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Police History

It is no secret that America inherited much of its governmental institutions from Great Britain. American law enforcement is no exception. British policing can be traced back to before the Norman Conquest of England in 1066.

The first Europeans who landed on our shores, found a strange and wondrous new land, inhabited by strange and wondrous people. The newcomers had all they could do to establish themselves and to protect themselves from those who did not wish to share their land. Thus, policing was the responsibility of all able-bodied men, and, of course, young boys as well.

After "things" got fairly well settled the job of maintaining order in the new colonies was given to Justices of the Peace, and one might see "culprits" in pillories or stocks, paying their debt to society. But, as colonies changed into towns and towns into cities, the Justice of the Peace system was not enough. It became time for an organized, and paid, police force.

In 1636 the city of Boston established Night Watch, which idea worked reasonably well as long as the area remained a rural and agrarian one. New York City established the Shout and Rattle Watch in 1651, but, by 1705 Philadelphia found it necessary to divide the city into ten patrol areas.

In the almost 100 years between the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, the more than rapid growth of population and industrialization in America mandated the development of municipal police departments. In 1833, Philadelphia organized an independent, 24 hour a day, police force. In 1844, New York City had two police forces; daytime duty and the night watch. During this period, police departments were headed by police chiefs, appointed and accountable to political bosses. Corruption was commonplace.

Part of the inherited law enforcement was the Sheriff system. (Remember the dastardly Sheriff of Nottingham from Robin Hood?) As America moved toward the west, in most frontier towns the Sheriff was the chief law enforcement official. He could be recruited from the local community, or more often a Sheriff was selected by his reputation, and not always a savory one. The Sheriff system still exists today, but, on a more formal and politicized basis.

Todays law enforcement agencies and departments are highly specialized organizations, with ongoing training to prepare to meet a great variety of problems and situations. Today we have federal, state, county, and municipal police. The world, our world, has gotten to be a most dangerous place, and we all are dependent on peace officers from every organization for our" life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

A police force is a constituted body of persons empowered by the state to enforce the law, protect property, and limit civil disorder. Their powers include the legitimized use of force. The term is most commonly associated with police services of a state that are authorized to exercise the police power of that state within a defined legal or territorial area of responsibility. Police forces are often defined as being separate from military or other organizations involved in the defense of the state against foreign aggressors; however, gendarmerie are military units charged with civil policing.

Law enforcement, however, constitutes only part of policing activity. Policing has included an array of activities in different situations, but the predominant ones are concerned with the preservation of order. In some societies, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, these developed within the context of maintaining the class system and the protection of private property. Some parts of the world may suffer from police corruption. The police force is usually a public sector service, meaning they usually get paid by the taxpayer.

Alternative names for police force include constabulary, gendarmerie, police department, police service, crime prevention, protective services, law enforcement agency, civil guard or civic guard. Members may be referred to as police officers, troopers, sheriffs, constables, rangers, peace officers or civic/civil guards. Police of the Soviet-era Eastern Europe were (or are, in some cases, as in Belarus) called the militsiya. The Irish police are called the Garda Síochána ("guardians of the peace"); a police officer is called a garda. And although the word "police" comes from Greek (see next section), the Greek police is Αστυνομία (Astynomia).

As police are often interacting with individuals, slang terms are numerous. Many slang terms for police officers are decades or centuries old with lost etymology. Polls have shown that Muslims and ethnic minorities are less likely to trust the police than the national average

Ancient policing

Law enforcement in Ancient China was carried out by "prefects" for thousands of years since it developed in both the Chu and Jin kingdoms of the Spring and Autumn period. In Jin, dozens of prefects were spread across the state, each having limited authority and employment period. They were appointed by local magistrates, who reported to higher authorities such as governors, who in turn were appointed by the emperor, and they oversaw the civil administration of their "prefecture", or jurisdiction. Under each prefect were "subprefects" who helped collectively with law enforcement of the area. Some prefects were responsible for handling investigations, much like modern police detectives. Prefects could also be women. The concept of the "prefecture system" would spread to other cultures such as Korea and Japan.

In Ancient Greece, publicly owned slaves were used by magistrates as police. In Athens, a group of 300 Scythian slaves (the ῥαβδοῦχοι, "rod-bearers") was used to guard public meetings to keep order and for crowd control, and also assisted with dealing with criminals, handling prisoners, and making arrests. Other duties associated with modern policing, such as investigating crimes, were left to the citizens themselves.

In the Roman Empire, the Army, rather than a dedicated police organization, provided security. Local watchmen were hired by cities to provide some extra security. Magistrates such as procurators fiscal and quaestors investigated crimes. There was no concept of public prosecution, so victims of crime or their families had to organize and manage the prosecution themselves.

Under the reign of Augustus, when the capital had grown to almost one million inhabitants, 14 wards were created; the wards were protected by seven squads of 1,000 men called "vigiles", who acted as firemen and nightwatchmen. Their duties included apprehending thieves and robbers and capturing runaway slaves. The vigiles were supported by the Urban Cohorts who acted as a heavy-duty anti-riot force and the even the Praetorian Guard if necessary.

Medieval policing

The hermandades of Medieval Spain were formed to protect pilgrims on the road to Santiago de Compostela.

In Medieval Spain, hermandades, or "brotherhoods", peacekeeping associations of armed individuals, were a characteristic of municipal life, especially in Castile. As medieval Spanish kings often could not offer adequate protection, protective municipal leagues began to emerge in the 12th century against bandits and other rural criminals, and against the lawless nobility or to support one or another claimant to a crown.

These organizations were intended to be temporary, but became a long-standing fixture of Spain. The first recorded case of the formation of an hermandad occurred when the towns and the peasantry of the north united to police the pilgrim road to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, and protect the pilgrims against robber knights.

Throughout the Middle Ages such alliances were frequently formed by combinations of towns to protect the roads connecting them, and were occasionally extended to political purposes. Among the most powerful was the league of North Castilian and Basque ports, the Hermandad de las marismas: Toledo, Talavera, and Villarreal.

As one of their first acts after end of the War of the Castilian Succession in 1479, Ferdinand and Isabella established the centrally organized and efficient Holy Brotherhood (Santa Hermandad) as a national police force. They adapted an existing brotherhood to the purpose of a general police acting under officials appointed by themselves, and endowed with great powers of summary jurisdiction even in capital cases. The original brotherhoods continued to serve as modest local police-units until their final suppression in 1835.

The Fehmic courts of Germany provided some policing in the absence of strong state institutions.

In France during the Middle Ages, there were two Great Officers of the Crown of France with police responsibilities: The Marshal of France and the Constable of France. The military policing responsibilities of the Marshal of France were delegated to the Marshal's provost, whose force was known as the Marshalcy because its authority ultimately derived from the Marshal. The marshalcy dates back to the Hundred Years' War, and some historians trace it back to the early 12th century. Another organisation, the Constabulary (French: Connétablie), was under the command of the Constable of France. The constabulary was regularised as a military body in 1337. Under King Francis I (who reigned 1515–1547), the Maréchaussée was merged with the Constabulary. The resulting force was also known as the Maréchaussée, or, formally, the Constabulary and Marshalcy of France.

The English system of maintaining public order since the Norman conquest was a private system of tithings, led by a constable, which was based on a social obligation for the good conduct of the others; more common was that local lords and nobles were responsible for maintaining order in their lands, and often appointed a constable, sometimes unpaid, to enforce the law. There was also a system investigative "juries".

The Assize of Arms of 1252, which required the appointment of constables to summon men to arms, quell breaches of the peace, and to deliver offenders to the sheriffs or reeves, is cited as one of the earliest creation of the English police. The Statute of Winchester of 1285 is also cited as the primary legislation regulating the policing of the country between the Norman Conquest and the Metropolitan Police Act 1829.

From about 1500, private watchmen were funded by private individuals and organisations to carry out police functions. They were later nicknamed 'Charlies', probably after the reigning monarch King Charles II. Thief-takers were also rewarded for catching thieves and returning the stolen property.

The first use of the word police ("Polles") in English comes from the book "The Second Part of the Institutes of the Lawes of England" published in 1642

Early Modern policing

The first centrally organised police force was created by the government of King Louis XIV in 1667 to police the city of Paris, then the largest city in Europe. The royal edict, registered by the Parlement of Paris on March 15, 1667 created the office of lieutenant général de police ("lieutenant general of police"), who was to be the head of the new Paris police force, and defined the task of the police as "ensuring the peace and quiet of the public and of private individuals, purging the city of what may cause disturbances, procuring abundance, and having each and everyone live according to their station and their duties".

Gabriel Nicolas de la Reynie, founder of the first uniformed police force in the world.

This office was first held by Gabriel Nicolas de la Reynie, who had 44 commissaires de police (police commissioners) under his authority. In 1709, these commissioners were assisted by inspecteurs de police (police inspectors). The city of Paris was divided into 16 districts policed by the commissaires, each assigned to a particular district and assisted by a growing bureaucracy. The scheme of the Paris police force was extended to the rest of France by a royal edict of October 1699, resulting in the creation of lieutenants general of police in all large French cities and towns.

After the French Revolution, Napoléon I reorganized the police in Paris and other cities with more than 5,000 inhabitants on February 17, 1800 as the Prefecture of Police. On March 12, 1829, a government decree created the first uniformed police in France, known as sergents de ville ("city sergeants"), which the Paris Prefecture of Police's website claims were the first uniformed policemen in the world.

In 1737, George II began paying some London and Middlesex watchmen with tax monies, beginning the shift to government control. In 1749 Henry Fielding began organizing a force of quasi-professional constables known as the Bow Street Runners. The Macdaniel affair added further impetus for a publicly salaried police force that did not depend on rewards. Nonetheless, In 1828, there were privately financed police units in no fewer than 45 parishes within a 10-mile radius of London.

The word "police" was borrowed from French into the English language in the 18th century, but for a long time it applied only to French and continental European police forces. The word, and the concept of police itself, were "disliked as a symbol of foreign oppression" (according to Britannica 1911). Before the 19th century, the first use of the word "police" recorded in government documents in the United Kingdom was the appointment of Commissioners of Police for Scotland in 1714 and the creation of the Marine Police in 1798.

The modern police force

Patrick Colquhoun, founder of the Thames River Police.

The basis for the modern police force was laid down by reformers at the turn of the 19th century, on the basis of Benthamite philosophy. In 1797, Patrick Colquhoun was able to persuade the West Indies merchants who operated at the Pool of London on the River Thames, to establish a police force at the docks to prevent rampant theft that was causing annual estimated losses of £500,000 worth of cargo. The idea of a police, as it then existed in France, was considered an affront to the liberal English. In building the case for the police in the face of England's firm anti-police sentiment, Colquhoun framed the political rationale on economic indicators to show that a police dedicated to crime prevention was "perfectly congenial to the principle of the British constitution." Moreover, he went so far as to praise the French system, which had reached "the greatest degree of perfection" in his estimation.

With the initial investment of £4,200, the new trial force of the Thames River Police began with about 50 men charged with policing 33,000 workers in the river trades, of whom Colquhoun claimed 11,000 were known criminals and "on the game." The force was a success after its first year, and his men had "established their worth by saving £122,000 worth of cargo and by the rescuing of several lives." Word of this success spread quickly, and the government passed the Marine Police Bill on 28 July 1800, transforming it from a private to public police agency; now the oldest police force in the world. Colquhoun published a book on the experiment, The Commerce and Policing of the River Thames. It found receptive audiences far outside London, and inspired similar forces in other countries, notably, New York, Dublin, and Sydney.

Colquhoun's utilitarian approach to the problem – using a cost-benefit argument to obtain support from businesses standing to benefit – allowed him to achieve what Henry and John Fielding failed for their Bow Street detectives. Unlike the stipendiary system at Bow Street, the river police were full-time, salaried officers prohibited from taking private fees. His other contribution was the concept of preventive policing; his police were to act as a highly visible deterrent to crime by their permanent presence on the Thames. Colquhoun's innovations were a critical development leading up to Robert Peel's "new" police three decades later.

A Peeler of the Metropolitan Police Service in the 1850s.

Meanwhile, the authorities in Glasgow, Scotland successfully petitioned the government to pass the Glasgow Police Act establishing the City of Glasgow Police in 1800. Other Scottish towns soon followed suit and set up their own police forces through acts of parliament. In Ireland, the Irish Constabulary Act of 1822 marked the beginning of the Royal Irish Constabulary. The Act established a force in each barony with chief constables and inspectors general under the control of the civil administration at Dublin Castle. By 1841 this force numbered over 8,600 men.

London was fast reaching a size unprecedented in world history, due to the onset of the Industrial Revolution. It became clear that the locally maintained system of volunteer constables and "watchmen" was ineffective, both in detecting and preventing crime. A parliamentary committee was appointed to investigate the system of policing in London. Upon Sir Robert Peel being appointed as Home Secretary in 1822, he established a second and more effective committee, and acted upon its findings.

Royal Assent to the Metropolitan Police Act was given, and the Metropolitan Police Service was established on September 29, 1829 in London as the first modern and professional police force in the world.

Sir Robert Peel, widely regarded as the father of modern policing, was heavily influenced by the social and legal philosophy of Jeremy Bentham, who called for a strong and centralized, but politically neutral police force for the maintenance of social order, for the protection of people from crime and to act as a visible deterrent to urban crime and disorder. Peel decided to standardise the police force as an official paid profession, to organise it in a civilian fashion, and to make it answerable to the public.

Albertine at the Police Doctor's Waiting Room, (1885-87), painting by Christian Krohg.

Due to public fears concerning the deployment of the military in domestic matters, Robert Peel organised the force along civilian lines, rather than paramilitary. To appear neutral, the uniform was deliberately manufactured in blue, rather than red which was then a military colour, along with the officers being armed only with a wooden truncheon and a rattle to signal the need for assistance. Along with this, police ranks did not include military titles, with the exception of Sergeant.

To distance the new police force from the initial public view of it as a new tool of government repression, Peel publicised the so-called 'Peelian Principles', which set down basic guidelines for ethical policing:

  • Every police officer should be issued an identification number, to assure accountability for his actions.
  • Whether the police are effective is not measured on the number of arrests, but on the lack of crime.
  • Above all else, an effective authority figure knows trust and accountability are paramount. Hence, Peel's most often quoted principle that "The police are the public and the public are the police."

Group portrait of policemen, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, England, c. 1900.

The 1829 Metropolitan Police Act created a modern police force by limiting the purview of the force and it's powers, and envisioning it as merely an organ of the judicial system. Their job was apolitical; to maintain the peace and apprehend criminals for the courts to process according to the law. This was very different to the 'Continental model' of the police force that had been developed in France, where the police force worked within the parameters of the absolutist state as an extension of the authority of the monarch and functioned as part of the governing state.

In 1863, the Metropolitan Police were issued with the distinctive Custodian helmet, and in 1884 they switched to the use of whistles that could be heard from much further away. The Metropolitan Police became a model for the police forces in most countries, such as the United States, and most of the British Empire. Bobbies can still be found in many parts of the Commonwealth of Nations.

Other countries


Police motorcycles are commonly used for patrols and escorts, as seen here in Australia

In Australia the first police force having centralised command as well as jurisdiction over an entire colony was the South Australia Police, formed in 1838 under Henry Inman.

However, whilst the New South Wales Police Force was established in 1862, it was made up from a large number of policing and military units operating within the then Colony of New South Wales and traces its links back to the Royal Marines. The passing of the Police Regulation Act of 1862 essentially tightly regulated and centralised all of the police forces operating throughout the Colony of New South Wales.

The New South Wales Police Force remains the largest police force in Australia in terms of personnel and physical resources. It is also the only police force that requires its recruits to undertake university studies at the recruit level and has the recruit pay for their own education.


Brazil's National Public Security Force (Força Nacional de Segurança Pública)

In 1566, the first police investigator of Rio de Janeiro was recruited. By the 17th century, most captaincies already had local units with law enforcement functions. On July 9, 1775 a Cavalry Regiment was created in Minas Gerais for maintaining law and order. In 1808, the Portuguese royal family relocated to Brazil, because of the French invasion of Portugal. King João VI established the "Intendência Geral de Polícia" (General Police Intendancy) for investigations. He also created a Royal Police Guard for Rio de Janeiro in 1809. In 1831, after independence, each province started organizing its local "military police", with order maintenance tasks. The Federal Railroad Police was created in 1852.


In Canada, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary was founded in 1729, making it the first police force in present-day Canada. It was followed in 1834 by the Toronto Police, and in 1838 by police forces in Montreal and Quebec City. A national force, the Dominion Police, was founded in 1868. Initially the Dominion Police provided security for parliament, but its responsibilities quickly grew. The famous Royal Northwest Mounted Police was founded in 1873. The merger of these two police forces in 1920 formed the world-famous Royal Canadian Mounted Police.


In Lebanon, modern police were established in 1861, with creation of the Gendarmerie.

United States

In British North America, policing was initially provided by local elected officials. For instance, the New York Sheriff's Office was founded in 1626, and the Albany County Sheriff's Department in the 1660s. In the colonial period, policing was provided by elected sheriffs and local militias.

In 1789 the U.S. Marshals Service was established, followed by other federal services such as the U.S. Parks Police (1791) and U.S. Mint Police (1792). The first city police services were established in Philadelphia in 1751, Richmond, Virginia in 1807, Boston in 1838, and New York in 1845. The U.S. Secret Service was founded in 1865 and was for some time the main investigative body for the federal government.

A Deputy U.S. Marshal covers his fellow officers with an M4 carbine during a "knock-and-announce" procedure

After the American Civil War, policing became more paramilitary in character, with the increased use of uniforms and military ranks. Before this, sheriff's offices had been non-uniformed organizations without a para-military hierarchy.

In the American Old West, policing was often of very poor quality. The Army often provided
some policing alongside poorly resourced sheriffs and temporarily organised posses. Public organizations
were supplemented by private contractors, notably the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, which was
hired by individuals, businessmen, local governments and the federal government. At its height, the
Pinkerton Agency's numbers exceeded those of the United States Army.

In recent years, in addition to federal, state, and local forces, some special districts have been formed to provide extra police protection in designated areas. These districts may be known as neighborhood improvement districts, crime prevention districts, or security districts.

In 2005, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that police do not have a constitutional duty to protect a person from harm.

There are more than 900,000 sworn law enforcement officers now serving in the United States.

Development of Theory

Michel Foucault claims that the contemporary concept of police paid by the government was developed by German and French legal scholars and practitioners in Public administration and Statistics in the 17th and early 18th centuries, most notably with Nicolas Delamare's Traité de la Police ("Treatise on the Police"), first published in 1705. The German Polizeiwissenschaft (Science of Police) first theorized by Philipp von Hörnigk a 17th-century Austrian Political economist and civil servant and much more famously by Johann Heinrich Gottlob Justi which produced an important theoretical work known as Cameral science on the formulation of police. Foucault cites Magdalene Humpert author of Bibliographie der Kameralwissenschaften (1937) in which the author makes note of a substantial bibliography was produced of over 4000 pieces of the practice of Polizeiwissenschaft from the 16th century dates ranging from 1520-1850.

As conceptualized by the Polizeiwissenschaft, the police had an administrative,economic and social duty ("procuring abundance"). It was in charge of demographic concerns and needed to be incorporated within the western political philosophy system of raison d'état and therefore giving the superficial appearance of empowering the population (and unwittingly supervising the population), which, according to mercantilist theory, was to be the main strength of the state. Thus, its functions largely overreached simple law enforcement activities and included public health concerns, urban planning (which was important because of the miasma theory of disease; thus, cemeteries were moved out of town, etc.), and surveillance of prices.

Jeremy Bentham, philosopher who advocated for the establishment of preventive police forces and influenced the reforms of Sir Robert Peel.

The concept of preventive policing, or policing to deter crime from taking place, gained influence in the late 18th century. Police Magistrate John Fielding, head of the Bow Street Runners, argued that " is much better to prevent even one man from being a rogue than apprehending and bringing forty to justice."

