Many people mistakenly believe that the term police power is self-explanatory. They incorrectly assume that it refers to the authorities granted to law enforcement agencies. These authorities are included among the police powers exercised in modern society, but this is not the essence of the term. When accurately used, this phrase refers to the rights of governments to make laws or regulations. This power is what provides the ability for governments to divide into more local units and to create agencies that are supposed to provide citizen services.
It is because of police power that governments can make laws, regulations, and subdivide into smaller units. In the United States, this authority is said to be based on the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The laws and regulations that are developed from police power are supposed to be limited to those that protect public health, safety, and morals. Examples of the government bodies that possess this type of authority include states, counties, and towns. There are instances documented in case law where governments abuse this power and attempt to exercise excess authority.
Police power generally exists in hierarchies. A national government may have police power granted by its constitution. It will then pass this on to the next level of government, for instance a state. The power will be continually passed along. Each time that this happens another governing body is legitimized and can regulate the citizens in its jurisdiction.
With their police power, different levels of government assign themselves a number of tasks. These include setting speed limits, defining and enforcing laws, and collecting taxes. In the U.S., this type of power is said to be limited to making regulations that protect public health, safety, and morals. The ability to create this hierarchy is supposed to be based on the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Police power can be viewed as has having positive and negative aspects. Its greatest benefit is that it involves governments that obligate themselves to take care of the people. Without police power, there would be no social services and no police departments, for example.
The sinister contrast is that governments tend to use this power to continually expand their authority. In the U.S., there is case law where citizens have successfully sued governments for abusing their power. These cases tend to involve situations in which a government has exercised authority in a manner that is deemed unrelated to benefiting the public.