February: Constitutional Policing

February 22, 2024


The big picture: American policing is shaped and guided by constitutional principles.

The U.S. Constitution has guided us with powerful words written more than two centuries ago; words that have never been more important than they are today, in a tumultuous world.

And while the term “constitutional policing” has become common, more common usage doesn’t mean it’s widely understood or that it’s not misinterpreted to simply mean lawful policing.



The Law Enforcement Knowledge Lab highlights the term’s depth, saying in part, “[constitutional policing offers] a framework to ensure fair, impartial, and effective enforcement of the law that is consistent with constitutional principles, democratic values, and community expectations.

Other definitions of the term exist, but the essence remains the same: treating citizens fairly, justly, and according to the rights granted by the longest surviving written charter of government.


What science says: Risk of harm to police and community relations can outweigh crime reduction potential.

In a 2023 study, NPI’s Chief Science Advisor, Dr. David Weisburd, and his colleagues looked at the commonly known and controversial pedestrian stop model of stop, question, and frisk (SQF) and its application in modern policing. The study asks if SQFs are a proactive policing strategy and how they might impact community perceptions.

Using a systematic review of available research, the study found that proactive pedestrian stop interventions can have crime prevention benefits, but these benefits are likely outweighed by the strong, negative outcomes experienced by the people who are stopped.

These findings confirm that risk of harm to police and community relations can outweigh crime reduction potential. 

Learn more about the SQF study, including impacts on the health and future delinquency of those who are stopped in this research translation courtesy of the Law Enforcement Knowledge Lab.


Constitutional policing in action: How one Sheriff thinks about policing in a democracy. 

“Co-Creating Community Wellness and Safety, Providing Exemplary Service, and Building Strong and Sustainable Communities.” The Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office’s mission statement is anything but traditional, as is its leadership. We sat down with Sheriff Jerry Clayton to talk culture, courage, and policing in a democracy. Dive in.


We’re listening: Former Boulder Police Chief says constitutional policing is our North Star.

Former Boulder Police Chief Maris Herold emphasizes fairness and due process when applying constitutional concepts to policing. Now overseeing the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s (BJA) Law Enforcement Knowledge Lab, Herold reflects on how the Constitution lays the foundation for policing in a free society.


We’re watching: Three police executives leading the conversation on police and communities of color.

Inspired by the powerful journey of three men in Selma, Alabama, the 54th Mile Policing Project aims to foster connections, understanding, and trust between police and community members. Through education, outreach, and collaboration, the project embodies constitutional policing ideals and promotes fairness and trust, two concepts essential to overall public safety.

NPI, with support from BJA, the project’s founders and partners, will create and pilot a training curriculum for law enforcement executives and develop an online platform and outreach campaign that reaches across the policing profession. Learn more and stay updated at


The bottom line: Constitutional policing is a promise made and a promise that must be kept.

At the end of the day, we all desire precisely what the Constitution laid out for us: just, fair, and impartial treatment so we can each enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Constitutional policing does not require endless resources but instead courage from police leaders, an organizational culture grounded in freedom and democracy, and a community that is ready and readily received in partnership with law enforcement to produce public safety.

We hope your agency is already on the right track. If you want to continue exploring this concept and its application, here are a few resources to consider:

  • Open this toolkit. The Law Enforcement Knowledge Lab offers a constitutional policing toolkit focusing on five core issues facing policing today. Resources are designed to help your agency uphold the rights and freedoms of those you serve.
  • Bring in expertise. The Law Enforcement Knowledge Lab also offers resources, consultations, and short-term technical assistance across various topics under the constitutional policing umbrella.
  • Learn from others. NPI recently partnered with the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) to analyze pattern or practice investigations initiated by the Department of Justice. The analysis identifies commonly cited issues and offers insights that agencies can use to strengthen their approaches as part of continuous reviews.
  • Consider technology. Agencies must stay current with new and emerging technology. They must also develop evidence-based best practices for using technology in a manner that’s permissible under the Constitution and agreeable to the community. Stay tuned for the work our team is doing to ensure digital trust.