Police History

Chapter Two traces the history of policing. Early forms of policing called for family or tribes to enforce the norms of conduct, which was known as kin policing. The first paid, public police officer was the praefectus urbi in Rome about 27 B.C. Into the Middle Ages, kings were responsible for legal administration. Groups of citizens, such as the nightwatch and posse comitatus, were called upon to patrol and pursue. By the end of the 1700s, the constable-nightwatch system was in place. The constable would patrol the city during the day and the nightwatch would take over during the night.

Several individuals were influential in bringing about a policing model that served, in some way, as the model for the United States. In the 1800s in London, England, Sir Robert Peel was able to pass the Metropolitan Police Act in 1829. As a result, the first organized British metropolitan police force was created as well as the creation of modern-day police.

Charles Rowan and Richard Mayne worked to develop the police force following the principles of Sir Robert Peel. The emphasis under this model of policing was one of prevention.

Between the 1830s and the 1850s, cities in America created daytime and nighttime police forces. Four theories were offered to explain the development of police agencies. The disorder-control theory suggested that the agencies grew out of need to suppress mob violence. The crime-control theory saw a need for a new type of police because of increases in criminal activity. The class-control theory explains the development of the police as a result of class-based economic exploitation. The urban-dispersion theory maintains that the police were created because other cities had them.

Vigilante movements were occurring during the nineteenth century as well. These movements were more common in the West. In some cases, the vigilantes were the social elite from the area attempting to enforce their conservative values. Vigilante movements continue today. The Guardian Angels are a good example of modern-day vigilantes. The police have grown to accept and welcome the assistance of the Guardian Angels.

Politics dominated these early police agencies. These became known as the political model of policing. Economic and political corruption were found throughout policing. Police jobs were given to those men who helped the politician get into office. As a result, the police could be used to help the individual maintain his political power and political office.

The Progressive Era came into being from the mid-1890s to the mid-1920s. The reformers of the Progressive Era called for changes in the government. The reformers of this era wanted to see a more honest government, with more authority going to public officials rather than politicians. These reform movements also found their way into policing.

Changes began to occur in policing by the 1920s. Politics began to give way to professionalism. Policing became more legalistic. Crime fighting became the focus of the police. There were developments in criminalistics occurring in Europe, changes in American society and growth in police reform that combined to reduce politics in policing. The Bertillon system, a method of recording defendant’s measurements, became the first attempt at applying the scientific method to policing.

Population shifts in the United States were occurring during the 1920s to the 1960s with people moving to the suburbs. They were being replaced by Spanish-speaking immigrants and blacks from the rural South. The police response to the troubled neighborhoods led to urban riots.

Also during this time, commissions were formed to investigate misconduct in the police agencies and to make recommendations for change. Commissions like the Chicago Crime Commission and the Wickersham Commission identified problems regarding management, training, and political influence. These investigations led to a movement toward the professionalization of the police.

With the increased use of automobiles, highway patrol agencies began to appear across the country. The highway patrol generally had the specific duties of traffic enforcement. The state police would handle the more broad law enforcement duties.

Federal agencies were developed, usually in response to a specific need. The Revenue Cutter Service was created in 1789 to handle the problems of smuggling. The US Marshals appeared that same year with the responsibilities of investigating mail theft and crimes against the railroad. The Secret Service, established in 1865, originally dealt with counterfeiting. The responsibility of protecting the president was not added to their duties until 1901. The Federal Bureau of Investigation became the premier law enforcement agency, partially because of their handling of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping and the Kansas City Massacre.