The Utilitarian philosopher, Jeremy Bentham, promoted the views of Italian Marquis Cesare Beccaria, and disseminated a translated version of "Essay on Crime in Punishment". Bentham espoused the guiding principle of "the greatest good for the greatest number:

It is better to prevent crimes than to punish them. This is the chief aim of every good system of legislation, which is the art of leading men to the greatest possible happiness or to the least possible misery, according to calculation of all the goods and evils of life.

Patrick Colquhoun's influential work, A Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis (1797) was heavily influenced by Benthamite thought. Colquhoun's Thames River Police was founded on these principles, and in contrast to the Bow Street Runners, acted as a deterrent by their continual presence on the riverfront, in addition to being able to intervene if they spotted a crime in progress.

Edwin Chadwick's 1829 article, "Preventive police" in the London Review, argued that prevention ought to be the primary concern of a police body, which was not the case in practice. The reason, argued Chadwick, was that "A preventive police would act more immediately by placing difficulties in obtaining the objects of temptation." In contrast to a deterrent of punishment, a preventive police force would deter criminality by making crime cost-ineffective - "crime doesn't pay". In the second draft of his 1829 Police Act, the "object" of the new Metropolitan Police, was changed by Robert Peel to the "principal object," which was the "prevention of crime." Later historians would attribute the perception of England's "appearance of orderliness and love of public order" to the preventive principle entrenched in Peel's police system.

Development of modern police forces around the world was contemporary to the formation of the state, later defined by sociologist Max Weber as achieving a "monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force" and which was primarily exercised by the police and the military. Marxist theory situates the development of the modern state as part of the rise of capitalism, in which the police are one component of the bourgeoisie's repressive apparatus for subjugating the working class.

Personnel and organization

In most Western police forces, perhaps the most significant division is between preventive (uniformed) police and detectives. Terminology varies from country to country.

Police functions include protecting life and property, enforcing criminal law, criminal investigations, regulating traffic, crowd control, and other public safety duties.

Uniformed police

Brazilian Federal Highway Police at work.

Preventive Police, also called Uniform Branch, Uniformed Police, Uniform Division, Administrative Police, Order Police, or Patrol, designates the police that patrol and respond to emergencies and other incidents, as opposed to detective services. As the name "uniformed" suggests, they wear uniforms and perform functions that require an immediate recognition of an officer's legal authority, such as traffic control, stopping and detaining motorists, and more active crime response and prevention.

Preventive police almost always make up the bulk of a police service's personnel. In Australia and Britain, patrol personnel are also known as "general duties" officers. Atypically, Brazil's preventive police are known as Military Police.


New South Wales Police Force officers search the vehicle of a suspected drug smuggler at a border crossing. Wentworth, New South Wales, Australia

Police detectives are responsible for investigations and detective work. Detectives may be called Investigations Police, Judiciary/Judicial Police, and Criminal Police. In the UK, they are often referred to by the name of their department, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). Detectives typically make up roughly 15%-25% of a police service's personnel.

Detectives, in contrast to uniformed police, typically wear 'business attire' in bureaucratic and investigative functions where a uniformed presence would be either a distraction or intimidating, but a need to establish police authority still exists. "Plainclothes" officers dress in attire consistent with that worn by the general public for purposes of blending in.

In some cases, police are assigned to work "undercover", where they conceal their police identity to investigate crimes, such as organized crime or narcotics crime, that are unsolvable by other means. In some cases this type of policing shares aspects with espionage.

Despite popular conceptions promoted by movies and television, many US police departments prefer not to maintain officers in non-patrol bureaus and divisions beyond a certain period of time, such as in the detective bureau, and instead maintain policies that limit service in such divisions to a specified period of time, after which officers must transfer out or return to patrol duties. This is done in part based upon the perception that the most important and essential police work is accomplished on patrol in which officers become acquainted with their beats, prevent crime by their presence, respond to crimes in progress, manage crises, and practice their skills.

Detectives, by contrast, usually investigate crimes after they have occurred and after patrol officers have responded first to a situation. Investigations often take weeks or months to complete, during which time detectives spend much of their time away from the streets, in interviews and courtrooms, for example. Rotating officers also promotes cross-training in a wider variety of skills, and serves to prevent "cliques" that can contribute to corruption or other unethical behavior.


Police may also take on auxiliary administrative duties, such as issuing firearms licenses. The extent that police have these functions varies among countries, with police in France, Germany, and other continental European countries handling such tasks to a greater extent than British counterparts.

Specialized units

After the 2008 Mumbai attacks, the Mumbai Police created specialized, quick response teams to deal with terror threats.

Specialized preventive and detective groups exist within many law enforcement organizations either for dealing with particular types of crime, such as traffic law enforcement and crash investigation, homicide, or fraud; or for situations requiring specialized skills, such as underwater search, aviation, explosive device disposal ("bomb squad"), and computer crime.

Most larger jurisdictions also employ specially selected and trained quasi-military units armed with military-grade weapons for the purposes of dealing with particularly violent situations beyond the capability of a patrol officer response, including high-risk warrant service and barricaded suspects. In the United States these units go by a variety of names, but are commonly known as SWAT (Special Weapons And Tactics) teams.

In counterinsurgency-type campaigns, select and specially trained units of police armed and equipped as light infantry have been designated as police field forces who perform paramilitary-type patrols and ambushes whilst retaining their police powers in areas that were highly dangerous.

Because their situational mandate typically focuses on removing innocent bystanders from dangerous people and dangerous situations, not violent resolution, they are often equipped with non-lethal tactical tools like chemical agents, "flashbang" and concussion grenades, and rubber bullets. The London Metropolitan police's Specialist Firearms Command (CO19) is a group of armed police used in dangerous situations including hostage taking, armed robbery/assault and terrorism.

Military police

Military police may refer to:

  • a section of the military solely responsible for policing the armed forces (referred to as provosts)
  • a section of the military responsible for policing in both the armed forces and in the civilian population (most gendarmeries, such as the French Gendarmerie, the Italian Carabinieri and the Portuguese Republican National Guard also known as GNR)
  • a section of the military solely responsible for policing the civilian population (such as the Romanian Gendarmerie)
  • the civilian preventative police of a Brazilian state (Policia Militar)
  • an Special Military law enforcement Service, like the Russian Military Police

Religious police

 Some Islamic societies have religious police, who enforce the application of Islamic Sharia law. Their authority may include the power to arrest unrelated men and women caught socializing, anyone engaged in homosexual behavior or prostitution; to enforce Islamic dress codes, and store closures during Islamic prayer time.

They enforce Muslim dietary laws, prohibit the consumption or sale of alcoholic beverages and pork, and seize banned consumer products and media regarded as un-Islamic, such as CDs/DVDs of various Western musical groups, television shows and film. In Saudi Arabia, the Mutaween actively prevent the practice or proselytizing of non-Islamic religions within Saudi Arabia, where they are banned.

Varying jurisdictions

Police forces are usually organized and funded by some level of government. The level of government responsible for policing varies from place to place, and may be at the national, regional or local level. In some places there may be multiple police forces operating in the same area, with different ones having jurisdiction according to the type of crime or other circumstances.

For example in the UK, policing is primarily the responsibility of a regional police force; however specialist units exist at the national level. In the US, there is typically a state police force, but crimes are usually handled by local police forces that usually only cover a few municipalities. National agencies, such as the FBI, only have jurisdiction over federal crimes or those with an interstate component.

In addition to conventional urban or regional police forces, there are other police forces with specialized functions or jurisdiction. In the United States, the federal government has a number of police forces with their own specialized jurisdictions.

Some examples are the Federal Protective Service, which patrols and protects government buildings; the postal police, which protect postal buildings, vehicles and items; the Park Police, which protect national parks, or Amtrak Police which patrol Amtrak stations and trains.

There are also some government agencies that perform police functions in addition to other duties. The U.S. Coast Guard carries out many police functions for boaters.

In major cities, there may be a separate police agency for public transit systems, such as the New York City Port Authority Police or the MTA police, or for major government functions, such as sanitation, or environmental functions.

A Police Service of Northern Ireland barracks in Northern Ireland. The high walls are to protect against mortar bomb attacks.

International policing

The terms international policing, transnational policing, and/or global policing began to be used from the early 1990s onwards to describe forms of policing that transcended the boundaries of the sovereign nation-state (Nadelmann, 1993), (Sheptycki, 1995). These terms refer in variable ways to practices and forms for policing that, in some sense, transcend national borders. This includes a variety of practices, but international police cooperation, criminal intelligence exchange between police agencies working in different nation-states, and police development-aid to weak, failed or failing states are the three types that have received the most scholarly attention.

Historical studies reveal that policing agents have undertaken a variety of cross-border police missions for many years (Deflem, 2002). For example, in the 19th century a number of European policing agencies undertook cross-border surveillance because of concerns about anarchist agitators and other political radicals. A notable example of this was the occasional surveillance by Prussian police of Karl Marx during the years he remained resident in London. The interests of public police agencies in cross-border co-operation in the control of political radicalism and ordinary law crime were primarily initiated in Europe, which eventually led to the establishment of Interpol before the Second World War. There are also many interesting examples of cross-border policing under private auspices and by municipal police forces that date back to the 19th century (Nadelmann, 1993). It has been established that modern policing has transgressed national boundaries from time to time almost from its inception. It is also generally agreed that in the post–Cold War era this type of practice became more significant and frequent (Sheptycki, 2000).

Not a lot of empirical work on the practices of inter/transnational information and intelligence sharing has been undertaken. A notable exception is James Sheptycki's study of police cooperation in the English Channel region (2002), which provides a systematic content analysis of information exchange files and a description of how these transnational information and intelligence exchanges are transformed into police case-work. The study showed that transnational police information sharing was routinized in the cross-Channel region from 1968 on the basis of agreements directly between the police agencies and without any formal agreement between the countries concerned. By 1992, with the signing of the Schengen Treaty, which formalized aspects of police information exchange across the territory of the European Union, there were worries that much, if not all, of this intelligence sharing was opaque, raising questions about the efficacy of the accountability mechanisms governing police information sharing in Europe (Joubert and Bevers, 1996).

Studies of this kind outside of Europe are even rarer, so it is difficult to make generalizations, but one small-scale study that compared transnational police information and intelligence sharing practices at specific cross-border locations in North America and Europe confirmed that low visibility of police information and intelligence sharing was a common feature (Alain, 2001). Intelligence-led policing is now common practice in most advanced countries (Ratcliffe, 2007) and it is likely that police intelligence sharing and information exchange has a common morphology around the world (Ratcliffe, 2007). James Sheptycki has analyzed the effects of the new information technologies on the organization of policing-intelligence and suggests that a number of 'organizational pathologies' have arisen that make the functioning of security-intelligence processes in transnational policing deeply problematic. He argues that transnational police information circuits help to "compose the panic scenes of the security-control society". The paradoxical effect is that, the harder policing agencies work to produce security, the greater are feelings of insecurity.

Police development-aid to weak, failed or failing states is another form of transnational policing that has garnered attention. This form of transnational policing plays an increasingly important role in United Nations peacekeeping and this looks set to grow in the years ahead, especially as the international community seeks to develop the rule of law and reform security institutions in States recovering from conflict (Goldsmith and Sheptycki, 2007) With transnational police development-aid the imbalances of power between donors and recipients are stark and there are questions about the applicability and transportability of policing models between jurisdictions (Hills, 2009).

Perhaps the greatest question regarding the future development of transnational policing is: in whose interest is it? At a more practical level, the question translates into one about how to make transnational policing institutions democratically accountable (Sheptycki, 2004). For example, according to the Global Accountability Report for 2007 (Lloyd, et al. 2007) Interpol had the lowest scores in its category (IGOs), coming in tenth with a score of 22% on overall accountability capabilities (p. 19). As this report points out, and the existing academic literature on transnational policing seems to confirm, this is a secretive area and one not open to civil society involvement.



Armored vehicle of CORE, SWAT unit within the Civil Police of Rio de Janeiro State

In many jurisdictions, police officers carry firearms, primarily handguns, in the normal course of their duties. In the United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland), Ireland, Norway, New Zealand, and Malta, with the exception of specialist units, officers do not carry firearms as a matter of course.

Police often have specialist units for handling armed offenders, and similar dangerous situations, and can (depending on local laws), in some extreme circumstances, call on the military (since Military Aid to the Civil Power is a role of many armed forces). Perhaps the most high-profile example of this was, in 1980 the Metropolitan Police handing control of the Iranian Embassy Siege to the Special Air Service.

They can also be equipped with non-lethal (more accurately known as "less than lethal" or "less-lethal") weaponry, particularly for riot control. Non-lethal weapons include batons, tear gas, riot control agents, rubber bullets, riot shield, water cannons and electroshock weapons. Police officers often carry handcuffs to restrain suspects. The use of firearms or deadly force is typically a last resort only to be used when necessary to save human life, although some jurisdictions (such as Brazil) allow its use against fleeing felons and escaped convicts. A "shoot-to-kill" policy was recently introduced in South Africa, which allows police to use deadly force against any person who poses a significant threat to them or civilians.With the country having one of the highest rates of violent crime, president Jacob Zuma states that South Africa needs to handle crime differently to other countries.


Modern police forces make extensive use of radio communications equipment, carried both on the person and installed in vehicles, to co-ordinate their work, share information, and get help quickly. In recent years, vehicle-installed computers have enhanced the ability of police communications, enabling easier dispatching of calls, criminal background checks on persons of interest to be completed in a matter of seconds, and updating the officer's daily activity log and other required reports on a real-time basis. Other common pieces of police equipment include flashlights/torches, whistles, and police notebooks and "ticketbooks" or citations.


A Ford Crown Victoria, one of the most recognizable models of American police car. This unit belongs to Houston METRO Police

German (green) and Dutch (blue/red) police vehicles

Police vehicles are used for detaining, patrolling and transporting. The common Police patrol vehicle is an improved four door sedan (saloon in British English). Police vehicles are usually marked with appropriate logos and are equipped with sirens and lightbars to aid in making others aware of police presence.

Unmarked vehicles are used primarily for sting operations or apprehending criminals without alerting them to their presence. Some police forces use unmarked or minimally marked cars for traffic law enforcement, since drivers slow down at the sight of marked police vehicles and unmarked vehicles make it easier for officers to catch speeders and traffic violators. This practice is controversial, with for example, New York State banning this practice in 1996 on the grounds that it endangered motorists who might be pulled over by people impersonating police officers.

Motorcycles are also commonly used, particularly in locations that a car may not be able to reach, to control potential public order situations involving meetings of motorcyclists and often in escort duties where the motorcycle policeman can quickly clear a path for the escorted vehicle. Bicycle patrols are used in some areas because they allow for more open interaction with the public. In addition, their quieter operation can facilitate approaching suspects unawares and can help in pursuing them attempting to escape on foot.

Police departments use an array of specialty vehicles such as helicopters, airplanes, watercraft, command posts, vans, trucks, all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles, and SWAT armored vehicles.

Other safety equipment

Police cars may also contain fire extinguishers or defibrillators.


The advent of the police car, two-way radio, and telephone in the early 20th century transformed policing into a reactive strategy that focused on responding to calls for service. With this transformation, police command and control became more centralized.

In the United States, August Vollmer introduced other reforms, including education requirements for police officers. O.W. Wilson, a student of Vollmer, helped reduce corruption and introduce professionalism in Wichita, Kansas, and later in the Chicago Police Department. Strategies employed by O.W. Wilson included rotating officers from community to community to reduce their vulnerability to corruption, establishing of a non-partisan police board to help govern the police force, a strict merit system for promotions within the department, and an aggressive recruiting drive with higher police salaries to attract professionally qualified officers. During the professionalism era of policing, law enforcement agencies concentrated on dealing with felonies and other serious crime, rather than broader focus on crime prevention.

Anti-riot armoured vehicle of the police of the Canton of Vaud in Lausanne, Switzerland

The Kansas City Preventive Patrol study in the 1970s found this approach to policing to be ineffective. Patrol officers in cars were disconnected from the community, and had insufficient contact and interaction with the community. In the 1980s and 1990s, many law enforcement agencies began to adopt community policing strategies, and others adopted problem-oriented policing.

Broken windows policing was another, related approach introduced in the 1980s by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling, who suggested that police should pay greater attention to minor "quality of life" offenses and disorderly conduct. This method was first introduced and made popular by New York City Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, in the early 1990s.

The concept behind this method is simple: broken windows, graffiti, and other physical destruction or degradation of property, greatly increases the chances of more criminal activities and destruction of property. When criminals see the abandoned vehicles, trash, and deplorable property, they assume that authorities do not care and do not take active approaches to correct problems in these areas. Therefore, correcting the small problems prevents more serious criminal activity.

Building upon these earlier models, intelligence-led policing has emerged as the dominant philosophy guiding police strategy. Intelligence-led policing and problem-oriented policing are complementary strategies, both which involve systematic use of information. Although it still lacks a universally accepted definition, the crux of intelligence-led policing is an emphasis on the collection and analysis of information to guide police operations, rather than the reverse.

Power restrictions

ACT Police truck in Canberra Australia

Traffic/highway patrol vehicle of the ACT Police.

In many nations, criminal procedure law has been developed to regulate officers' discretion, so that they do not arbitrarily or unjustly exercise their powers of arrest, search and seizure, and use of force. In the United States, Miranda v. Arizona led to the widespread use of Miranda warnings or constitutional warnings.

In Miranda the court created safeguards against self-incriminating statements made after an arrest. The court held that "The prosecution may not use statements, whether exculpatory or inculpatory, stemming from questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way, unless it demonstrates the use of procedural safeguards effective to secure the Fifth Amendment's privilege against self-incrimination"

Police in the United States are also prohibited from holding criminal suspects for more than a reasonable amount of time (usually 24–48 hours) before arraignment, using torture, abuse or physical threats to extract confessions, using excessive force to effect an arrest, and searching suspects' bodies or their homes without a warrant obtained upon a showing of probable cause. The four exceptions to the constitutional requirement of a search warrant are:

  • Consent
  • Search incident to arrest
  • Motor vehicle searches
  • Exigent circumstances

In Terry v. Ohio (1968) the court divided seizure into two parts, the investigatory stop and arrest. The court further held that during an investigatory stop a police officer's search " [is] confined to what [is] minimally necessary to determine whether [a suspect] is armed, and the intrusion, which [is] made for the sole purpose of protecting himself and others nearby, [is] confined to ascertaining the presence of weapons" (U.S. Supreme Court). Before Terry, every police encounter constituted an arrest, giving the police officer the full range of search authority. Search authority during a Terry stop (investigatory stop) is limited to weapons only.

Using deception for confessions is permitted, but not coercion. There are exceptions or exigent circumstances such as an articulated need to disarm a suspect or searching a suspect who has already been arrested (Search Incident to an Arrest). The Posse Comitatus Act severely restricts the use of the military for police activity, giving added importance to police SWAT units.

British police officers are governed by similar rules, such as those introduced to England and Wales under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE), but generally have greater powers. They may, for example, legally search any suspect who has been arrested, or their vehicles, home or business premises, without a warrant, and may seize anything they find in a search as evidence.

All police officers in the United Kingdom, whatever their actual rank, are 'constables' in terms of their legal position. This means that a newly appointed constable has the same arrest powers as a Chief Constable or Commissioner. However, certain higher ranks have additional powers to authorize certain aspects of police operations, such as a power to authorize a search of a suspect's house (section 18 PACE in England and Wales) by an officer of the rank of Inspector, or the power to authorize a suspect's detention beyond 24 hours by a Superintendent.



Conduct, accountability and public confidence

Police services commonly include units for investigating crimes committed by the police themselves. These units are typically called Inspectorate-General, or in the US, "internal affairs". In some countries separate organizations outside the police exist for such purposes, such as the British Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Likewise, some state and local jurisdictions, for example, Springfield, Illinois  have similar outside review organizations. The Police Service of Northern Ireland is investigated by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, an external agency set up as a result of the Patten report into policing the province. In the Republic of Ireland the Garda Síochána is investigated by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, an independent commission that replaced the Garda Complaints Board in May 2007.

