Police Powers Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Police Powers, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Police Powers?

It is the basic power vested in the state/government to regulate, restrict or limit the private rights in interest of the public welfare, law and order and security.

History and Meaning of Police Powers

Police Powers are the quintessential feature of governance and an essential element of any state. The term signifies the power wielded by governmental authorities to limit or restrict private interests in favor of the well-being of society at large. Derived from the Latin term "politia", meaning governance, police powers have their roots in ancient Roman law.

In the United States, police powers originate from the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, which essentially delegates all legislative powers not specified in the Constitution to the states. This means that state governments have the power to enact laws in the interest of public health, safety, and morals. The federal government also has police powers under the Commerce Clause.

Examples of Police Powers

  1. The government of a particular state enacts a law making it mandatory for all motorcycle riders to wear helmets for safety reasons thereby infringing on individual freedom.
  2. The right to eminent domain, which is the government's power to take private property for public use, such as building a highway or a public park.
  3. The ability of the government to mandate quarantine or isolation during a public health crisis to limit the spread of disease.
  4. The government's ability to establish safety regulations, such as building codes, to ensure public safety.
  5. The power of the government to regulate the conduct of businesses, such as requiring them to have licenses or permits, in order to protect consumers.

Legal Terms Related to Police Powers

  1. Due process- the right to a fair hearing or procedure when individual rights are affected.
  2. Constitutionality- the measure of whether a statute or law conforms to the constitution.
  3. Public health- the government's duty to protect and promote the health of the population.