The power of promoting the interests of society as a whole by limiting the freedom of an individual to act or use his property at will. In particular, the constitutional power available to a sovereign authority to legislate so as to impair the use or value of private property for the benefit of the public at large. The right of a government, especially of a state, to restrict, regulate and control the individual's free use of land and buildings by law and precept—as by taxation, public health and building regulations, historic building regulation, zoning ordinances, nuisance and pollution or environmental controls and, in some jurisdictions, rent control. A power that may be exercised, without compensation, provided it is intended for the public good; is not aimed to affect only one individual or only one parcel of land; is not clearly arbitrary and unreasonable; and has a
reasonable relation to the public health, safety, morals, peace and quiet
or general welfare (Commonwealth v. Alger, 7 Cush 53 (Mass 1851); Hadacheck v. Sebastian, 239 US 394, 36 S Ct 143, 410-11, 60 L Ed 348, 356 (1915); Village of Euclid v. Amber Realty Co., 272 US 365, 47 S Ct 114, 71 L Ed 303, 314 (1926); Berman v. Parker, 348 US 26, 75 S Ct 98, 99 L Ed 27, 37—Anno: Federal Police Power (1954)).
'Police power' is based on the maxim sic utere tuo et alienum non lædas, 'so use your own property
as not to injure another's'; and has developed into the power of the state to limit the unhindered use of land—"the powers of government inherent in every sovereignty to the extent of its dominions. … the power to govern men and things within the limits of its dominion", License Cases, 5 Howard 504, 46 US 504, 581, 12 L Ed 256, 291 (1847) (American Federation of Labor v. American Sash & Door Co., 67 Ariz 20, 189 P.2d 912, 916, 6 ALR2d 481 (1948); 16A Am.Jur.2d., Constitutional Law, § 361).
The principle of 'police power', although of Anglo-Saxon derivation, may be applied to the regulation of any developed civilization. Thus, in English law in regard to the of the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 1 of Protocol 1 which protects the right to property, it has been said that "[a]ll democratic societies recognise that while there are certain basic rights which attach to the ownership of property, they are heavily qualified by considerations of the public interest. Thus … property may be taken by the state, on payment of compensation, if the public interest so requires … and the use of property may be restricted on similar grounds", R (on the application of Alconbury Developments Limited) v Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions  2 AC 295, 325,  2 All ER 929, 981 (HL).
In the US, the term is more generally used to refer to the authority conferred on the individual states by the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution and, in turn, delegated to local governments, through which the states are enabled to regulate the activity of the individual, in particular in his or her use of property. This 'police power', which may be used to control and regulate the use of land, may be distinguished from eminent domain, for the latter involves "the 'taking' of property because of its need for public use while the former involves the regulation of such property to prevent the use thereof in a manner that is detrimental to the public interest. The police power may be loosely described as the power of the sovereign to prevent persons under its jurisdiction from conducting themselves or using their property to the detriment of the general welfare" 1 Nichols on Eminent Domain (Rev. 3rd ed.), § 1.42.
On the other hand, if the exercise of police power goes so far as to totally impede the proper or beneficial use of land, or if it amounts to a restriction not truly related to the regulation the development, then it may amount to a 'taking' and, therefore, require the payment of just compensation to the landowner (Pennsylvania Coal Co. v. Mahon, 260 US 393, 416, 43 S Ct 158, 67 L Ed 322, 28 ALR 1321 (1922); Dolan v. City of Tigard, 512 US 374, 114 S Ct 2309, 129 L Ed.2d 304, 323 (1994); Corn v. City of Lauderdale Lakes, 95 F.3d 1066, 1074-6 (11th Cir. Fla 1966)). cf. inverse condemnation.
See also aesthetic, building controls, bundle of rights theory, condemnation, escheat, ordinance.
16A Am.Jur.2d., Constitutional Law, §§ 360-438.
101A Cor.Jur.Sec., Zoning & Land Planning, §§ 20-28.
5B Powell on Real Property, Ch. 79 'Police Power'.
B.W. Blaesser and A.C. Weinstein. Land Use and the Constitution (1989).
R.A. Cunningham et al. The Law of Real Property (2d ed. 1993), § 9.2 'The Police Power, Due Process, and the "Taking" Issue'.
R.R. Wright and M. Gitelman. Land Use: Cases and Materials (5th ed. 1997), Ch. V 'Property Rights, Police Power, and Taking'.
J. Metzenbaum. The Law of Zoning, Ch. 5 (1930), 'The Police Power'.
Rathkopf's Law of Zoning and Planning, Ch. 1 'Background of Police Power and Zoning Regulation'.
1 Williams American Land Planning Law (1988 Revision), §§ 7.01-7.05, 8.01-8.03.
E.C. Yokley. Zoning Law and Practice (4th ed. 1978), Ch. 3 'Police Power'.