The Special Investigations Unit of Ontario, Canada, is one of only a few civilian agencies around the world responsible for investigating circumstances involving police and civilians that have resulted in a death, serious injury, or allegations of sexual assault. The agency has made allegations of insufficient cooperation from various police services hindering their investigations. 

In Hong Kong, any allegations of corruption within the police will be investigated by the Independent Commission Against Corruption and the Independent Police Complaints Council, two agencies which are independent of the police force. Due to a decline in the public confidence in law enforcement, agencies have suggested body cameras should be worn by police officers. 

Use of force

Police forces also find themselves under criticism for their use of force, particularly deadly force. Specifically, tension increases when a police officer of one ethnic group harms or kills a suspect of another one. In the United States, such events occasionally spark protests and accusations of racism against police and allegations that police departments practice racial profiling.

In the United States since the 1960s, concern over such issues has increasingly weighed upon law enforcement agencies, courts and legislatures at every level of government. Incidents such as the 1965 Watts Riots, the videotaped 1991 beating by Los Angeles Police officers of Rodney King, and the riot following their acquittal have been suggested by some people to be evidence that U.S. police are dangerously lacking in appropriate controls.

An officer forcibly moves a protester in New York

The fact that this trend has occurred contemporaneously with the rise of the US civil rights movement, the "War on Drugs", and a precipitous rise in violent crime from the 1960s to the 1990s has made questions surrounding the role, administration and scope of police authority increasingly complicated.

Police departments and the local governments that oversee them in some jurisdictions have attempted to mitigate some of these issues through community outreach programs and community policing to make the police more accessible to the concerns of local communities, by working to increase hiring diversity, by updating training of police in their responsibilities to the community and under the law, and by increased oversight within the department or by civilian commissions.

In cases in which such measures have been lacking or absent, civil lawsuits have been brought by the United States Department of Justice against local law enforcement agencies, authorized under the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. This has compelled local departments to make organizational changes, enter into consent decree settlements to adopt such measures, and submit to oversight by the Justice Department.

Since 1855, the Supreme Court of the United States has consistently ruled that law enforcement officers have no duty to protect any individual, despite the motto "protect and serve". Their duty is to enforce the law in general. The first such case was in 1855 (South et al. v. State of Maryland, U.S (Supreme Court of the United States 1855). ) and the most recent in 2005 (Town of Castle Rock v. Gonzales). 

In contrast, the police are entitled to protect private rights in some jurisdictions. To ensure that the police would not interfere in the regular competencies of the courts of law, some police acts require that the police may only interfere in such cases where protection from courts cannot be obtained in time, and where, without interference of the police, the realization of the private right would be impeded.  This would, for example, allow police to establish a restaurant guest's identity and forward it to the innkeeper in a case where the guest cannot pay the bill at nighttime because his wallet had just been stolen from the restaurant table.

In addition, there are Federal Law Enforcement agencies in the United States whose mission includes providing protection for executives such as the President and accompanying family members, visiting foreign dignitaries, and other high-ranking individuals.  Such agencies include The United States Secret Service and the United States Park Police.

International forces

In many countries, particularly those with a federal system of government, there may be several police or policelike organizations, each serving different levels of government and enforcing different subsets of the applicable law. The United States has a highly decentralized and fragmented system of law enforcement, with over 17,000 state and local law enforcement agencies. 

Some countries, such as Chile, Israel, the Philippines, France, Austria, New Zealand and South Africa, use a centralized system of policing.  Other countries have multiple police forces, but for the most part their jurisdictions do not overlap. In the United States however, several different law enforcement agencies may have authority in a particular jurisdiction at the same time, each with their own command.

Other countries where jurisdiction of multiple police agencies overlap, include Guardia Civil and the Policía Nacional in Spain, the Polizia di Stato and Carabinieri in Italy and the Police Nationale and National Gendarmerie in France. 

Most countries are members of the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), established to detect and fight transnational crime and provide for international co-operation and co-ordination of other police activities, such as notifying relatives of the death of foreign nationals. Interpol does not conduct investigations or arrests by itself, but only serves as a central point for information on crime, suspects and criminals. Political crimes are excluded from its competencies.


History of Law Enforcement

 Police History In the beginning, there was kin policing, with its penchant for blood feuding and traditions of tribal justice. Many pre-civilized villages or communities are believed to have had a rudimentary form of law enforcement (morals enforcement) derived from the power and authority of kinship systems, rule by elders, or perhaps some form of totemism or naturism. Under kin policing, the family of the offended individual was expected to assume responsibility for justice by capturing, branding,

or mutilating the offender. To be sure, there were also theocratic institutions (religious temples, magic rituals, grand viziers), but these were probably used as a system of appeals (sanctuary, refuge) and for purposes not associated with justice. Since war has existed, the police function has been

somewhat inseparable from the military function as ancient rulers almost always kept elite, select units (bodyguards) close at hand to protect them from threats and assassination attempts, and although it was more theocratic than militaristic, the argument could be made that the first known civilization (Egypt) was a police state.

In Mesopotamia, the rise of cities like Uruk, Umma, Eridu, Lagash, and Ur is widely regarded as the "birth of civilization". However, these cities were in a state of constant warfare, and in terms of looking at which residents bore the closest resemblance to police officers, the argument could be made that captured Nubian slaves were the first police force. This group was often put to work as marketplace guards, Praetorian guards, or in other mercenary-like positions. As a police force, their different color, stature, and manner of dress made them quite visible among the Mesopotamians. The idea of visibility could then be regarded as the first principle of crime control.

With the rise of the city-states came forms of criminal justice that could be considered as king's policing. It's conventional to note that things like the Code of Hammurabi marked the first known system of criminal law as well as the start of other practices. The Hebrews developed the Mosaic Law and a rudimentary adversverdana system. The Greeks experimented with highway patrol and jury trials (Athens) as well as secret police and mercenary systems (Sparta). Across Africa, trials were being conducted while sitting down (three-legged stools of justice). Violators were brought before thrones of justice in the name of the crown, and to keep the peace meant, for the most part, keeping the king's peace of mind. Greek philosophy (Aristotle, Plato) was largely responsible for popularizing the majesty of justice by associating good law and order with virtue.

It's widely recognized that the first organized police force were the Roman vigiles, the first group of nonmilitary and nonmercenary police. They were created by Gaius Octavius, the grand nephew of Julius Caesar, around 27 B.C. After his uncle was assassinated, little Octavius swore revenge and rose to power with a desire to reform Roman society. Once he became ruler, he took the name Augustus Caesar, or more simply Augustus, the first emperor of Rome. Let's take a close look at the steps involved in establishment of the world's first organized police force:

    *   the first thing Augustus did was create a special unit, called the Praetorian Guard, to protect him from assassination. 9000 men were selected and divided into 9 cohorts of 1000 each. 3 of these cohorts operated as undercover operatives housed among the civilian residents. The Praetorian Guard eventually became involved in assassination plots themselves, and were disbanded or reabsorbed by the military.
    *   the second thing Augustus did was create a daytime city fire brigade of 600 slaves and spread them among 14 separate precincts. The slaves proved inadequate and were disbanded, but the prefect (precinct) system proved workable.
    *    the slave fire brigade was replaced by urban cohorts, headed by a prefect of the urban cohorts. These were a less select military unit of men who weren't good enough to get into the Praetorian Guard. They were several thousand of them. They were primarily responsible for fire safety during daytime hours, and they were fairly inadequate at it.
    *    the urban cohorts were supplemented by nighttime cohorts, and there were several thousand of them, recruited and selected from among freedmen only. They were known as the vigiles (watchmen) of Rome, and were empowered not only to fight fires but to arrest law breakers. The prefect of the vigiles eventually became a powerful man, passing judgment on most lawbreakers, except for serious lawbreakers who had to be turned over to the prefect of the urban cohorts. The vigiles were armed with clubs as well as short swords. They eventually took over the duties of the urban cohorts.

MIDDLE AGES (400 A.D. - 1600 A.D.)

The middle ages either had no system of law enforcement or one of two systems, depending upon what part of the world you were in. Where law enforcement existed, it was most likely a variety of the watch system -- a system premised on the importance of voluntarily patrolling the streets and guarding cities from sunset to sunrise ("2 A.M. and all's well"). The predominant function of policing became class control (keeping watch on vagrants, vagabonds, immigrants, gypsies, tramps, thieves, and outsiders in general). Despite some innovations during this time period (the Magna Carta of 1215 being a notable example), most of this era was characterized by lawlessness and corruption. By the 1500s, there was no country in the world with more robbers, thieves, and prostitutes than England. Other countries, too, experienced lawlessness to such a degree that citizen groups, known as vigilantes, sprang up to combat crime.



The Early Days of American Law Enforcement

The Watch

More than 350 years ago, America’s first known system of law enforcement was established in Boston.  As soon as colonists had settled there in 1630, local ordinances had allowed for constables to be appointed. Soon after, in April 1631, the townspeople formed a “watch” made up of six watchmen, one constable, and several volunteers who patrolled at night, walking the rounds.

Initially run by a combination of obligatory and voluntary participation, the 17th century watch typically reported fires, maintained order in the streets, raised the “hue and cry” (pursuing suspected criminals with loud cries to raise alarm), and captured and arrested lawbreakers. Constables had similar tasks, which included maintaining health and sanitation and bringing suspects and witnesses to court—frequently for such conduct as working on the Sabbath, cursing in public places, and failing to pen animals properly.

In the more rural, sparsely populated areas of the Colonies, the sheriff was the main law enforcement figure. Appointed by the governor, sheriffs’ duties included serving legal documents such as writs, appearing in court, and collecting taxes. In many cases, the sheriff was paid a fixed amount for each task he performed, some, for example, receiving payment based on the amount of taxes they collected. Occasionally, these tasks proved dangerous. In fact, the first known American peace officer to be killed in the line of duty was Columbia County (NY) Sheriff Cornelius Hogeboom, who was shot on October 22, 1791, as he attempted to serve a writ of ejectment.

This early policing system was modeled after the English structure, which incorporated the watch, constables, and sheriffs (derived from the British term, “shire-reeves”) in a community-based police organization. (Interestingly, the British system developed from “kin policing” dating back to about 900 A.D., in which law enforcement power was in the people’s hands, and they were responsible for their families or “kin.”) Early law enforcement was reactionary, rather than pre-emptive—the watch usually responded to criminal behavior only when requested by victims or witnesses. And, with monetary incentive in certain areas, apprehending criminals was not always a priority.



Change, Change and more Change

As word spread about Boston’s watch, other colonies began establishing their own. New York (then the Dutch colony New Amsterdam) established a rattle watch in 1652. Before whistles, law enforcement used wooden rattles and their distinct noise to signal for help, even into the 19th century.

Into the 1700s, more people settled in towns and more shops and businesses were built, which meant more work for the watch. Seaports bustling with sailors and overseas trading ships boosted the merchant class economy but also caused unprecedented social problems that affected law enforcement. Taverns were built to entertain sailors in port cities, and public drunkenness, brawls, and prostitution became more common. As police work became increasingly time-consuming and difficult, fewer men volunteered for the watch and many evaded their mandatory duties. Issuing fines to those who didn’t show up only punished the poor—those who were most unable to pay. To curb this, some towns and cities instituted a paid watch.

In 1749, Philadelphia passed a law that restructured the watch in an attempt to solve these problems. Now, officials called wardens had authority to hire watchmen as needed. Their powers were increased, and a tax paid the watch. All male citizens were no longer obligated to work when summoned, and only men interested in the paid job applied. Philadelphia’s reform was not the ultimate solution, but it fueled progress and inspired others to make similar improvements.

Even with positive developments like these, the Colonial law enforcement system still required drastic change. During the Industrial Revolution of the early 19th century, the number of factories, buildings, and people surged substantially. New York, for example, jumped from a population of 33,000 in 1790 to 150,000 in 1830. The overall boom in industrial growth and overcrowding brought more crime, riots, public health issues, race and socio-economic divisions, and general disorder.



The “New” Policing System

The solution? A new and improved law enforcement system implemented first by England in 1829: a stronger, more centralized, preventive police force, designed to deter crime from happening, rather than to react once it had occurred.

In 1833, Philadelphia organized an independent, 24-hour police force. In 1838, the Boston Police force was established, with a day police and night watch working independently. New York City followed suit in 1844, becoming the New York City Police Department in 1845. Police departments were now headed by police chiefs who were appointed by political leaders. While it still had its flaws, this “new” method of policing more closely resembles a modern day police force.

The story of American law enforcement, from its early roots to the present day, will come alive inside the Museum. Stories like this one will help visitors understand how law enforcement has changed to coincide with changes in American society. Today, new technological advancements, scientific discoveries and comprehensive research aim to improve law enforcement’s efficiency by introducing innovative techniques, equipment, training, and more. Who knows what the future of policing will hold?

Interested in learning more about law enforcement history? Read this book, part of the Museum’s Research Library:

Johnson, David R. American Law Enforcement: A History. Wheeling, IL: Forum Press, 1981


Call for Artifacts: K-9 Law Enforcement History
Click on photo to view larger image
Photograph: New York Police Department officers and dogs, ca. 1900s. 2006.299.1.2. Collection of the National Law Enforcement Museum, Washington, DC.

The National Law Enforcement Museum is currently developing a temporary exhibit focused on K-9 law enforcement history, which will be installed in the Museum’s DuPont Gallery when its doors open in late 2015. But in order to share the rich history of K-9 policing, we need your help! The Museum seeks the donation of artifacts, original photographs, and original documents or publications related to K-9 law enforcement officers and their canine partners.

Police dogs have been an important part of American policing since the early 20th century, although accounts of dogs serving and protecting people date back more than 2,000 years.  In the United States today, modern police dog units, or K-9 Units, have developed sophisticated training programs that encompass detection, patrol, and search and rescue functions.
Books, (left) Jim, The Story of a Backwoods Police Dog by Charles G. D. Roberts, 1918, and (right) The Police Dog by David Brockwell, 1924. 2008.37.1 and 2008.73.1. Collection of the National Law Enforcement Museum, Washington, DC.
South Bend (IN) Police Department K-9 Unit
trading card, 2006. 2007.16.40.
Collection of the National Law Enforcement
Museum, Washington, DC.

With your help, the Museum hopes to build an exceptionally deep and broad collection of K-9 law enforcement-related artifacts that will support the exhibit’s overarching theme that dogs of different breeds and with specialized training and cross-training play a critical role in helping law enforcement effectively fight and prevent crime.

We are looking for historic and contemporary objects, photos, and other materials related specifically to K-9 law enforcement:

Equipment and related objects that were used daily by officers as they worked with their canine partners and that will highlight the relationship between the canines and their handlers;

Original photographs of police dogs and their handlers, including portraits and “action shots” taken at crime scene investigations;

Original documents, letters, official commendations, private notes or diaries, and other original written material relating to law enforcement officers working with or training their canine partners;

    Equipment, photographs, documents, or other training materials related to training different dog breeds to work with law enforcement;

    And objects, original photos and documents, press kits, promotional posters, and other material related to police dogs in television shows and film productions.

If you have original K-9-related materials that you are interested in donating to the National Law Enforcement Museum, please contact Vanya Scott, Registrar, at 202.737.7869 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..




Exhibits of the National Law Enforcement Museum: To Serve and Protect

In past issues of the National Law Enforcement Museum Insider, we shared brief overviews of the Museum’s permanent exhibits. Now, we examine some stories and artifacts each exhibit will highlight.

After Museum visitors are welcomed and introduced in the Main Theater, they will be free to explore several different exhibits in any order they choose.  Some visitors may travel right outside the theater to an area called To Serve and Protect. The stories told here will allow visitors to explore and gain a better understanding of how law enforcement in America works, and how officers’ actions—large and small—affect individuals, communities, and the nation. To Serve and Protect also provides a forum where visitors’ opinions, experiences, and ideas about law enforcement can be shared.

One story that To Serve and Protect will feature is the tragic 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma—the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history.  At 9:02 a.m. on April 19, a rental truck exploded, taking off the entire north side of the Federal Building. The blast killed 168 people, including 19 children. Overall, 851 persons were injured or killed as a direct result of the bombing or during building evacuation.
A granite fragment of the Murrah Federal Building, bombed on April 19, 1995. 2007.112.1. Collection of the National Law Enforcement Museum, Washington, DC.

The Murrah Building at night looking at the bombed north side of the building, 1995. 2007.109.1.1. Collection of the National Law Enforcement Museum, Washington, DC.
Click on photo to view larger image.

To Serve and Protect will showcase a piece of granite from the Federal Building, providing visitors with a tangible way to engage with the diverse experiences of that fateful day.

Approximately 90 minutes after the explosion in Oklahoma City, about 35 miles from the Kansas border, Timothy McVeigh was stopped on I-35N by Oklahoma State Trooper Charles Hanger for driving a vehicle without license plates. As a result of the traffic stop, Trooper Hanger found that McVeigh was carrying a concealed weapon without a permit.  This discovery led to McVeigh's arrest, after which he was booked and held in the Noble County (OK) Jail.

Using forensic evidence, authorities linked McVeigh (while he was still in prison) and an accomplice, Terry Nichols, to the Oklahoma City bombing.  Within days, both men were charged. McVeigh had publicly vocalized his great mistrust and disapproval of the government in the past, particularly concerning the way the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) handled the 1993 incident at Waco, Texas, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and U.S. Marshals Service’s involvement at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992. In 1997, McVeigh was convicted on federal murder charges and given the death sentence. In letters he wrote after his conviction, McVeigh described the siege at Waco as the defining event in his decision to retaliate against the government with the bombing, which occurred two years to the day after the incident at Waco. He was executed on June 11, 2001. Nichols was convicted on federal and state bombing charges and is currently serving multiple life sentences.  Their friend, Michael Fortier, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for keeping information about the attack from authorities.

In the immediate aftermath of the bombing, rescue workers from the Oklahoma City fire and police departments and the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office were joined by agents from the FBI, ATF, and other federal agencies to formulate an immediate response to the chaos that existed inside and around the Federal Building. Police officers, firefighters, and rescue workers from surrounding cities and states began arriving to help in the rescue effort.  Coordination among the FBI, ATF, city fire and police departments, and the county Sheriff's Office was essential to ensure an efficient and effective relief effort.

The FBI led the official investigation, called OKBOMB. The investigation team had 900 federal, state, and local law enforcement agents, including 300 FBI agents, 200 officers from the Oklahoma City Police Department, 125 members of the Oklahoma National Guard, and 55 officers from the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety. According to the FBI, even though the bombing case was quickly solved, “the investigation turned out to be one of the most exhaustive in FBI history. No stone was left unturned to make sure every clue was found and all the culprits identified. By the time it was over, the Bureau had conducted more than 28,000 interviews, followed some 43,000 investigative leads, amassed three-and-a-half tons of evidence, and reviewed nearly a billion pieces of information."

Considering all the heartbreaking events that happened that day in Oklahoma City, the unsightly chunk of granite to be exhibited in the Museum could certainly be seen as representing something tragic. On the other hand, it could serve as a reminder of the inspiring and courageous response to the devastation.  In the midst of the nation’s deadliest act of domestic terrorism, law enforcement professionals doing their jobs well and working together resulted in bringing guilty parties to justice. One state trooper’s routine, seemingly unimportant traffic stop had repercussions that echoed through the entire nation.  (Note: then-Trooper Hanger [now Sheriff of Noble County (OK)] was named Officer of the Month for October 2001 by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund for his efforts in capturing Timothy McVeigh.)

We hope experiencing To Serve and Protect will encourage visitors to ponder and share opinions, experiences, and ideas they might have about law enforcement, whether related to the Oklahoma City bombing, or otherwise.

Check Out the Museum’s Latest Educational Activity — “Picture a Patch”

The Museum’s education programs are intended for people of all ages—adults, students, law enforcement professionals, families, teachers, and more.  This month, we introduce “Picture a Patch,” a downloadable family activity guide intended for elementary school-aged children and their families to enjoy at home. “Picture a Patch” focuses on law enforcement patches and encourages participants to think about the meaning behind their imagery and to have some fun, too!

