in assessing police potential runs the risk of being replaced by one who is willing to assert the omnipotence of his agency, misleading as this may be. One cannot, therefore, expect to correct present practices overnight. But the need to develop both more rational form of policing and a more rational response to some of the problems with which the police cope compels a gradual retreat from the position that police administrators have traditionally assumed.” (Goldstein, 1977)

We want the public to believe and feel that the procedures and practices that police adhere to are “just”. Police have discretion on what, when, and how to enforce those lawful procedures and practices. High feelings of Procedural Justice will encourage citizens to cooperate with police and help reduce violence and crime which adds up to a safer community. It is important to understand that the public’s perception of legitimacy will be subjective and vary among individuals and communities.

Although a judge can determine if a police action was lawful, and a police supervisor can determine whether an officer acted within the bounds of departmental policy, the citizen will form their own opinions about whether they view the actions of an officer as measured or excessive, as impartial or discriminatory. People base their perception on the respect they receive, if the officer is being fair in their judgment and decisions and finally if the officer is understanding and competent.

The realty of policing a free society is wrapped full of paradoxes. The police by their very function are an anomaly in a free society. Because of this fact it’s important that police do not become preoccupied with their internal operations and lose sight of the fact that the ultimate measure of effectiveness is the quality of their outcomes and how the community perceives them. Again why I believe we need less rules and more discretion guided by The United States Constitution.

I recommend this book because it will get you to think about police, the tough job they have and how it impacts the people we police. I did not agree with everything in this book as i explained above, but i do think Mr. Friedman tried to bring forth his argument fairly although their were times I sensed (i say sensed because I have never meant the man) negative biases of his own towards the police, but this is perhaps me, showing my own positive biases towards police.  If your a police officer read Unwarranted: Policing Without permission  with and open-mind and heart.

Stay Oriented!