Law enforcement officers in many departments wear patches on their uniforms.  Patches can represent the entire department or agency, a particular unit within that department, and more.  Often, an agency member has designed a patch to represent certain ideas, aspects of a unit’s job, or traits of a unit. And many officers collect the wide variety of patches that exist, trading their agency’s patches with officers from different agencies as a sign of good will.  The Museum’s family activity guide builds on this popular, colorful tradition and can help you and your family find a small measure of commonality with law enforcement.
Example of a patch from the Museum's collection.
We shared a prototype version of this activity at a festival. “Picture a Patch” is now improved and ready to use at home!

First, you can explore the idea of law enforcement patches and what they can represent by discussing their different graphics and symbols.  The activity guide includes examples of patches from the Museum’s collection and information about the symbols and graphics pictured on them, along with conversation starter ideas.  Your conversation helps lay the foundation for the next part of the activity, especially for younger children.

Now that you have some context, invite your children to design and draw a patch to represent themselves. Encourage them to think about what they consider important and what symbols they might use to depict those things, traits, or beliefs. Adults are welcome to help youngsters a little, but keep in mind the activity will be much richer if children think of their own ideas. Be sure to create a patch yourself for some extra fun!

Once you’re all satisfied with your patches, use the “Reflection and Conclusion” section to think together about what you’ve learned.  Do you think differently about law enforcement’s many roles now?  What did you learn about your child, or what did your child learn about you, as a result of your conversation?

And don’t forget to share your thoughts with the Museum!  Send us your comments, questions, and feedback.  We’re eager to hear about your experience using this family activity guide.

As we hope you will learn in “Picture a Patch,” law enforcement patches can tell a story all their own through symbols and graphics. The Museum collection has a diverse array of patches from many agencies. With help from people who have developed or designed an agency’s patch(es) and have related knowledge, we can uncover each special story. If you have helped design a law enforcement patch, please let us know! Contact Vanya Scott, Registrar, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 202.737.7869.


It is important to examine the history of policing in the United States in order to understand how it has progressed and changed over time. Alterations to the purpose, duties, and structure of American police agencies have allowed this profession to evolve from ineffective watch groups to police agencies that incor­porate advanced technology and problem-solving strategies into their daily operations. This section provides an overview of the history of American policing, beginning with a discussion of the English influence of Sir Robert Peel and the London Metropolitan Police. Next, early law enforcement efforts in Colonial America are discussed using a description of social and political issues relevant to the police at that time. And finally, this section concludes with a look at early police reform efforts and the tension this created between the police and citizens in their communities. This section is organized in a chronological manner, identifying some of the most important historical events and people who contributed to the development of American policing.




The Beginning of American Policing: The English Influence

American policing has been heavily influenced by the English system throughout the course of history. In the early stages of development in both England and Colonial America, citizens were responsible for law enforcement in their communities.1 The English referred to this as kin police in which people were respon­sible for watching out for their relatives or kin.2 In Colonial America, a watch system consisting of citizen volunteers (usually men) was in place until the mid-19th century.3 Citizens that were part of watch groups provided social services, including lighting street lamps, running soup kitchens, recovering lost children, capturing runaway animals, and a variety of other services; their involvement in crime control activities at this time was minimal at best.4 Policing in England and Colonial America was largely ineffective, as it was based on a volunteer system and their method of patrol was both disorganized and sporadic.5

Sometime later, the responsibility of enforcing laws shifted from individual citizen volunteers to groups of men living within the community; this was referred to as the frankpledge system in England.6 The frankpledge system was a semistructured system in which groups of men were responsible for enforcing the law. Men living within a community would form groups of 10 called tythings (or tithings); 10 tythings were then grouped into hundreds, and then hundreds were grouped into shires (similar to counties).7 A person called the shire reeve (sheriff) was then chosen to be in charge of each shire.8 The individual members of tythings were responsible for capturing criminals and bringing them to court, while shire reeves were responsible for providing a number of services, including the oversight of the activities conducted by the tythings in their shire.9

A similar system existed in America during this time in which constables, sheriffs, and citizen-based watch groups were responsible for policing in the colonies. Sheriffs were responsible for catching criminals, working with the courts, and collecting taxes; law enforcement was not a top priority for sheriffs, as they could make more money by collecting taxes within the community.10 Night watch groups in Colonial America, as well as day watch groups that were added at a later time, were largely ineffective; instead of controlling crime in their community, some members of the watch groups would sleep and/or socialize while they were on duty.11 These citizen-based watch groups were not equipped to deal with the increasing social unrest and rioting that were beginning to occur in both England and Colonial America in the late 1700s through the early 1800s.12 It was at this point in time that publicly funded police departments began to emerge across both England and Colonial America. Sir Robert Peel and the London Metropolitan Police

In 1829, Sir Robert Peel (Home Secretary of England) introduced the Bill for Improving the Police in and Near the Metropolis (Metropolitan Police Act) to Parliament with the goal of creating a police force to manage the social conflict resulting from rapid urbanization and industrialization taking place in the city of London.13 Peel’s efforts resulted in the creation of the London Metropolitan Police on September 29, 1829.14 Historians and scholars alike identify the London Metropolitan Police as the first modern police department.15 Sir Robert Peel is often referred to as the father of modern policing, as he played an integral role in the creation of this department, as well as several basic principles that would later guide the forma­tion of police departments in the United States. Past and current police officers working in the London Metropolitan Police Department are often referred to as bobbies or peelers as a way to honor the efforts of Sir Robert Peel.16

Peel believed that the function of the London Metropolitan Police should focus primarily on crime prevention—that is, preventing crime from occurring instead of detecting it after it had occurred. To do this, the police would have to work in a coordinated and centralized manner, provide coverage across large designated beat areas, and also be available to the public both night and day.17 It was also during this time that preventive patrol first emerged as a way to potentially deter criminal activity. The idea was that citizens would think twice about committing crimes if they noticed a strong police presence in their community. This approach to policing would be vastly different from the early watch groups that patrolled the streets in an unorganized and erratic manner.18 Watch groups prior to the creation of the London Metropolitan Police were not viewed as an effective or legitimate source of protection by the public.19

It was important to Sir Robert Peel that the newly created London Metropolitan Police Department be viewed as a legitimate organization in the eyes of the public, unlike the earlier watch groups.20 To facilitate this legitimation, Peel identified several principles that he believed would lead to credibility with citizens including that the police must be under government control, have a military-like organizational structure, and have a central headquarters that was located in an area that was easily accessible to the public.21 He also thought that the quality of men that were chosen to be police officers would further contribute to the orga­nization’s legitimacy. For example, he believed that men who were even tempered and reserved and that could employ the appropriate type of discipline to citizens would make the best police officers.22 It was also important to Peel that his men wear appropriate uniforms, display numbers (badge numbers) so that citi­zens could easily identify them, not carry firearms, and receive appropriate training in order to be effective at their work.23 Many of these ideologies were also adopted by American police agencies during this time period and remain in place in some contemporary police agencies across the United States. It is important to note that recently, there has been some debate about whether Peel really espoused the previously men­tioned ideologies or principles or if they are the result of various interpretations (or misinterpretations) of the history of English policing.

Policing in Colonial America

Similar to England, Colonial America experienced an increase in population in major cities during the 1700s.25 Some of these cities began to see an influx of immigrant groups moving in from various countries (including Germany, Ireland, Italy, and several Scandinavian countries), which directly contributed to the rapid increase in population.26 The growth in population also created an increase in social disorder and unrest. The sources of social tension varied across different regions of Colonial America; however, the intro­duction of new racial and ethnic groups was identified as a common source of discord.27 Racial and ethnic conflict was a problem across Colonial America, including both the northern and southern regions of the country.28 Since the watch groups could no longer cope with this change in the social climate, more formal­ized means of policing began to take shape. Most of the historical literature describing the early develop­ment of policing in Colonial America focuses specifically on the northern regions of the country while neglecting events that took place in the southern region—specifically, the creation of slave patrols in the South.29

Slave patrols first emerged in South Carolina in the early 1700s, but historical documents also identify the existence of slave patrols in most other parts of the southern region (refer to the Reichel article included at the end of this section).30 Samuel Walker identified slave patrols as the first publicly funded police agencies in the American South.31 Slave patrols (or “paddyrollers”) were created to manage the race-based conflict occurring in the southern region of Colonial America; these patrols were created with the specific intent of maintaining control over slave populations.32 Interestingly, slave patrols would later extend their responsibilities to include control over White indentured servants.33 Salley Hadden identified three principal duties placed on slave patrols in the South during this time, including searches of slave lodges, keeping slaves off of roadways, and disassembling meetings organized by groups of slaves.34 Slave patrols were known for their high level of brutality and ruthlessness as they maintained control over the slave population. The members of slave patrols were usually White males (occasionally a few women) from every echelon in the social strata, ranging from very poor individuals to plantation owners that wanted to ensure control over their slaves.35

Slave patrols remained in place during the Civil War and were not completely disbanded after slavery ended.36 During early Reconstruction, several groups merged with what was formerly known as slave patrols to maintain control over African American citizens. Groups such as the federal military, the state militia, and the Ku Klux Klan took over the responsibilities of earlier slave patrols and were known to be even more violent than their predecessors.37 Over time, these groups began to resemble and operate similar to some of the newly established police departments in the United States. In fact, David Barlow and Melissa Barlow noted that “by 1837, the Charleston Police Department had 100 officers and the primary function of this organization was slave patrol . . . these officers regulated the movements of slaves and free blacks, checking documents, enforcing slave codes, guarding against slave revolts and catching runaway slaves.”38 Scholars and historians assert that the transition from slave patrols to publicly funded police agencies was seamless in the southern region of the United States.39

While some regard slave patrol as the first formal attempt at policing in America, others identify the unification of police departments in several major cities in the early to mid-1800s as the beginning point in the development of modern policing in the United States.40 For example, the New York City Police Department was unified in 1845,41 the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department in 1846,42 the Chicago Police Department in 1854,43 and the Los Angeles Police Department in 1869,44 to name a few. These newly created police agencies adopted three distinct characteristics from their English counter­parts: (1) limited police authority—the powers of the police are defined by law; (2) local control—local governments bear the responsibility for providing police service; and (3) fragmented law enforcement authority—several agencies within a defined area share the responsibility for providing police services, which ultimately leads to problems with communication, cooperation, and control among these agen­cies.45 It is important to point out that these characteristics are still present in modern American police agencies.

Other issues that caused debate within the newly created American police departments at this time included whether police officers should be armed and wear uniforms and to what extent physical force should be used during interactions with citizens.46 Sir Robert Peel’s position on these matters was clear when he formed the London Metropolitan Police Department. He wanted his officers to wear distinguishable uniforms so that citizens could easily identify them. He did not want his officers armed, and he hired and trained his officers in a way that would allow them to use the appropriate type of response and force when interacting with citizens. 47 American police officers felt that the uniforms would make them the target of mockery (resulting in less legitimacy with citizens) and that the level of violence occurring in the United States at that time warranted them carrying firearms and using force whenever necessary.48 Despite their objections, police officers in cities were required to wear uniforms, and shortly after that, they were allowed to carry clubs and revolvers in the mid-1800s.49

In contemporary American police agencies, the dispute con­cerning uniforms and firearms has long been resolved; however, the use of force by the police is still an issue that incites debate in police agencies today.

Policing in the United States, 1800–1970

One way to understand the history of American policing beginning in the 19th century through the 21st century is to dissect it into a series of eras. Depending on which resource you choose, the number and names of those eras will slightly vary; however, there is a general agreement on the influential people and important events that took place over the course of the history of American policing. The article written by George Kelling and Mark Moore included at the end of this section provides three eras as the framework for an interesting and thorough discussion of the history and progression of policing in the United States. The remainder of this section will continue to identify important people and events that have shaped and influ­enced policing up through 1970.

Politics and the Police in America (1800s–1900s)

A distinct characteristic of policing in the United States during the 1800s is the direct and powerful involvement of politics. During this time, policing was heavily entrenched in local politics. The relationship between the police and local politicians was reciprocal in nature: politicians hired and retained police officers as a means to maintain their political power, and in return for employment, police officers would help politicians stay in office by encouraging citizens to vote for them.50 The relationship was so close between politicians and the police that it was common practice to change the entire personnel of the police depart­ment when there were changes to the local political administration.51

Politicians were able to maintain their control over police agencies, as they had a direct hand in choosing the police chiefs that would run the agen­cies. The appointment to the position of police chief came with a price. By accepting the position, police chiefs had little control over decision making that would impact their employees and agencies.52 Many police chiefs did not accept the strong political pres­ence in their agencies, and as a result, the turnover rate for chiefs of police at this time was very high. For example, “Cincinnati went through seven chiefs between 1878 and 1886; Buffalo (NY) tried eight between 1879 and 1894; Chicago saw nine come and go between 1879 and 1897; and Los Angeles changed heads thirteen times between 1879 and 1889.”53 Politics also heavily influenced the hiring and promotion of patrol officers. In order to secure a position as a patrol officer in New York City, the going rate was $300, while officers in San Francisco were required to pay $400.54 In regard to promoted positions, the going rate in New York City for a sergeant’s position was $1,600, and it was $12,000 to $15,000 for a position as cap­tain.55 Upon being hired, policemen were also expected to contribute a portion of their salary to support the dominant political party.56 Political bosses had control over nearly every position within police agen­cies during this era.

Due to the extreme political influence during this time, there were virtually no standards for hiring or training police officers.57 Essentially, politicians within each ward would hire men that would agree to help them stay in office and not consider whether they were the most qualified people for the job. August Vollmer bluntly described the lack of standards during this era:

Under the old system, police officials were appointed through political affiliations and because of this they were frequently unintelligent and untrained, they were distributed through the area to be policed according to a hit-or-miss system and without adequate means of communication; they had little or no record keeping system; their investigation methods were obsolete, and they had no conception of the preventive possibilities of the service.58

Mark Haller described the lack of training another way:

New policemen heard a brief speech from a high-ranking officer, received a hickory club, a whistle, and a key to the callbox, and were sent out on the street to work with an experienced officer. Not only were the policemen untrained in law, but they operated within a criminal justice system that generally placed little emphasis upon legal procedure.59

Police services provided to citizens included a variety of tasks related to health, social welfare, and law enforcement. Robert Fogelson described police duties during this time as “officers cleaning streets . . . inspecting boilers . . . distributed supplies to the poor . . . accommodated the homeless . . . investigated veg­etable markets . . . operated emergency vehicles and attempted to curb crime.”60 All of these activities were conducted under the guise that it would keep the citizens (or voters) happy, which in turn would help keep the political ward boss in office. This was a way to ensure job security for police officers, as they would likely lose their jobs if their ward boss was voted out of office. In other cities across the United States, police offi­cers provided limited services to citizens. Police officers spent time in local saloons, bowling alleys, restau­rants, barbershops, and other business establishments during their shifts. They would spend most of their time eating, drinking, and socializing with business owners when they were supposed to be patrolling the streets.61

There was also limited supervision over patrol officers during this time. Accountability existed only to the political leaders that had helped the officers acquire their jobs.62 In an essay, August Vollmer described the limited supervision over patrol officers during earlier times:

A patrol sergeant escorted him to his post, and at hourly intervals contacted him by means of voice, baton, or whistle. The sergeant tapped his baton on the sidewalk, or blew a signal with his whistle, and the patrolman was obliged to respond, thus indicating his position on the post.63

Sometime in the mid- to late 1800s, call boxes containing telephone lines linked directly to police headquarters were implemented to help facilitate better communication between patrol officers, police supervisors, and central headquarters.64 The lack of police supervi­sion coupled with political control of patrol officers opened the door for police misconduct and corruption.65

Incidents of police corruption and misconduct were common during this era of policing. Corrupt activities were often related to politics, including the rigging of elections and persuading people to vote a certain way, as well as misconduct stemming from abuse of authority and misuse of force by officers.66 Police officers would use violence as an accepted practice when they believed that citizens were acting in an unlawful manner. Policemen would physically discipline juveniles, as they believed that it provided more of a deterrent effect than arrest or incarceration. Violence would also be applied to alleged perpetrators in order to extract information from them or coerce confessions out of them (this was referred to as the third degree). Violence was also believed to be justified in instances in which officers felt that they were being disrespected by citizens. It was acceptable to dole out “street justice” if citizens were noncom­pliant to officers’ demands or requests. If citizens had a complaint regarding the actions of police officers, they had very little recourse, as police supervisors and local courts would usually side with police officers.

One of the first groups appointed to examine complaints of police corruption was the Lexow Commission.67 After issuing 3,000 subpoenas and hearing testimony from 700 witnesses (which pro­duced more than 10,000 pages of testimony), the report from the Lexow investigation revealed four main conclusions:68 First, the police did not act as “guardians of the public peace” at the election polls; instead they acted as “agents of Tammany Hall.” Second, instead of suppressing vice activities such as gambling and prostitution, officers allowed these activities to occur with the condition that they receive a cut of the profits. Third, detectives only looked for stolen property if they would be given a reward for doing so. And finally, there was evidence that the police often harassed law-abiding citizens and individuals with less power in the community instead of providing police services to them. After the Lexow investigation ended, several officers were fired and, in some cases, convicted of criminal offenses. Sometime later, the courts reversed these decisions, allowing the officers to be rehired.69 These actions by the courts demonstrate the strength of political influence in American policing during this time period.

Policing Reform in the United States (1900s–1970s)

Political involvement in American policing was viewed as a problem by both the public and police reformers in the mid- to late 19th century. Early attempts (in the 19th century) at police reform in the United States were unsuccessful, as citizens tried to pressure police agencies to make changes.70 Later on in the early 20th century (with help from the Progressives), reform efforts began to take hold and made significant changes to policing in the United States.71

A goal of police reform included the removal of politics from American policing. This effort included the creation of standards for recruiting and hiring police officers and administrators instead of allowing politicians to appoint these individuals to help them carry out their political agendas. Another goal of police reform during the early 1900s was to professionalize the police. This could be achieved by setting standards for the quality of police officers hired, implementing better police training, and adopting various types of technology to aid police officers in their daily operations (including motorized patrol and the use of two-way radios).72 The professionalization movement of the police in America resulted in police agencies becoming centralized bureaucracies focused primarily on crime control.73 The importance of the role of “crime fighter” was highlighted in the Wickersham Commission report (1931), which examined rising crime rates in the United States and the inability of the police to manage this problem. It was proposed in this report that police officers could more effectively deal with rising crime by focusing their police duties primarily on crime control instead of the social services that they had once provided in the political era.74

In an article published in 1933, August Vollmer outlined some of the significant changes that he believed had taken place in American policing from 1900 to 1930. The use of the civil service system in the hiring and promotion of police officers was one way to help remove politics from policing and to set stan­dards for police recruits. The implementation of effective police training programs was also an important change during this time. The ability of police administrators to strategically distribute police force accord­ing to the needs of each area or neighborhood was another change made to move toward a professional model of policing. There was also an improved means of communication at this time, which included the adoption of two-way radio systems. Many agencies also began to adopt more reliable record-keeping sys­tems, improved methods for identifying criminals (including the use of fingerprinting systems), and more advanced technologies used in criminal investigations (such as lie detectors and science-based crime labs). Despite the heavy emphasis on crime control that began to emerge in the mid-1930s, some agencies began to use crime-prevention techniques. And finally, this era saw the emergence of state highway police to aid in the control of traffic, which had increased after the automobile was introduced in the United States.75 Vollmer stated that all of these changes contributed to the professionalization of the police in America.

O. W. Wilson was the protégé of August Vollmer. His work essentially picked up where Vollmer’s left off in the late 1930s. He started out as police chief in Wichita, Kansas, and then moved on to establish the School of Criminology at the University of California.76 Wilson’s greatest contribution to American policing lies within police administration. Specifically, his vision involved the centralization of police agencies; this includes both organizational structure and man­agement of personnel.77 Wilson is also credited with creating a strategy for distributing patrol officers within a community based on reported crimes and calls for service. His book, Police Administration, pub­lished in 1950, became the “bible of police manage­ment” and ultimately defined how professional police agencies would be managed for many decades that followed.78

It is clear that the work of Vollmer and Wilson helped American policing advance beyond that of the political era; however, Harlan Haun and Judson Jeffries argue that police reforms of the 1950s and 1960s neglected the relationship between the police and the public.79 The relationship deterio­rated between the two groups because the citi­zens called for police services that were mostly noncriminal in nature, and the police responded with a heavy emphasis on crime control.80 The distance between these two groups would become even greater as the social climate began to change in the United States.

The 1950s marked the beginning of a social movement that would bring race relations to the attention of all Americans. Several events involv­ing African American citizens ignited a series of civil rights marches and demonstrations across the country in the mid-1950s. For example, in December 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested after she violated a segregation ordinance by refusing to move to the back of the bus. Her arrest trig­gered what is now referred to as the Montgomery bus boycott.81 African American citizens car­pooled instead of using the city bus system to protest segregation ordinances. Local police began to ticket Black motorists at an increasing pace to retaliate against the boycott. In one instance, Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested for driving 5 miles per hour over the posted speed limit.82 Arrests were made at any type of sit-in or protest, whether they were peaceful or not. Research focused on the precipitants and under­lying conditions that contributed to race riots during this time period identified police pres­ence and police actions as the major conditions that were present prior to most of the race riots in the 1950s and 1960s.83 In addition, the President’s Com­mission on Civil Disorder (also known as the Kerner Commission) reported that “almost invariably the incident that ignites disorder arises from police action.”84

Social disorder resulting from protests, marches, and rioting in the 1960s resulted in frequent physical clashes between the police and the public. It was during this time that people across the United States began to see photographs in newspapers and news reports on television that featured incidents of violence between these two groups. The level of violence and force being used by police officers was shocking to some citizens, as they had not been exposed to it through visual news media in the past. One of the most recognized examples of this type of violence was the clash between police and protesters at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August of 1968.85 Graphic photos of the police hitting, pushing, and arresting protesters were featured on the national news and in many national printed pub­lications. These types of incidents contributed to the public-relations problem experienced by American police during the 1960s.

Any police reform efforts taking place in the 1960s were based heavily on a traditional model of polic­ing. Traditional policing focuses on responding to calls for service and managing crimes in a reactive man­ner.86 This approach to policing focuses on serious crime as opposed to issues related to social disorder and citizens’ quality of life. The traditional policing model places great importance on the number of arrests police officers make or how fast officers can respond to citizens’ calls for service.87 In addition, this policing strategy does not involve a cooperative effort between the police and citizens. Richard Adams and his col­leagues described it best when they stated that “traditional policing tends to stress the role of police officers in controlling crime and views citizens’ role in the apprehension of criminals as minor players at best and as part of the problem at worst.”88 The use of traditional policing practices coupled with the social unrest that was taking place during the 1960s contributed to the gulf that was widening between the police and citizens.



1.American policing was influenced by Sir Robert Peel and the London Metropolitan Police.

2.Policing in Colonial America consisted of voluntary watch groups formed by citizens; these groups were unorganized and considered ineffective.

3.Slaves patrols in the southern region of the United States were used to control slave populations and have been identified by some scholars and historians as the first formal police agencies in this country.

4.Politics played a major role in American policing in the 1800s. Political involvement was believed to be at the core of police corruption present in the agencies at that time.

5.Police reform was geared toward making the police more “professional.”


Call Box

Frankpledge System

London Metropolitan Police

Political Era

Reform Era

Sir Robert Peel

Slave Patrols

Third Degree



1. Why is Sir Robert Peel important to the development of policing in the United States?

2. Describe some of the duties associated with the early watch groups in the United States in the mid-19th century.

3. Identify several principles espoused by Sir Robert Peel as he began to assemble the London Metropolitan Police Department.

4. What was O. W. Wilson’s main contribution to American policing?

5. Explain how the traditional model of policing contributed to the deterioration of the relationship between police and citizens in the United States during the 1960s.

Southern Slave Patrols as a Transitional Police Type
Philip L. Reichel
Accounts of the developmental history of Amer­ican policing have tended to concentrate on happenings in the urban North. While the lit­erature is replete with accounts of the growth of law enforcement in places like Boston (Lane, 1967; Savage, 1865), Chicago (Flinn, 1975), Detroit (Schneider, 1980) and New York City (Richardson, 1970), there has been minimal attention paid to police development outside the North. It seems unlikely that other regions of the country simply mimicked that development regardless of their own peculiar social, economic, political, and geographical aspects. In fact, Samuel Walker (1980) has briefly noted that eighteenth and nineteenth century Southern cities had developed elaborate police patrol systems in an effort to control the slave population. Walker even suggested these slave patrols were precur­sors to the police (1980: 59). As a forerunner to the police, it would seem that slave patrols should have become a well researched example in our attempt to better understand the development of American law enforcement. However, the regionalism of many exist­ing histories has meant that criminal justicians and practitioners are often unaware of the existence of, and the role played by, Southern slave patrols. This means our knowledge of the history of policing is incomplete and regionally biased. This article responds to that problem by focusing attention on the development of law enforcement in the Southern slave states (i.e., Ala­bama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Car­olina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia) during the colonial and antebellum years. The particu­lar question to be answered is: were Southern slave patrols precursors to modern policing?

Answering the research question requires clarifi­cation of the term precursor. The concept of a precur­sor to police implies there are stages of development preceding the point at which a modern police force is achieved. Several authors have looked at specific factors which influenced the development of police organizations in particular cities. Fewer have tried to make generalizations about police growth across the society. The latter group, which includes Bacon (1939), Lundman (1980) and Monkkonen (1981), draw on case studies of certain cities to hypothesize a develop­mental sequence explaining modernization of police in America. Lundman (1980), however, presents his ideas with the help of a typology of police systems.1 The advantage of a historical typology is that it allows conceptualization of a developmental sequence and can therefore be most helpful in determining whether or not slave patrols can be viewed as a part of that sequence.

The Stages of Police Development

Lundman (1980) has suggested three types or systems of policing: informal, transitional, and modern. Infor­mal policing is characterized by community members sharing responsibility for maintaining order. Such a system was typical of societies with little division of labor and a great deal of homogeneity. There existed among the people, a “collective conscience” which allowed them willingly to participate in the identifica­tion and apprehension of rule violators. As society grew, people had wider-ranging jobs and interests. Agreement as to what was right and wrong became less complete and informal police systems became less effective. Society’s response was the development of transitional policing which served as a bridge between the informal and modern types. In that capacity, the transitional systems included aspects of the informal networks but also anticipated modern policing in terms of offices and procedures.

Identification of the point at which a police department becomes modern has not been agreed upon. Bacon, for example, cited six factors to be met: 1) city-wide jurisdiction; 2) twenty-four-hour respon­sibility; 3) a single organization in charge of the greater part of formal enforcement; 4) a paid person­nel on a salary basis; 5) a personnel occupied solely with police duties, and 6) general rather than specific functions (1939: 6). At the other extreme is Monk­konen’s (1981) suggestion that the decisive movement to a modern police department occurs when the police adopt a uniform. Lundman follows Bacon but identi­fies only four distinctive characteristics of modern policing (1980: 17). First, there are persons recognized as having full-time police responsibilities. Also, there is 2) continuity in office as well as 3) continuity in procedure. Finally, for a system to be considered mod­ern it must have 4) accountability to a central govern­mental authority.

Those four characteristics incorporate most of Bacon’s suggestions but ignore Monkkonen’s. Walker, however, found the use of uniforms as a starting point for modern policing to be “utter nonsense” (1982: 216), since the development process was not the same in every city and the new agencies varied so much in size and strength.2 Instead, Lundman’s characteristics seem appropriately chosen for present needs to identify the modern police type.

Existing histories of law enforcement provide significant information about informal (e.g. consta­bles, day and night watches) and modern (e.g. London, New York City, Boston) types, but tend to ignore examples of what Lundman might call transitional. The implication is that modern policing was the result of simple formalization of informal systems. This article offers Southern slave patrols as an example of policing which went beyond informal but was not yet modern. Because few people are aware of them, the patrols will be described before being linked to transi­tional police types.

A Description of Southern Slave Patrols

A number of variables influence the development of formal mechanisms of social control. Lundman’s review of the literature (1980: 24) identified four important factors: 1) an actual or perceived increase in crime; 2) public riots; 3) public intoxication; and 4) a need to control the “dangerous classes.” Bacon (1939) in a comprehensive yet infrequently cited work, took a somewhat different approach. He identified three factors of social change influencing development of modern police departments: 1) increased economic specialization; 2) formation and increasing stratifica­tion of classes; and 3) increase in population size. As a result of these social changes Bacon argues there comes “an increase in fraud, in public disorders, and in legis­lation limiting personal freedom” which pre-existing forms of maintaining order (e.g. family, church, neigh­borhood) are unable to handle (1939: 782). Variations in enforcement procedures then occur which are “pointed at specific groups, economic specialists, and certain times, places, and objects” until eventually there is a “tendency for specialists to become unified and organized” (Bacon, 1939: 782–783).

Given the scholarly works identifying such numer­ous and intertwined variables affecting the develop­ment of police agencies, it is potentially misleading to concentrate on just one of those factors. However, his­torical accounts of social control techniques in the South seem to suggest that a concern with class strati­fication (Lundman’s fourth factor and Bacon’s second) played a primary role in the development of formal systems of control in that region. Although the conflicts presented by immigrants and the poor have been shown to be important in the development of police in London, New York, and Boston (Lundman, 1980: 29), the conflicts presented by slaves have received very lit­tle attention. Bacon compared slaves to Southern whites and found the folkways and mores of the two castes were so different that “continual and obvious force was required if society were to be maintained” (1939: 772). The continual and obvious force developed by the South to control its version of the “dangerous classes” was the slave patrol. Before discussing those patrols it is necessary to understand why the slaves constituted a threat.3

Slaves as a Dangerous Class

The portrayal of slaves as docile, happy, and generally content with their bondage has been successfully challenged in recent decades. We can today express amazement that slaveowners could have been unaware of their slaves’ unhappiness, yet some whites were continually surprised that slaves resisted their status. Such an attitude was not found only among Southern slaveowners. In a 1731 advertisement for a fugitive slave, a New England master was dismayed that this slave had run away “without the least provocation” (quoted in Foner, 1975: 264). Whether provoked in the eyes of slaveholders or not, slaves did resist their bondage. That resistance generally took one of three forms: running away, criminal acts and conspiracies or revolts. Any of those actions constituted a danger to whites.

The number of slaves who ran away is difficult to determine (Foner, 1975: 264). However, it was certainly one of the greatest problems of slave government (Pat­erson, 1968: 20). Resistance by running away was easier for younger, English-speaking, skilled slaves, but records indicate slaves of all ages and abilities had attempted escape in this manner (Foner, 1975: 260). Criminal acts by slaves have also been linked to resis­tance. Foner (1975: 265–268) notes instances of theft, robbery, crop destruction, arson and poison as being typical. Georgia legislation in 1770 which provided the death penalty for slaves found guilty of even attempting to poison whites was said to be necessary because “the detestable crime of poisoning hath frequently been committed by slaves.” A 1761 issue of the Charleston Gazette complained “the Negroes have again begun the hellish practice of poisoning” (both quoted in Foner, 1975: 267).

Possibly the most fear-invoking resistance how­ever, were the slave conspiracies and revolts: Such action occurred as early as 1657, but the largest slave uprising in colonial America took place on September 9, 1739 near the Stono River several miles from Charles­ton. Forty Negroes and twenty whites were killed and the resulting uproar had important impact on slave regulations. For example, South Carolina patrol legisla­tion in 1740, noted:

Foreasmuch as many late horrible and bar­barous massacres have been actually com­mitted and many more designed, on the white inhabitants of this Province, by negro slaves, who are generally prone to such cruel practices, which makes it highly necessary that constant patrols should be established (Cooper, 1938b: 568).

Neighboring Georgians were also concerned with the actuality and potential for slave revolts. The preamble of their 1757 law establishing and regulating slave patrols argues:

it is absolutely necessary for the Security of his Majesty’s Subjects in this Province, that Patrols should be established under proper Regulations in the settled parts thereof, for the better keeping of Negroes and other Slaves in Order and prevention of any Cabals, Insur­rections or other Irregularities amongst them (Candler, 1910: 225).

Each of the three areas of resistance aided in slaves being perceived as a dangerous class. There was, how­ever, another variable with overriding influence. Unlike the other three factors, this aspect was less direct and less visible. That latent variable was the number of slaves in the total population of several colonies. While an interest in knowing the continuous whereabouts of slaves was present throughout the colonies, slave con­trol by formal means (e.g., specialized legislation and forces) was more often found in those areas where slaves approached, or in fact were, the numerical majority. Table 1 provides population percentages for some of the Southern colonies/states. When consider­ing the sheer number of persons to be controlled it is not surprising that whites often felt vulnerable.

The Organization and Operation of Slave Patrols4

Consistent with the earliest enforcement techniques identified in English and American history, the first means of controlling slaves was informal in nature. In 1686 a South Carolina statute said anyone could appre­hend, chastise and send home any slave found off his/her plantation without authorization. In 1690 such action was made everyone’s duty or be fined forty shil­lings (Henry, 1968: 31). Enforcement of slavery by the average citizen was not to be taken lightly. A 1705 act in Virginia made it legal “for any person or persons what­soever, to kill or destroy such slaves (i.e. runaways)…without accusation or impeachment of any crime for the same” (quoted in Foner, 1975: 195). Eventually, however, such informal means became inadequate. As the social changes suggested by Bacon (1939) took place and the fear of slaves as a dangerous class height­ened, special enforcement officers developed and pro­vided a transition to modern police with general enforcement powers.

In their earliest stages, slave patrols were part of the colonial militias. Royal charters empowered gover­nors to defend colonies and that defense took the form of a militia for coast and frontier defense (Osgood, 1957). All able-bodied males between 16 and 60 were to be enrolled in the militia and had to provide their own weapons and equipment (Osgood, 1957; Shy, 1980; Simmons, 1976). Although the militias were regionally diverse and constantly changing (Shy, 1980), Anderson’s (1984) comments about the Massachusetts Bay Colony militia notes an important distinction that was reflected in other colonies. At the beginning of the 18th century, Massachusetts’ militia was defined not so much as an army but “as an all-purpose military infra­structure” (Anderson, 1984: 27) from which volunteers were drawn for the provincial armies. This concept of the militia as a pool from which persons could be drawn for special duties was the basis for colonial slave patrols.

Militias were active at different levels throughout the colonies. New York and South Carolina militias were required to be particularly active. New York was men­aced by the Dutch and French-Iroquois conflicts while South Carolina had to be defended against the Indians, Spanish, and pirates. By the middle of the Eighteenth century the colonies were being less threatened by external forces and attention was being turned to inter­nal problems. As early as 1721 South Carolina began shifting militia duty away from external defense to internal security. In that year, the entire militia was made available for the surveillance of slaves (Osgood, 1974). The early South Carolina militia law had enrolled both Whites and Blacks, and in the Yamassee war of 1715 some four hundred Negroes helped six hundred white men defeat the Indians (Shy, 1980). Eventually, however, South Carolinians did not dare to arm Negroes. With the majority of the population being black (see Table 1) and the increasing danger of slave revolts, the South Carolina militia essentially became a “local anti-slave police force and (was) rarely permitted to partici­pate in military operations outside its boundaries” (Simmons, 1976: 127).

Despite their link to militia, slave patrols were a separate entity. Each slave state had codes of laws for the regulation of slavery. These slave codes authorized and outlined the duties of the slave patrols. Some towns had their own patrols, but they were more frequent in the rural areas. The presence of constables and a more equal distribution of whites and blacks made the need for the town patrols less immediate. In the rural areas, however, the slaves were more easily able to participate in “dangerous” acts. It is not surprising that the slave patrols came to be viewed as “rural police” (cf. Henry, 1968: 42). South Carolina Governor Bull described the role of the patrols in 1740 by writing:

The interior quiet of the Province is provided for the small Patrols, drawn every two months from each company, who do duty by riding along the roads and among the Negro Houses in small districts in every Parish once a week, or as occasion requires (quoted in Wood, 1974: 276 note 23).

Documentation of slave patrols is found for nearly all the Southern colonies and states5 but South Carolina seems to have been the oldest, most elaborate, and best documented. That is not surprising given the impor­tance of the militia in South Carolina and the presence of large numbers of Blacks. Georgia’s developed some­what later and exemplifies patrols in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The history and development of slave patrol legislation in South Carolina and Georgia provides a historical review from colonial through antebellum times.

In 1704 the colony of Carolina6 presented what appears to be the South’s first patrol act. The patrol was linked to the militia yet separate from it since patrol duty was an excuse from militia duty. Under this act, militia captains were to select ten men from their com­panies to form these special patrols. The captain was to muster all the men under his command, and with them ride from plantation to plantation, and into any plantation, within the limits or precincts, as the General shall think fitt and take up all slaves which they shall meet with­out their master’s plantation which have not a permit or ticket from their masters, and the same punish (Cooper, 1837: 255).

That initial act seemed particularly concerned with runaway slaves, while an act in 1721 suggests an increased concern with uprisings. The act ordered the patrols to try to “prevent all caballings amongst negroes, by dispersing of them when drumming or playing, and to search all negro houses for arms or other offensive weapons” (McCord, 1841: 640). In addition to that con­cern the new act also responded to complaints that militia duty was being shirked by the choicest men who were doing patrol duty instead of militia duty (Bacon, 1939; Henry, 1968; McCord, 1841; Wood, 1974). As a result, the separate patrols were merged with the colonial militia and patrol duty was simply rotated among differ­ent members of the militia. From 1721 to 1734 there really were no specific slave patrols in South Carolina. The duty of supervising slaves was simply a militia duty.

In 1734 the Provincial Assembly set up a regular patrol once again separate from the militia (Cooper 1838a, p. 395). “Beat companies” of five men (Captain and four regular militia men) received compensation (captains $50 and privates $25 per year) for patrol duty and exemption from other militia duty. There was one patrol for each of 33 districts in the colony. Patrols obeyed orders from and were appointed by district commissioners and were given elaborate search and seizure powers as well as the right to administer up to twenty lashes (Cooper 1838a: 395–397).7

Since provincial acts usually expired after three years, South Carolina’s 1734 Act was revised in 1737 and again in 1740. Under the 1737 revision, the paid recruits were replaced with volunteers who were encouraged to enlist by being excused from militia and other public duty for one year and were allowed to elect their own captain (Cooper 1838b; 456–458). The num­ber of men on patrol was increased from five to fifteen and they were to make weekly rounds. Henry (1968: 33) believed these changes were an attempt to dissuade irresponsible persons who had been attracted to patrol duty for the pay.

The 1740 revision seems to be the first legislation specifically including women plantation owners as answerable for patrol service (Cooper 1838b; 569–570). The plantation owners (male or female) could, however, procure any white person between 16 and 60 to ride patrol for them. In addition, the 1740 act said patrol duty was not to be required in townships where white inhabitants were in far superior numbers to the Negroes (Cooper 1838b; 571). Such an exemption certainly highlights the role of patrols as being to control what was perceived as a dangerous class.

At this point we turn to the Georgia slave patrols as an example of one that developed after South Carolina set a precedent. Georgia was settled late (1733) com­pared to the other colonies and despite her proximity to South Carolina she did not make immediate use of slaves. In fact while slaves were illegally imported in the mid 1740s, they were not legally allowed until 1750. Within seven years Georgians felt a need for control of the slaves. Her first patrol act (1757) provided for mili­tia captains to pick up to seven patrollers from a list of all plantation owners (women and men) and all male white persons in the patrol district (Candler 1910: 225–235). The patrollers or their substitutes were to ride patrol at least once every two weeks and examine each plantation in their district at least once every month. The patrols were to seek out potential run­aways, weapons, ammunition, or stolen goods.

The 1757 Act was continued in 1760 (Candler 1910: 462) for a period of five years. The 1765 continu­ation (Cobb 1851: 965) increased the number of patrollers to a maximum of ten, but left the duties and structure of the patrol as it was created in 1757. In the 1768 revision (Candler 1911: 75) the possession and use of weapons by slaves was tightened and a fine was set for selling alcohol to slaves. More interesting was the order relevant to Savannah only which gave patrollers the power to apprehend and take into custody (until the next morning) any disorderly white person (Candler 1911: 81). Should such a person be in a “Tippling House Tavern or Punch House” rather than on the streets the patrol bad to call a lawful constable to their assistance before they could enter the “bar.” Such power was extended in 1778 when patrols were obliged to “take up all white persons who cannot give a satisfactory account of themselves and carry them before a Justice of the Peace to be dealt with as is directed by the Vagrant Act” (Candler, 1911: 119).

Minor changes occurred between 1778 and 1830 (e.g. females were exempted from patrol duty in 1824) but the first major structural change did not take place until 1830. In that year Georgia patrols finally began moving away from a direct militia link when Justices of the Peace were authorized and required to appoint and organize patrols (Cobb, 1851: 1003). In 1854 Justices of the Interior Courts were to annually appoint three “patrol commissioners” for each militia district (Ruth­erford, 1854: 101). Those commissioners were to make up the patrol list and appoint one person at least 25 years old and of good moral character to be Captain.

The absence of significant changes in Georgia patrol legislation over the years suggests the South Carolina experiences had provided an experimental stage for Georgia and possibly other slave states. Dif­ferences certainly existed, but Foner’s general descrip­tion of slave patrols seems accurate for the majority of colonies and states; patrols had full power and author­ity to enter any plantation and break open Negro houses or other places when slaves were suspected of keeping arms; to punish runaways or slaves found outside of their masters’ plantations without a pass; to whip any slave who should affront or abuse them in the execution of their duties; and to apprehend and take any slave suspected of stealing or other criminal offense, and bring him to the nearest magistrate (1975: 206).

The Slaves’ Response to the Patrols

The slave patrols were both feared and resented by the slaves.8 Some went so far as to suggest it was “the worse thing yet about slavery” (quoted in Blassingame, 1977: 156). Former slave Lewis Clarke was most eloquent in expressing his disgust:

(The patrols are) the offscouring of all things; the refuse,…the ears and tails of slavery;…the tooth and tongues of serpents. They are the very fool’s cap of baboons,…the wallet and satchel of polecats, the scum of stagnant pools, the exuvial, the worn-out skins of slave­holders. (T)hey are the meanest, and lowest, and worst of all creation. Like starved wharf rats, they are out nights, creeping into slave cabins, to see if they have an old bone there; they drive out husbands from their own beds, and then take their places (Clarke, 1846: 114).

Despite the harshness and immediacy of punish­ment as well as the likelihood of discovery, slaves con­tinued with the same behavior that brought about slave patrols in the first place. In fact, they added activities of specific irritation to the patrollers (or, as they were variously known, padaroe, padarole, or patteroller). Preventive measures like warning systems, playing ignorant and innocent when caught and learning when to expect a patrol were typically used. More assertive measures included building trap doors for escape from their cabins, tying ropes across roads to trip approach­ing horses, and fighting their way out of meeting places (Genovese, 1972: 618–619; Rose, 1976: 249–289). As have victims in other terrifying situations, the slaves occasionally resorted to humor as a source of strength. One version of a popular song makes that point:

Run, nigger, run; de patter-roller catch you;

Run, nigger, run, its almost day.

Run, nigger, run; de patter-roller catch you;

Run, nigger, run, and try to get far away.

De nigger run, he run his best;

Stuck his hand in a hornet’s nest.

Jumped de fence and run through de pastor;

Marsa run, but nigger run faster.
                                         (Goodman, 1969: 83)

In an ironic sense the resistance by slaves should have been completely understandable to American patri­ots. Patrols were allowed search powers that the colonists later found so objectionable in the hands of British authorities (Foner, 1975: 221). Add to that the accompa­nying lack of freedoms to move, assemble, and bear arms, and the slave resistance seems perfectly appropriate.

Problems with the Slave Patrols

In addition to the difficulties presented by the slaves themselves, the patrols throughout the South experi­enced a variety of other problems. Many of these were similar to problems confronting colonial militia: training was infrequent; the elites often avoided duty; and those that did serve were often irresponsible (Anderson, 1984; Osgood, 1957; Shy, 1980; Simmons, 1976). In addition, the patrols had some unique concerns.

One of the first problems was the presence of free Blacks. Understandably, slaves caught by patrollers would try to pass themselves off as free persons. The problem was particularly bad in some of the cities where many free Blacks existed. In 1810, for example, the Charleston census showed 1,783 free Negroes (Henry, 1968: 50). Special acts eventually allowed the patrol to whip even free Negroes away from their home or employer’s business unless they produced “free papers.” In all but one of the slave states a Black person was presumed to be a slave unless she or he could prove differently. The sole exception to this procedure was Louisiana where “persons of color are presumed to be free” (Louisiana supreme court quoted in Foner, 1983: 106) until proven otherwise.

Other problems centered on the apparently care­less enforcement of the patrol laws in some districts. When all was quiet and orderly the patrol seemed to be lulled into inactivity (Henry, 1968: 39). But there seemed always to be individuals having problems with slaves and those persons often complained about the lax enforcement of patrol laws. Flanders (1967: 30) cites several examples from exasperated Georgians who complained that slaves were not being properly con­trolled. In 1770 South Carolina Governor Bull noted that “though human prudence has provided these Statutory Laws, yet, through human frailty, they are neglected in these times of general tranquility” (quoted in Wood, 1974: 276 note 23). Fifty years later the situa­tion had not improved much as then Governor Geddes suggested in his annual message:

The patrol duty which is so intimately con­nected with the good order and police of the state, is still so greatly neglected in several of our parishes and districts, that serious incon­veniences have been felt… (quoted in Henry, 1968: 38).

Even when the patrols were active they did not avoid criticism. Genovese (1972: 618) quotes a Georgia planter who complained: “Our patrol laws are seldom enforced, and even where there is mock observance of them, it is by a parcel of boys or idle men, the height of whose ambition is to ‘ketch a nigger’.” Earlier it was noted that South Carolina in 1721 modified its patrol law because the “choices and best men” (planters) were avoiding militia duty by doing patrol duty. As Bacon (1939: 581) notes, service by such men was something of a rarity in police work anyway. However, it must have been a rarity in other slave states as well since the more typical opinion of the patrollers was that expressed above by the Georgia planter. As with militia duty in general, the elite members of the districts often were able to avoid patrol duty by either paying a fine or find­ing a substitute.

Where the “ketch a nigger” mentality existed, the patrols were often accused of inappropriate behavior. Complaints existed about patrollers drinking too much liquor before or during duty (Bacon, 1939: 587; Rose, 1976: 276; Wood, 1974: 276), and both South Carolina (Cooper, 1838b; 573) and Georgia (Candler, 1910: 233–234) had provisions for lining any person found drunk while on patrol duty.

More serious complaints (possibly linked to the drinking) concerned the harshness of punishment administered by some patrols. Ex-slave Ida Henry offered an example:

De patrollers wouldn’t allow de slaves to hold night services, and one night dey caught me mother out praying. Dey stripped her naked and tied her hands together and wid a rope tied to de handcuffs and threw one end of de rope over a limb and tied de other end to de pummel of a saddle on a horse. As me mother weighed ‘bout 200, dey pulled her up so dat her toes could barely touch de ground and whipped her. Dat same night she ran away and stayed over a day and returned (quoted in Foner 1983, p. 103).

Masters as well as slaves often protested the actions of the patrol—on which the owners had successfully avoided serving (Genovese, 1972; 618). The slaves were, after all, an expensive piece of property which owners did not want damaged. Attempts to preserve orderly behavior of the patrollers took the form of a fine for misbehavior and occasionally reimbursement for dam­ages (Henry, 1968: 37, 40). However, patrollers were allowed a rather free hand and many unlawful acts were accepted in attempts to uphold the patrol system. Henry saw this as the greatest evil of the system since “it gave unscrupulous persons unfair advantages and appears not to have encouraged the enforcement of the law by the better class” (1968: 40).

This review of the slave patrols shows them to have operated as a specialized enforcement arm. Although often linked to the militia, they had an autonomy and unique function which demands they be viewed as something more than an informal police type yet cer­tainly not an example of a modern police organization. To identify the historical role and place of slave patrols we will turn to the concept of transitional police types.


By definition a transitional police type must share characteristics of both informal and modern systems. Drawing from his four characteristics of a modern type, Lundman says transitional systems differ from modern ones by: 1) reliance upon other than full-time police officers; 2) frequent elimination and replacement (i.e. absence of continuity in office and in procedure); and 3) absence of accountability to a central governmental authority (1980: 19–20). When slave patrols are placed against these criteria they can be shown to have enough in common to warrant consideration as a transitional police type. First, like informal systems, the slave patrols relied on the private citizen to carry out the duties. However, unlike the constable, watchman and sheriff, the patrollers had only policing duties rather than accompanying expectations of fire watch and/or tax collection. The identification of patrollers as “police” was much closer to a social status as we know it today. For example, when South Carolina planter Samuel Porcher was elected a militia captain he described himself as being “a sort of chief of police in the parish” (J. K. Williams, 1959: 65). Slave patrols relied upon private citizens for performance of duties, yet those patrollers came closer to being fulltime police officers than had citizens under informal systems.

As noted earlier, slave patrols were not always active and even when they were they did not always follow expected procedure. The periodic lapses and frequent replacement of patrols is expected under Lun­dman’s idea of a transitional type. Since the patrols operated under procedures set down in the Slave Codes they did approximate continuity in procedure. However, the South Carolina chronology of patrol legis­lation suggests those procedures changed as often as every three years.

The final criterion against which slave patrols might be judged is accountability to a control govern­mental authority. Lundman says such accountability is absent in a transitional system (1980: 20). It is at this point that slave patrols as a transitional police type might be challenged. The consistent link between slave patrols and militia units makes it difficult to argue against accountability to a central government author­ity. Even when the link to militia was not direct, there was a central authority controlling patrols. From 1734 to 1737 South Carolina patrols were appointed by dis­trict commissioners and obeyed orders of the governor, military commander-in-chief, and district commis­sioners (Bacon, 1939: 585; Wood, 1974: 275). In 1753, North Carolina justices of county courts could appoint three free-holders as “searchers” who took an oath to disarm slaves9 (Patterson, 1968: 13). In 1802 the patrols were placed entirely under the jurisdiction of the coun­try courts which in 1837 were authorized to appoint a patrol committee to ensure the patrol functioned (Johnson, 1937: 516–517). Tennessee, a part of North Carolina from 1693–1790, also used the “searchers” as authorized by the 1753 act. In 1806, ten years after statehood, Tennessee developed an elaborate patrol system wherein town commissioners appointed patrols for incorporated and unincorporated towns (Patterson, 1968: 38). Louisiana patrols (originally set up in 1807 by Territorial legislation) went through a period of confusion between 1813 and 1821 when both the mili­tia and parish judges had authority over patrols. Finally, in 1821 parish governmental bodies were given com­plete authority over the slave patrols (J.G. Taylor, 1963: 170; E.R. Williams, 1972: 400). Slave patrols had first been introduced in Arkansas in 1825 and were appar­ently appointed by the county courts until 1853. After then appointments were made by the justice of the peace (O.W. Taylor, 1958: 31, 209) as was true in Georgia beginning in 1830 (Cobb, 1851: 1003). In 1831 the incorporated towns in Mississippi were authorized to control their own patrol system and in 1833 boards of county police (i.e. county boards of supervisors) could appoint patrol leaders (Sydnor, 1933: 78). The Missouri General Assembly first established patrols in 1825 then in 1837 the county courts were given powers to appoint township patrols to serve for one year (Trexler, 1969: 182–183).

That review of patrol accountability in eight states suggests that slave patrols often came under the same governmental authority as formal police organizations. Or, as Sydnor pointed out in reference to the Mississippi changes: “the system was decentralized and made sub­ject to the local units of civil government” (1933: 78). An argument can be made that the basis for a non-militia government authorized force to undertake police duties was implemented as early as 1734 when South Carolina patrols were appointed by district com­missioners or in 1802 when North Carolina placed patrols under the jurisdiction of the county courts. What then does that mean for the placement of slave patrols as an example of a transitional police type? If the various governmental bodies mentioned above are accepted as being examples of “centralized governmen­tal authority,” it means two positions are possible. First, slave patrols must not be an example of a transitional type. This position is rejected on the basis of informa­tion provided here which shows the patrols to have been a legitimate entity with specialized law enforce­ment duties and powers.

The other possible position is that “absence of accountability to a centralized governmental authority” is not a necessary feature of transitional policing. This seems more reasonable given the information pre­sented here. Since there has not been any specific example of a transitional police force offered to this point,10 Lundman’s characteristics are only hypotheti­cal. As other examples of transitional police types are put forward we will have a firmer base for determining how they differ from modern police.


As early as 1704 and continuing through the antebellum period, Southern slave states used local patrols with specific responsibility for regulating the activity of slaves. Those slave patrols were comprised of citizens who did patrol duty as their civic obligation, for pay, rewards, or for exemption from other duties. The patrollers had a defined area which they were to ride in attempts to discover runaway slaves, stolen property, weapons, or to forestall insurrections. Unlike the watchmen, constables, and sheriffs who had some non-policing duties, the slave patrols operated solely for the enforcement of colonial and state laws. The existence of these patrols leads to two conclusions about the development of American law enforcement. First, the law enforcement nature of slave patrol activities meant there were important events occurring in the rural South prior to and concurrently with events in the urban North which are more typically cited in examples of the evolution of policing in the United States. Because of that, it is undesirable to restrict attention to just the North when trying to understand and appreciate the growth of American law enforcement. Second, rather than simply being a formalization of previously informal activities, modern policing seems to have passed through developmental stages which can be explained by such typologies as that offered by Lundman who described informal, transitional, and modern types of policing.

While those conclusions are important, focusing attention on slave patrols and the South is desirable for reasons which go quite beyond a need to avoid regional bias in historical accounts or to describe a form of policing which is neither informal nor modern. For example, what implication does this analysis have on the usefulness of typologies in historical research? Fur­ther, how might typologies and the accompanying description of those types assist in generating a theory to explain the development of law enforcement? If typologies are helpful as a historiographic tech­nique, is Lundman’s the best available or possible? Based on the usefulness of the typology for describing slave patrols and placing them in a specific historical context, it seems to this author that typologies are an excellent way to go beyond descriptive accounts and move toward the development of theoretical explana­tions. As greater use is made of typologies to conceptu­alize the development of American law enforcement, it seems likely that existing formulations will be modi­fied. For example, slave patrols seem to exemplify what Lundman called the transitional police type except in terms of Lundman’s proposed absence of accountabil­ity to a centralized governmental authority. Recall, however, that Bacon also suggested a developmental sequence (without specifying or naming “types”) for police which described modern police as having gen­eral rather than specific functions (Bacon, 1939: 6). Combining the work of Lundman and Bacon, we might suggest that precursors to modern police are not neces­sarily without accountability to a centralized govern­mental authority, but do have specialized rather than general enforcement powers. In this manner, the char­acteristics of policing which precede the modern stage might be: 1) frequent elimination and replacement of the police type (Lundman); 2) reliance upon persons other than full-time police officers (Lundman); and 3) enforcement powers which are specialized rather than general (Bacon).

In addition to providing organized conceptualiza­tion, typologies also provide a basis for theoretical development. For example, there does not as yet appear to be an identifiable Northern precursor, like slave patrols, between the constable/watch and modern stages. Is that because the North skipped that stage, compressed it to such an extent we cannot find an example of its occurrence, or passed through the tran­sitional stage but researchers have not described the activities in terms of a typology? While each of those questions is interesting, the first seems to have particu­larly intriguing implications for if it is correct it means there may not be a general evolutionary history for policing. For example, are modern police agencies nec­essarily preceded by a developmental stage comprised of a specialized police force? Is the progression in the developmental history of law enforcement agencies one of generalized structure with general functions, to a specific structure with specific functions, and finally a specific structure with general functions?

As an example of how this type of inquiry can fit with theoretical developments, we should note recent work by Robinson and Scaglion (1987). Those authors present four interdependent propositions which state:

1. The origin of the specialized police function depends upon the division of society into dominant and subordinate classes with antago­nistic interests;

2. Specialized police agencies are generally char­acteristic only of societies politically organized as states;

3. In a period of transition, the crucial factor in delineating the modern specialized police function is an ongoing attempt at conversion of the social control (policing) mechanism from an integral part of the community structure to an agent of an emerging dominant class; and

4. The police institution is created by the emerg­ing dominant class as an instrument for the preservation of its control over restricted access to basic resources, over the political apparatus governing this access, and over the labor force necessary to provide the surplus upon which the dominant class lives (Robinson and Scaglion, 1987: 109).

The development of law enforcement structures in the antebellum South would seem to support each of the propositions. Slave patrols were created only because of a master-slave social structure (proposition 1), existing as colonies became increasingly politically organized as states (proposition 2), and elites were able to convince community members to “police” the slaves (proposition 3), because control of those slaves was necessary to solidify elite positioning (proposition 4).

In order to respond with authority to these ques­tions and implications, it will be necessary to continue research on the history of law enforcement. Detailed study of slave patrols in specific colonies and states is necessary as are research endeavors which assess the applicability of various typologies in different jurisdic­tions. Hopefully this initial effort will serve to both inform criminal justicians and practitioners about an important but little-known aspect of American police history as well as encourage research on non-Northern developments in the history of law enforcement. It has been argued here that most histories of the develop­ment of police have portrayed a regional bias suggest­ing that evolution was essentially Northern and urban in nature. In addition, existing information has covered the initial organizational stages of policing and the formation of modern police departments, but we are left with the impression that little activity of historical importance occurred between those first developments and the eventually modern department. Lundman has called that middle stage “transitional” policing and it is that concept which has been used here to: 1) debunk the portrayal of American law enforcement history as restricted to the urban North, and 2) provide an exam­ple of a form of policing more advanced than the con­stable/watch type but one which was not yet modern.

In this article, George Kelling and Mark Moore examine the history of American policing over the course of three eras: political, reform, and community/problem-solving eras. More specifically, their historical overview of the police includes a look at the changes to the source of police legitimacy, police function, organizational design, relationships with citizens, sources of demands for service, tactics and technology, and measurements of police effectiveness over time.

The Evolving Strategy of Policing
olicing, like all professions, learns from experi­ence. It follows, then that as modern police executives search for more effective strategies of policing, they will be guided by the lessons of police history. The difficulty is that police history is incoher­ent, its lessons hard to read. After all, that history was produced by thousands of local departments pursuing their own visions and responding to local conditions. Although that varied experience is potentially a rich source of lessons, departments have left few records that reveal the trends shaping modern policing. Interpretation is necessary.


This essay presents an interpretation of police history that may help police executives considering alternative future strategies of policing. Our reading of police his­tory has led us to adopt a particular point of view. We find that a dominant trend guiding today’s police execu­tives—a trend that encourages the pursuit of indepen­dent, professional autonomy for police departments—is carrying the police away from achieving their maximum potential, especially in effective crime fighting. We are also convinced that this trend in policing is weakening public policing relative to private security as the pri­mary institution providing security to society. We believe that this has dangerous long-term implications not only for police departments but also for society. We think that this trend is shrinking rather than enlarging police capacity to help create civil communities. Our judgment is that this trend can be reversed only by refocusing police attention from the pursuit of profes­sional autonomy to the establishment of effective prob­lem-solving partnerships with the communities they police.

Delving into police history made it apparent that some assumptions that now operate as axioms in the field of policing (for example that effectiveness in policing depends on distancing police departments from politics; or that the highest priority of police departments is to deal with serious street crime; or that the best way to deal with street crime is through directed patrol, rapid response to calls for service, and skilled retrospective investigations) are not timeless truths, but rather choices made by former police lead­ers and strategists. To be sure, the choices were often wise and far-seeing as well as appropriate to their times. But the historical perspective shows them to be choices nonetheless, and therefore open to reconsidera­tion in the light of later professional experience and changing environmental circumstances.

We are interpreting the results of our historical study through a framework based on the concept of “corporate strategy.”1 Using this framework, we can describe police organizations in terms of seven inter­related categories:

1.The sources from which the police construct the legitimacy and continuing power to act on society.

2.The definition of the police function or role in society.

3.The organizational design of police departments.

4.The relationships the police create with the external environment.

5.The nature of police efforts to market or man­age the demand for their services.

6.The principal activities, programs, and tactics on which police agencies rely to fulfill their mission or achieve operational success.

7.The concrete measures the police use to define operational success or failure.

Using this analytic framework, we have found it useful to divide the history of policing into three different eras. These eras are distinguished from one another by the apparent dominance of a particular strategy of policing. The political era, so named because of the close ties between police and politics, dated from the introduction of police into municipalities during the 1840’s, continued through the Progressive period, and ended during the early 1900’s. The reform era devel­oped in reaction to the political. It took hold during the 1930’s, thrived during the 1950’s and 1960’s, began to erode during the late 1970’s. The reform era now seems to be giving way to an era emphasizing community problem solving.

By dividing policing into these three eras domi­nated by a particular strategy of policing, we do not mean to imply that there were clear boundaries between the eras. Nor do we mean that in those eras everyone policed in the same way. Obviously, the real history is far more complex than that. Nonetheless, we believe that there is a certain professional ethos that defines stan­dards of competence, professionalism, and excellence in policing; that at any given time, one set of concepts is more powerful, more widely shared, and better under­stood than others; and that this ethos changes over time. Sometimes, this professional ethos has been explicitly articulated, and those who have articulated the concepts have been recognized as the leaders of their profession. O.W. Wilson, for example, was a brilliant expositor of the central elements of the reform strategy of policing. Other times, the ethos is implicit—accepted by all as the tacit assumptions that define the business of policing and the proper form for a police department to take. Our task is to help the profession look to the future by repre­senting its past in these terms and trying to understand what the past portends for the future.

The Political Era

Historians have described the characteristics of early policing in the United States, especially the struggles between various interest groups to govern the police.2 Elsewhere, the authors of this paper analyzed a portion of American police history in terms of its organiza­tional strategy.3 The following discussion of elements of the police organizational strategy during the politi­cal era expands on that effort.

Legitimacy and Authorization

Early American police were authorized by local munici­palities. Unlike their English counterparts, American police departments lacked the powerful, central authority of the crown to establish a legitimate, unifying man­date for their enterprise. Instead, American police derived both their authorization and resources from local political leaders, often ward politicians. They were, of course, guided by the law as to what tasks to undertake and what powers to utilize. But their link to neighborhoods and local politicians was so tight that both Jordan4 and Fogelson5 refer to the early police as adjuncts to local political machines. The relationship was often reciprocal: political machines recruited and maintained police in office and on the beat, while police helped ward political leaders maintain their political offices by encouraging citizens to vote for certain can­didates, discouraging them from voting for others, and, at times, by assisting in rigging elections.

The Police Function

Partly because of their close connection to politicians, police during the political era provided a wide array of services to citizens. Inevitably police departments were involved in crime prevention and control and order maintenance, but they also provided a wide variety of social services. In the late 19th century, municipal police departments ran soup lines; provided temporary lodging for newly arrived immigrant workers in station houses;6 and assisted ward leaders in finding work for immigrants, both in police and other forms of work.

Organizational Design

Although ostensibly organized as a centralized, quasi-military organization with a unified chain of com­mand, police departments of the political era were nevertheless decentralized. Cities were divided into precincts, and precinct-level managers often, in concert with the ward leaders, ran precincts as small-scale departments—hiring, firing, managing, and assigning personnel as they deemed appropriate. In addition, decentralization combined with primitive communica­tions and transportation to give police officers substan­tial discretion in handling their individual beats. At best, officer contact with central command was main­tained through the call box.

External Relationships

During the political era, police departments were inti­mately connected to the social and political world of the ward. Police officers often were recruited from the same ethnic stock as the dominant political groups in the localities, and continued to live in the neighbor­hoods they patrolled. Precinct commanders consulted often with local political representatives about police priorities and progress.

Demand Management

Demand for police services came primarily from two sources: ward politicians making demands on the orga­nization and citizens making demands directly on beat officers. Decentralization and political authorization encouraged the first; foot patrol, lack of other means of transportation, and poor communications produced the latter. Basically, the demand for police services was received, interpreted, and responded to at the precinct and street levels.

Principal Programs and Technologies

The primary tactic of police during the political era was foot patrol. Most police officers walked beats and dealt with crime, disorder, and other problems as they arose, or as they were guided by citizens and precinct superiors. The technological tools available to police were limited. However, when call boxes became avail­able, police administrators used them for supervisory and managerial purposes; and, when early automobiles became available, police used them to transport officers from one beat to another.7 The new technology thereby increased the range, but did not change the mode, of patrol officers.

Detective divisions existed but without their cur­rent prestige. Operating from a caseload of “persons” rather than offenses, detectives relied on their caseload to inform of other criminals.8 The “third degree” was a common means of interviewing criminals to solve crimes. Detectives were often especially valuable to local politicians for gathering information on individu­als for political or personal, rather than offense-related, purposes.

Measured Outcomes

The expected outcomes of police work included crime and riot control, maintenance of order, and relief from many of the other problems of an industrializing soci­ety (hunger and temporary homelessness, for exam­ple). Consistent with their political mandate, police emphasized maintaining citizen and political satisfac­tion with police services as an important goal of police departments.

In sum, the organizational strategy of the political era of policing included the following elements:

1.Authorization—primarily political.

2.Function—crime control, order maintenance, broad social services.

3.Organizational design—decentralized and geographical.

4.Relationship to environment—close and personal.

5.Demand—managed through links between politicians and precinct commanders, and face-to-face contacts between citizens and foot patrol officers.

6.Tactics and technology—foot patrol and rudi­mentary investigations.

7.Outcome—political and citizen satisfaction with social order.

The political strategy of early American policing had strengths. First, police were integrated into neigh­borhoods and enjoyed the support of citizens—at least the support of the dominant and political interests of an area. Second, and probably as a result of the first, the strategy provided useful services to communities. There is evidence that it helped contain riots. Many citizens believed that police prevented crimes or solved crimes when they occurred.9 And the police assisted immigrants in establishing themselves in communities and finding jobs.

The political strategy also had weaknesses. First, intimacy with community, closeness to political lead­ers, and a decentralized organizational structure, with its inability to provide supervision of officers, gave rise to police corruption. Officers were often required to enforce unpopular laws foisted on immigrant ethnic neighborhoods by crusading reformers (primarily of English and Dutch background) who objected to ethnic values.10 Because of their intimacy with the commu­nity, the officers were vulnerable to being bribed in return for no enforcement or lax enforcement of laws. Moreover, police closeness to politicians created such forms of political corruption as patronage and police interference in elections.11 Even those few departments that managed to avoid serious financial or political cor­ruption during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Boston for example, succumbed to large-scale corrup­tion during and after Prohibition.12

Second, close identification of police with neigh­borhoods and neighborhood norms often resulted in discrimination against strangers and others who violated those norms, especially minority ethnic and racial groups. Often ruling their beats with the “ends of their nightsticks,” police regularly targeted outsiders and strangers for rousting and “curbstone justice.”13

Finally, the lack of organizational control over offi­cers resulting from both decentralization and the polit­ical nature of many appointments to police positions caused inefficiencies and disorganization. The image of Keystone Cops—police as clumsy bunglers—was widespread and often descriptive of realities in American policing.

The Reform Era

Control over police by local politicians, conflict between urban reformers and local ward leaders over the enforcement of laws regulating the morality of urban migrants, and abuses (corruption, for example) that resulted from the intimacy between police and political leaders and citizens produced a continuous struggle for control over police during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.14 Nineteenth-century attempts by civilians to reform police organizations by applying external pres­sures largely failed; 20th-century attempts at reform, originating from both internal and external forces, shaped contemporary policing as we knew it through the 1970’s.15

Berkeley’s police chief, August Vollmer, first rallied police executives around the idea of reform during the 1920’s and early 1930’s. Vollmer’s vision of policing was the trumpet call: police in the post-flapper generation were to remind American citizens and institutions of the moral vision that had made America great and of their responsibilities to maintain that vision.16 It was Vollmer’s protege, O.W. Wilson, however, who taking guidance from J. Edgar Hoover’s shrewd transforma­tion of the corrupt and discredited Bureau of Investigation into the honest and prestigious Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), became the principal administrative architect of the police reform organiza­tional strategy.17

Hoover wanted the FBI to represent a new force for law and order, and saw that such an organization could capture a permanent constituency that wanted an agency to take a stand against lawlessness, immo­rality, and crime. By raising eligibility standards and changing patterns of recruitment and training, Hoover gave the FBI agents stature as upstanding moral crusaders. By committing the organization to attacks on crimes such as kidnapping, bank robbery, and espionage—crimes that attracted wide publicity and required technical sophistication, doggedness, and a national jurisdiction to solve—Hoover estab­lished the organization’s reputation for professional competence and power. By establishing tight central control over his agents, limiting their use of contro­versial investigation procedures (such as undercover operations), and keeping them out of narcotics enforcement, Hoover was also able to maintain an unparalleled record of integrity. That, too, fitted the image of a dogged, incorruptible crime-fighting orga­nization. Finally, lest anyone fail to notice the impor­tant developments within the Bureau, Hoover developed impressive public relations programs that presented the FBI and its agents in the most favorable light. (For those of us who remember the 1940’s, for example, one of the most popular radio phrases was, “The FBI in peace and war”—the introductory line in a radio program that portrayed a vigilant FBI protecting us from foreign enemies as well as villains on the “10 Most Wanted” list, another Hoover/FBI invention.)

Struggling as they were with reputations for cor­ruption, brutality, unfairness, and downright incompe­tence, municipal police reformers found Hoover’s path a compelling one. Instructed by O.W. Wilson’s texts on police administration, they began to shape an organi­zational strategy for urban police analogous to the one pursued by the FBI.

Legitimacy and Authorization

Reformers rejected politics as the basis of police legiti­macy. In their view, politics and political involvement was the problem in American policing. Police reformers therefore allied themselves with Progressives. They moved to end the close ties between local political lead­ers and police. In some states, control over police was usurped by state government. Civil service eliminated patronage and ward influences in hiring and firing police officers. In some cities (Los Angeles and Cincinnati, for example), even the position of chief of police became a civil service position to be attained through examination. In others (such as Milwaukee), chiefs were given lifetime tenure by a police commis­sion, to be removed from office only for cause. In yet others (Boston, for example), contracts for chiefs were staggered so as not to coincide with the mayor’s tenure. Concern for separation of police from politics did not focus only on chiefs, however. In some cities, such as Philadelphia, it became illegal for patrol officers to live in the beats they patrolled. The purpose of all these changes was to isolate police as completely as possible from political influences.

Law, especially criminal law, and police profession­alism were established as the principal bases of police legitimacy. When police were asked why they per­formed as they did, the most common answer was that they enforced the law. When they chose not to enforce the law—for instance, in a riot when police isolated an area rather than arrested looters—police justification for such action was found in their claim to professional knowledge, skills, and values which uniquely qualified them to make such tactical decisions. Even in riot situ­ations, police rejected the idea that political leaders should make tactical decisions; that was a police responsibility.18

So persuasive was the argument of reformers to remove political influences from policing, that police departments became one of the most autonomous public organizations in urban government.19 Under such circumstances, policing a city became a legal and technical matter left to the discretion of professional police executives under the guidance of law. Political influence of any kind on a police department came to be seen as not merely a failure of police leadership but as corruption in policing.

The Police Function

Using the focus on criminal law as a basic source of police legitimacy, police in the reform era moved to narrow their functioning to crime control and criminal apprehension. Police agencies became law enforcement agencies. Their goal was to control crime. Their princi­pal means was the use of criminal law to apprehend and deter offenders. Activities that drew the police into solving other kinds of community problems and relied on other kinds of responses were identified as “social work,” and became the object of decision. A common line in police circles during the 1950’s and 1960’s was, “If only we didn’t have to do social work, we could really do something about crime.” Police retreated from providing emergency medical services as well—ambulance and emergency medical services were transferred to medi­cal, private, or firefighting organizations.20 The 1967 President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice ratified this orientation: heretofore, police had been conceptualized as an agency of urban government; the President’s Commission reconceptualized them as part of the criminal justice system.

Organizational Design

The organization form adopted by police reformers generally reflected the scientific or classical theory of administration advocated by Frederick W. Taylor during the early 20th century. At least two assumptions attended classical theory. First, workers are inherently uninter­ested in work and, if left to their own devices, are prone to avoid it. Second, since workers have little or no inter­est in the substance of their work, the sole common interest between workers and management is found in economic incentives for workers. Thus, both workers and management benefit economically when manage­ment arranges work in ways that increase workers’ pro­ductivity and link productivity to economic rewards.

Two central principles followed from these assumptions: division of labor and unity of control. The former posited that if tasks can be broken into compo­nents, workers can become highly skilled in particular components and thus more efficient in carrying out their tasks. The latter posited that the workers’ activi­ties are best managed by a pyramid of control, with all authority finally resting in one central office.

Using this classical theory, police leaders moved to routinize and standardize police work, especially patrol work. Police work became a form of crimefighting in which police enforced the law and arrested criminals if the opportunity presented itself. Attempts were made to limit discretion in patrol work: a generation of police officers was raised with the idea that they merely enforced the law.

If special problems arose, the typical response was to create special units (e.g., vice, juvenile, drugs, tactical) rather than to assign them to patrol. The cre­ation of these special units, under central rather than precinct command, served to further centralize com­mand and control and weaken precinct commanders.21

Moreover, police organizations emphasized con­trol over workers through bureaucratic means of control: supervision, limited span of control, flow of instructions downward and information upward in the organization, establishment of elaborate record-keeping systems requiring additional layers of middle managers, and coordination of activities between vari­ous production units (e.g., patrol and detectives), which also required additional middle managers.

External Relationships

Police leaders in the reform era redefined the nature of a proper relationship between police officers and citi­zens. Heretofore, police had been intimately linked to citizens. During the era of reform policing, the new model demanded an impartial law enforcer who related to citizens in professionally neutral and distant terms. No better characterization of this model can be found than television’s Sergeant Friday, whose response, “Just the facts, ma’am,” typified the idea: impersonal and oriented toward crime solving rather than responsive to the emotional crisis of a victim.

The professional model also shaped the police view of the role of citizens in crime control. Police redefined the citizen role during an era when there was heady con­fidence about the ability of professionals to manage physical and social problems. Physicians would care for health problems, dentists for dental problems, teachers for educational problems, social workers for social adjustment problems, and police for crime problems. The proper role of citizens in crime control was to be relatively passive recipients of professional crime control services. Citizens’ actions on their own behalf to defend themselves or their communities came to be seen as inappropriate, smacking of vigilantism. Citizens met their responsibilities when a crime occurred by calling police, deferring to police actions, and being good wit­nesses if called upon to give evidence. The metaphor that expressed this orientation to the community was that of the police as the “thin blue line.” It connotes the existence of dangerous external threats to communities, portrays police as standing between that danger and good citi­zens, and implies both police heroism and loneliness.

Demand Management

Learning from Hoover, police reformers vigorously set out to sell their brand of urban policing.22 They, too, performed on radio talk shows, consulted with media representatives about how to present police, engaged in public relations campaigns, and in other ways presented this image of police as crime fighters. In a sense, they began with an organizational capacity—anticrime police tactics—and intensively promoted it. This approach was more like selling than marketing. Marketing refers to the process of carefully identifying consumer needs and then developing goods and ser­vices that meet those needs. Selling refers to having a stock of products or goods on hand irrespective of need and selling them. The reform strategy had as its starting point a set of police tactics (services) that police promul­gated as much for the purpose of establishing internal control of police officers and enhancing the status of urban police as for responding to community needs or market demands.23 The community “need” for rapid response to calls for service, for instance, was largely the consequence of police selling the service as efficacious in crime control rather than a direct demand from citizens.

Consistent with this attempt to sell particular tac­tics, police worked to shape and control demand for police services. Foot patrol, when demanded by citi­zens, was rejected as an outmoded, expensive frill. Social and emergency services were terminated or given to other agencies. Receipt of demand for police services was centralized. No longer were citizens encouraged to go to “their” neighborhood police offi­cers or districts; all calls went to a central communica­tions facility. When 911 systems were installed, police aggressively sold 911 and rapid response to calls for service as effective police service. If citizens continued to use district, or precinct, telephone numbers, some police departments disconnected those telephones or got new telephone numbers.24

Principal Programs and Technologies

The principal programs and tactics of the reform strat­egy were preventive patrol by automobile and rapid response to calls for service. Foot patrol, characterized as outmoded and inefficient, was abandoned as rapidly as police administrators could obtain cars.25 The initial tactical reasons for putting police in cars had been to increase the size of the areas police officers could patrol and to take the advantage away from criminals who began to use automobiles. Under reform policing, a new theory about how to make the best tactical use of automobiles appeared.

O.W. Wilson developed the theory of preventive patrol by automobile as an anticrime tactic.26 He theo­rized that if police drove conspicuously marked cars randomly through city streets and gave special attention to certain “hazards” (bars and schools, for example), a feeling of police omnipresence would be developed. In turn, that sense of omnipresence would both deter criminals and reassure good citizens. Moreover, it was hypothesized that vigilant patrol officers moving rap­idly through city streets would happen upon criminals in action and be able to apprehend them.

As telephones and radios became ubiquitous, the availability of cruising police came to be seen as even more valuable: if citizens could be encouraged to call the police via telephone as soon as problems developed, police could respond rapidly to calls and establish control over situations, identify wrong-doers, and make arrests. To this end, 911 systems and computer-aided dispatch were developed throughout the country. Detective units continued, although with some modifi­cations. The “person” approach ended and was replaced by the case approach. In addition, forensic techniques were upgraded and began to replace the old “third degree” or reliance on informants for the solution of crimes. Like other special units, most investigative units were controlled by central headquarters.

Measured Outcomes

The primary desired outcomes of the reform strategy were crime control and criminal apprehension.27 To measure achievement of these outcomes, August Vollmer, working through the newly vitalized International Association of Chiefs of Police, developed and implemented a uniform system of crime classifica­tion and reporting. Later, the system was taken over and administered by the FBI and the Uniform Crime Reports became the primary standard by which police organiza­tions measured their effectiveness. Additionally, indi­vidual officers’ effectiveness in dealing with crime was judged by the number of arrests they made; other measures of police effectiveness included response time (the time it takes for a police car to arrive at the location of a call for service) and “number of passings” (the number of times a police car passes a given point on a city street). Regardless of all other indicators, how­ever, the primary measure of police effectiveness was the crime rate as measured by the Uniform Crime Reports.

In sum, the reform organizational strategy con­tained the following elements:

1.Authorization—law and professionalism.

2.Function—crime control. Organizational design—centralized, classical.

3.Relationship to environment—professionally remote.

4.Demand—channeled through central dis­patching activities.

5.Tactics and technology—preventive patrol and rapid response to calls for service.

6.Outcome—crime control.

In retrospect, the reform strategy was impressive. It successfully integrated its strategic elements into a coherent paradigm that was internally consistent and logically appealing. Narrowing police functions to crime fighting made sense. If police could concentrate their efforts on prevention of crime and apprehension of criminals, it followed that they could be more effec­tive than if they dissipated their efforts on other prob­lems. The model of police as impartial, professional law enforcers was attractive because it minimized the dis­cretionary excesses which developed during the politi­cal era. Preventive patrol and rapid response to calls for service were intuitively appealing tactics, as well as means to control officers and shape and control citizen demands for service. Further, the strategy provided a comprehensive, yet simple, vision of policing around which police leaders could rally.

The metaphor of the thin blue line reinforced their need to create isolated independence and autonomy in terms that were acceptable to the public. The patrol car became the symbol of policing during the 1930’s and 1940’s; when equipped with a radio, it was at the limits of technology. It represented mobility, power, conspicu­ous presence, control of officers, and professional dis­tance from citizens.

During the late 1960’s and 1970’s, however, the reform strategy ran into difficulty. First, regardless of how police effectiveness in dealing with crime was mea­sured, police failed to substantially improve their record. During the 1960’s, crime began to rise. Despite large increases in the size of police departments and in expen­ditures for new forms of equipment (911 systems, com­puter-aided dispatch, etc.), police failed to meet their own or public expectations about their capacity to con­trol crime or prevent its increase. Moreover, research conducted during the 1970’s on preventive patrol and rapid response to calls for service suggested that neither was an effective crime control or apprehension tactic.28

Second, fear rose rapidly during this era. The con­sequences of this fear were dramatic for cities. Citizens abandoned parks, public transportation, neighborhood shopping centers, churches, as well as entire neighbor­hoods. What puzzled police and researchers was that levels of fear and crime did not always correspond: crime levels were low in some areas, but fear high. Conversely, in other areas levels of crime were high, but fear low. Not until the early 1980’s did researchers dis­cover that fear is more closely correlated with disorder than with crime.29 Ironically, order maintenance was one of those functions that police had been downplay­ing over the years. They collected no data on it, pro­vided no training to officers in order maintenance activities, and did not reward officers for successfully conducting order maintenance tasks.

Third, despite attempts by police departments to create equitable police allocation systems and to pro­vide impartial policing to all citizens, many minority citizens, especially blacks during the 1960’s and 1970’s, did not perceive their treatment as equitable or ade­quate. They protested not only police mistreatment, but lack of treatment—inadequate or insufficient services—as well.

Fourth, the civil rights and antiwar movements challenged police. This challenge took several forms. The legitimacy of police was questioned: students resisted police, minorities rioted against them, and the public, observing police via live television for the first time, questioned their tactics. Moreover, despite police attempts to upgrade personnel through improved recruitment, training, and supervision, minorities and then women insisted that they had to be adequately represented in policing if police were to be legitimate.

Fifth, some of the myths that undergirded the reform strategy—police officers use little or no discretion and the primary activity of police is law enforcement—simply proved to be too far from reality to be sustained. Over and over again research showed that use of discre­tion characterized policing at all levels and that law enforcement comprised but a small portion of police officers’ activities.30

Sixth, although the reform ideology could rally police chiefs and executives, it failed to rally line police officers. During the reform era, police executives had moved to professionalize their ranks. Line officers, however, were managed in ways that were antithetical to professionalization. Despite pious testimony from police executives that “patrol is the backbone of polic­ing,” police executives behaved in ways that were con­sistent with classical organizational theory—patrol officers continued to have low status; their work was treated as if it were routinized and standardized; and petty rules governed issues such as hair length and off-duty behavior. Meanwhile, line officers received little guidance in use of discretion and were given few, if any, opportunities to make suggestions about their work. Under such circumstances, the increasing “grumpi­ness” of officers in many cities is not surprising, nor is the rise of militant unionism.

Seventh, police lost a significant portion of their financial support, which had been increasing or at least constant over the years, as cities found themselves in fiscal difficulties. In city after city, police departments were reduced in size. In some cities, New York for example, financial cutbacks resulted in losses of up to one-third of departmental personnel. Some, noting that crime did not increase more rapidly or arrests decrease during the cutbacks, suggested that New York City had been overpoliced when at maximum strength. For those concerned about levels of disorder and fear in New York City, not to mention other problems, that came as a dis­maying conclusion. Yet it emphasizes the erosion of confidence that citizens, politicians, and academicians had in urban police—an erosion that was translated into lack of political and financial support.

Finally, urban police departments began to acquire competition; private security and the community crime control movement. Despite the inherent value of these developments, the fact that businesses, indus­tries, and private citizens began to search for alterna­tive means of protecting their property and persons suggests a decreasing confidence in either the capabil­ity or the intent of the police to provide the services that citizens want.

In retrospect, the police reform strategy has char­acteristics similar to those that Miles and Snow31 ascribe to a defensive strategy in the private sector. Some of the characteristics of an organization with a defensive strategy are (with specific characteristics of reform policing added in parentheses):

1.Its market is stable and narrow (crime victims).

2.Its success is dependent on maintaining domi­nance in a narrow, chosen market (crime control).

3.It tends to ignore developments outside its domain (isolation).

4.It tends to establish a single core technology (patrol).

5.New technology is used to improve its current product or service rather than to expand its product or service line (use of computers to enhance patrol).

6.Its management is centralized (command and control).

7.Promotions generally are from within (with the exception of chiefs, virtually all promotions are from within).
There is a tendency toward a functional struc­ture with high degrees of specialization and formalization.

A defensive strategy is successful for an organiza­tion when market conditions remain stable and few competitors enter the field. Such strategies are vulner­able, however, in unstable market conditions and when competitors are aggressive.

The reform strategy was a successful strategy for police during the relatively stable period of the 1940’s and 1950’s. Police were able to sell a relatively narrow service line and maintain dominance in the crime con­trol market. The social changes of the 1960’s and 1970’s, however, created unstable conditions. Some of the more significant changes included: the civil rights move­ment; migration of minorities into cities; the changing age of the population (more youths and teenagers); increases in crime and fear, increased oversight of police actions by courts; and the decriminalization and deinstitutionalization movements. Whether or not the private sector defensive strategy properly applies to police, it is clear that the reform strategy was unable to adjust to the changing social circumstances of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

The Community Problem-Solving Era

All was not negative for police during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, however. Police began to score victo­ries which they barely noticed. Foot patrol remained popular, and in many cities citizen and political demands for it intensified. In New Jersey, the state funded the Safe and Clean Neighborhoods Program, which funded foot patrol in cities, often over the oppo­sition of local chiefs of police.32 In Boston, foot patrol was so popular with citizens that when neighborhoods were selected for foot patrol, politicians often made the announcements, especially during election years. Flint, Michigan, became the first city in memory to return to foot patrol on a citywide basis. It proved so popular there that citizens twice voted to increase their taxes to fund foot patrol—most recently by a two-thirds major­ity. Political and citizen demands for foot patrol contin­ued to expand in cities throughout the United States. Research into foot patrol suggested it was more than just politically popular, it contributed to city life: it reduced fear, increased citizen satisfaction with police, improved police attitudes toward citizens, and increased the morale and job satisfaction of police.33

Additionally, research conducted during the 1970’s suggested that one factor could help police improve their record in dealing with crime: information. If information about crimes and criminals could be obtained from citizens by police, primarily patrol offi­cers, and could be properly managed by police depart­ments, investigative and other units could significantly increase their effect on crime.34

Moreover, research into foot patrol suggested that at least part of the fear reduction potential was linked to the order maintenance activities of foot patrol offi­cers.35 Subsequent work in Houston and Newark indi­cated that tactics other than foot patrol that, like foot patrol, emphasized increasing the quantity and improving the quality of police-citizen interactions had outcomes similar to those of foot patrol (fear reduction, etc.).36 Meanwhile, many other cities were developing programs, though not evaluated, similar to those in the foot patrol, Flint, and fear reduction experiments.37

The findings of foot patrol and fear reduction experiments, when coupled with the research on the relationship between fear and disorder, created new opportunities for police to understand the increasing concerns of citizens’ groups about disorder (gangs, prostitutes, etc.) and to work with citizens to do some­thing about it. Police discovered that when they asked citizens about their priorities, citizens appreciated the inquiry and also provided useful information—often about problems that beat officers might have been aware of, but about which departments had little or no official data (e.g., disorder). Moreover, given the ambi­guities that surround both the definitions of disorder and the authority of police to do something about it, police learned that they had to seek authorization from local citizens to intervene in disorderly situations.38

Simultaneously, Goldstein’s problem-oriented approach to policing39 was being tested in several com­munities: Madison, Wisconsin; Baltimore County, Maryland; and Newport News, Virginia. Problem-oriented policing rejects the fragmented approach in which police deal with each incident, whether citizen- or police-initiated, as an isolated event with neither history nor future. Pierce’s findings about calls for service illus­trate Goldstein’s point: 60 percent of the calls for service in any given year in Boston originated from 10 percent of the households calling the police.40 Furthermore, Goldstein and his colleagues in Madison, Newport News, and Baltimore County discovered the following: police officers enjoy operating with a holistic approach to their work; they have the capacity to do it success­fully; they can work with citizens and other agencies to solve problems; and citizens seem to appreciate working with police—findings similar to those of the foot patrol experiments (Newark and Flint)41 and the fear reduc­tion experiments (Houston and Newark).42

The problem confronting police, policymakers, and academicians is that these trends and findings seem to contradict many of the tenets that dominated police thinking for a generation. Foot patrol creates new intimacy between citizens and police. Problem solving is hardly the routinized and standardized patrol modality that reformers thought was necessary to maintain control of police and limit their discre­tion. Indeed, use of discretion is the sine qua non of problem-solving policing. Relying on citizen endorse­ment of order maintenance activities to justify police action acknowledges a continued or new reliance on political authorization for police work in general. And, accepting the quality of urban life as an outcome of good police service emphasizes a wider definition of the police function and the desired effects of police work.

These changes in policing are not merely new police tactics, however. Rather, they represent a new organizational approach, properly called a community strategy. The elements of that strategy are:

Legitimacy and Authorization

There is renewed emphasis on community, or political, authorization for many police tasks, along with law and professionalism. Law continues to be the major legiti­mating basis of the police function. It defines basic police powers, but it does not fully direct police activi­ties in efforts to maintain order, negotiate conflicts, or solve community problems. It becomes one tool among many others. Neighborhood, or community, support and involvement are required to accomplish those tasks. Professional and bureaucratic authority, espe­cially that which tends to isolate police and insulate them from neighborhood influences, is lessened as citizens contribute more to definitions of problems and identification of solutions. Although in some respects similar to the authorization of policing’s political era, community authorization exists in a different political context. The civil service movement, the political cen­tralization that grew out of the Progressive era, and the bureaucratization, professionalization, and unioniza­tion of police stand as counterbalances to the possible recurrence of the corrupting influences of ward politics that existed prior to the reform movement.

The Police Function

As indicated above, the definition of police function broadens in the community strategy. It includes order maintenance, conflict resolution, problem solving through the organization, and provision of services, as well as other activities. Crime control remains an important function, with an important difference, how­ever. The reform strategy attempts to control crime directly through preventive patrol and rapid response to calls for service. The community strategy empha­sizes crime control and prevention as an indirect result of, or an equal partner to, the other activities.

Organizational Design

Community policing operates from organizational assumptions different from those of reform policing. The idea that workers have no legitimate, substantive interest in their work is untenable when programs such as those in Flint, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Baltimore County, Newport News, and others are exam­ined. Consulting with community groups, problem solv­ing, maintaining order, and other such activities are antithetical to the reform ideal of eliminating officer discretion through routinization and standardization of police activities. Moreover, organizational decentraliza­tion is inherent in community policing: the involvement of police officers in diagnosing and responding to neighborhood and community problems necessarily pushes operational and tactical decisionmaking to the lower levels of the organization. The creation of neigh­borhood police stations (storefronts, for example), reopening of precinct stations, and establishment of beat offices (in schools, churches, etc.) are concrete examples of such decentralization.

Decentralization of tactical decisionmaking to pre­cinct or beat level does not imply abdication of execu­tive obligations and functions, however. Developing, articulating, and monitoring organizational strategy remain the responsibility of management. Within this strategy, operational and tactical decisionmaking is decentralized. This implies what may at first appear to be a paradox: while the number of managerial levels may decrease, the number of managers may increase. Sergeants in a decentralized regime, for example, have managerial responsibilities that exceed those they would have in a centralized organization.

At least two other elements attend this decentral­ization: increased participative management and increased involvement of top police executives in plan­ning and implementation. Chiefs have discovered that programs are easier to conceive and implement if offi­cers themselves are involved in their development through task forces, temporary matrix-like organiza­tional units, and other organizational innovations that tap the wisdom and experience of sergeants and patrol officers. Additionally, police executives have learned that good ideas do not translate themselves into suc­cessful programs without extensive involvement of the chief executive and his close agents in every stage of planning and implementation, a lesson learned in the private sector as well.43

One consequence of decentralized decisionmaking, participative planning and management, and executive involvement in planning is that fewer levels of authority are required to administer police organizations. Some police organizations, including the London Metropolitan Police (Scotland Yard), have begun to reduce the number of middle-management layers, while others are contem­plating doing so. Moreover, as in the private sector, as computerized information gathering systems reach their potential in police departments, the need for middle managers whose primary function is data col­lection will be further reduced.

External Relationships

Community policing relies on an intimate relationship between police and citizens. This is accomplished in a variety of ways: relatively long-term assignment of officers to beats, programs that emphasize familiarity between citizens and police (police knocking on doors, consultations, crime control meetings for police and citizens, assignment to officers of “caseloads” of house­holds with ongoing problems, problem solving, etc.), revitalization or development of Police Athletic League programs, educational programs in grade and high schools, and other programs. Moreover, police are encouraged to respond to the feelings and fears of citi­zens that result from a variety of social problems or from victimization.

Further, the police are restructuring their relation­ship with neighborhood groups and institutions. Earlier, during the reform era, police had claimed a monopolistic responsibility for crime control in cities, communities, and neighborhoods; now they recognize serious competitors in the “industry” of crime control, especially private security and the community crime control movement. Whereas in the past police had dis­missed these sources of competition or, as in the case of community crime control, had attempted to coopt the movement for their own purposes,44 now police in many cities (Boston, New York, Houston, and Los Angeles, to name a few) are moving to structure work­ing relationships or strategic alliances with neighbor­hood and community crime control groups. Although there is less evidence of attempts to develop alliances with the private security industry, a recent proposal to the National Institute of Justice envisioned an experi­mental alliance between the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Police Department and the Wackenhut Corporation in which the two organizations would share responses to calls for service.

Demand Management

In the community problem-solving strategy, a major por­tion of demand is decentralized, with citizens encouraged to bring problems directly to beat officers or precinct offices. Use of 911 is discouraged, except for dire emer­gencies. Whether tactics include aggressive foot patrol as in Flint or problem solving as in Newport News, the emphasis is on police officers’ interacting with citizens to determine the types of problems they are confronting and to devise solutions to those problems. In contrast to reform policing with its selling orientation, this approach is more like marketing: customer preferences are sought, and satisfying customer needs and wants, rather than selling a previously packaged product or service, is emphasized. In the case of police, they gather information about citizens’ wants, diagnose the nature of the problem, devise possible solutions, and then determine which seg­ments of the community they can best serve and which can be best served by other agencies and institutions that provide services, including crime control.

Additionally, many cities are involved in the devel­opment of demarketing programs.45 The most note­worthy example of demarketing is in the area of rapid response to calls for service. Whether through the development of alternatives to calls for service, educa­tional programs designed to discourage citizens from using the 911 system, or, as in a few cities, simply not responding to many calls for service, police actively attempt to demarket a program that had been actively sold earlier. Often demarketing 911 is thought of as a negative process. It need not be so, however. It is an attempt by police to change social, political, and fiscal circumstances to bring consumers’ wants in line with police resources and to accumulate evidence about the value of particular police tactics.

Tactics and Technology

Community policing tactics include foot patrol, prob­lem solving, information gathering, victim counseling and services, community organizing and consultation, education, walk-and-ride and knock-on-door pro­grams, as well as regular patrol, specialized forms of patrol, and rapid response to emergency calls for ser­vice. Emphasis is placed on information sharing between patrol and detectives to increase the possibil­ity of crime solution and clearance.

Measured Outcomes

The measures of success in the community strategy are broad: quality of life in neighborhoods, problem solu­tion, reduction of fear, increased order, citizen satisfac­tion with police services, as well as crime control. In sum, the elements of the community strategy include:

  1. Authorization—commonly support (political), law, professionalism.
  2. Function—crime control, crime prevention, problem solving.
  3. Organizational design—decentralized, task forces, matrices.
  4. Relationship to environment—consultative, police defend values of law and professional­ism, but listen to community concerns.
  5. Demand—channelled through analysis of underlying problems.
  6. Tactics and technology—foot patrol, problem solving, etc.
  7. Outcomes—quality of life and citizen satisfaction.


We have argued that there were two stages of policing in the past, political and reform, and that we are now moving into a third, the community era. To carefully examine the dimensions of policing during each of these eras, we have used the concept of organizational strategy. We believe that this concept can be used not only to describe the different styles of policing in the past and the present, but also to sharpen the under­standing of police policymakers of the future.

For example, the concept helps explain policing’s perplexing experience with team policing during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Despite the popularity of team polic­ing with officers involved in it and with citizens, it gener­ally did not remain in police departments for very long. It was usually planned and implemented with enthusi­asm and maintained for several years. Then, with little fanfare, it would vanish—with everyone associated with it saying regretfully that for some reason it just did not work as a police tactic. However, a close examination of team policing reveals that it was a strategy that innova­tors mistakenly approached as a tactic. It had implica­tions for authorization (police turned to neighborhoods for support), organizational design (tactical decisions were made at lower levels of the organization), definition of function (police broadened their service role), rela­tionship to environment (permanent team members responded to the needs of small geographical areas), demand (wants and needs came to team members directly from citizens), tactics (consultation with citi­zens, etc.), and outcomes (citizen satisfaction, etc.). What becomes clear, though, is that team policing was a com­peting strategy with different assumptions about every element of police business. It was no wonder that it expired under such circumstances. Team and reform policing were strategically incompatible—one did not fit into the other. A police department could have a small team policing unit or conduct a team policing experi­ment, but business as usual was reform policing.

Likewise, although foot patrol symbolizes the new strategy for many citizens, it is a mistake to equate the two. Foot patrol is a tactic, a way of delivering police services. In Flint, its inauguration has been accompa­nied by implementation of most of the elements of a community strategy, which has become business as usual. In most places, foot patrol is not accompanied by the other elements. It is outside the mainstream of “real” policing and often provided only as a sop to citi­zens and politicians who are demanding the develop­ment of different policing styles. This certainly was the case in New Jersey when foot patrol was evaluated by the Police Foundation.46 Another example is in Milwaukee, where two police budgets are passed: the first is the police budget; the second, a supplementary budget for modest levels of foot patrol. In both cases, foot patrol is outside the mainstream of police activi­ties and conducted primarily as a result of external pressures placed on departments.

It is also a mistake to equate problem solving or increased order maintenance activities with the new strategy. Both are tactics. They can be implemented either as part of a new organizational strategy, as foot patrol was in Flint, or as an “add-on,” as foot patrol was in most of the cities in New Jersey. Drawing a distinc­tion between organizational add-ons and a change in strategy is not an academic quibble; it gets to the heart of the current situation in policing. We are arguing that policing is in a period of transition from a reform strategy to what we call a community strategy. The change involves move than making tactical or organi­zational adjustments and accommodations. Just as policing went through a basic change when it moved from the political to the reform strategy, it is going through a similar change now. If elements of the emerging organizational strategy are identified and the policing institution is guided through the change rather than left blindly thrashing about, we expect that the public will be better served, policymakers and police administrators more effective, and the profes­sion of policing revitalized.

A final point: the classical theory of organiza­tion that continues to dominate police administra­tion in most American cities is alien to most of the elements of the new strategy. The new strategy will not accommodate to the classical theory: the latter denies too much of the real nature of police work, promulgates unsustainable myths about the nature and quality of police supervision, and creates too much cynicism in officers attempting to do creative problem solving. Its assumptions about workers are simply wrong.

Organizational theory has developed well beyond the stage it was at during the early 1900’s, and policing does have organizational options that are consistent with the newly developing organizational strategy. Arguably, policing, which was moribund during the 1970’s, is beginning a resurgence. It is overthrowing a strategy that was remarkable in its time, but which could not adjust to the changes of recent decades. Risks attend the new strategy and its implementation. The risks, however, for the community and the profession of policing, are not as great as attempting to maintain a strategy that faltered on its own terms during the 1960’s and 1970’s.

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Please contact Det. Ret. Kenny Driscoll if you have any pictures of you or your family members and wish them remembered here on this tribute site to Honor the fine men and women who have served with Honor and Distinction at the Baltimore Police Department.

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