Ch.2: The History of the American Police
I. Flashback: Moments in American Police History
A. The First American Police Officer
a. First American police officer had no training, walked on foot, no weapon, no
radio, and could not be dispatched by 911.
b. Little education
B. Flash Forward: 1950
a. Different situation
b. High education, male, brief academy training, and policy manual
i. Manual had no policy on deadly force, how to handle domestic
violence, or high speed.
c. Didn’t have to worry about SC rulings or punishment if he beat someone up.
II. Why study Police History?
a. Helps us learn about how policing has evolved.
b. Understand how and why important changes occur.
c. Good to understand positive and negative contributions.
III. The English Heritage
a. American policing is a product of English heritage
b. Included English common law, high value placed on individual rights, court
systems and forms of punishment, and different law enforcement agencies.
c. Heritage contributed three enduring features
i. Limited police authority
1. Legal tradition places a high value on individual liberty and on
2. In the Bill of Rights
ii. Tradition of local control of law enforcement agencies
1. Centralized, national police force
iii. Consequence of local control
1. Highly decentralized and fragmented system of law enforcement.
2. US has about 15,000 separate agencies
A. Creation of the Modern Police: London, 1829
a. Robert Peel is the father of modern policing
b. By 1900s, old practice collapsed due to urbanization and industrialization.
c. Persuaded parliament to create the London Metropolitan Police in 1829
i. First modern police force
ii. Officers called Bobbies
1. Crime prevention
2. Better to prevent crime than respond after the fact.
1. Preventative patrol
2. Patrolling fixed ‘beats’ to maintain a visible police presence
throughout the community.
3. Designed to deter crime.
iii. Organizational structure 1. Borrowed from the military
2. Hierarchical organization, uniforms, rank designations, and an
authoritarian system of command and discipline.
3. Still exists today
e. Modern police are public, specialized, and professional
i. Primary responsibility for public safety; specialized mission of law
enforcement and crime prevention; full time and paid employees
B. Law Enforcement in Colonial America
a. English colonist borrowed from English heritage
1. Most important law enforcement official.
2. Appointed by colonial governor
3. Role: law enforcement, collecting taxes, supervising elections,
maintaining bridges and roads, and other miscellaneous duties
1. Responsible for enforcing the law and carrying out certain
2. Gradually evolved into a semiprofessional appointed office.
1. Resembled the modern day police
2. Patrolled to guard city against fires, crime, and disorder.
3. At first only night watch, but as cities got bigger, day watch
was added; Boston’s first watch was in 1634
4. All males were expected to patrol; many would either evade it
or pay someone else to patrol; evolved into paid job
b. Slave patrol was used in the south to guard against revolts and capture
i. First type of modern police; had about 100 officers
C. The Quality of Colonial Law Enforcement
a. Colonial law enforcement was inefficient, corrupt, and affected by political
b. Never a ‘golden age’ of police efficiency.
c. Sheriff, constable, and watch were reactive and had little capacity to prevent
crime or apprehend criminals.
d. Watchmen were few in number and did not have enough personnel to
investigate crime or to prevent it.
e. Victims could not easily report crimes.
f. Sheriff and watchmen were paid for certain services which gave more
incentive than criminal law enforcement.
g. Agencies ill equipped to maintain order.
i. Little they could do in response to public drunkenness, disputes, or
h. Routine and emergency services to the public were not a regular thing back
i. Ordinary citizens played a major role in maintaining social control through
informal means i. Comment, warning, rebuke from friend/neighbor, or trial by church
congregation for misbehavior.
ii. Worked well because communities were close, but broke down once
j. Not very noticeable in frontier; took the law into their own hands
k. Result was vigilantism that lasted for a long time and is one of the worst
aspects of American CJ
l. Mobs killed people and the lynching of blacks
m. Corruption appeared very early; moralistic laws so bribed officials to look the
i. Sex, drinking, gambling
IV. The First Modern American Police
a. Established in the 1830s and 1840s.
b. Old system broke down due to urbanization, industrialization, and immigration.
c. Wave of riots occurred in the 1830s.
d. Many different types of riots; ethnic reasons (Irish/German vs. Native English
Protestants), economic (angry depositors vandalized banks), and moral issues
(prostitution, medical research, pro-slavery attacking abolitionists)
e. Very slow to create new police forces despite break downs.
f. Uncertain about police; continued presence on the streets brought up memories of
the hated British army.
g. Worried about political figures abusing police force.
h. Didn’t want to pay for police force.
i. First departments were basically expanded versions of the existing watch system;
no uniform except badge and distinctive hat.
j. Weapons not standard until late 19 century.
k. Borrowed features from London:
i. Mission of crime prevention
ii. Strategy of visible patrol over fixed beats
iii. Quasi-military organizational structure
l. Voters had control over government agencies
m. American police departments were immediately immersed in politics which lead
to serious problems.
V. The “Political Era” in American Policing, 1830s-1900
A. A Lack of Personnel Standards
a. Had no personnel standards.
b. Selected entirely on the basis of their political connections.
c. Men with no formal education, bad health, and criminal records were hired.
d. No female officers until the 20 century.
e. No formal training; given badge, baton, and a copy of rules if they existed,
and send out on patrol.
f. Had no job security and could be fired at will.
g. In some cases, all officers were fired after an election.
h. Generally an attractive job because it paid better than most blue collar jobs.
i. Jobs on the police force were a major patronage and many politicians used it
to reward their friends. j. Departments reflected the ethnic and religious makeup of their cities.
B. Patrol Work in the Political Era
a. Routine patrol was hopelessly inefficient.
b. Walked on foot and were spread very thin.
c. Some areas did not get patrolled and with no phone, citizens could not call in
about crime and disorder.
d. No cars made it impossible to respond
e. Supervision was weak or nonexistent
f. Sergeants patrolled on foot leaving officers to be able to evade duty and spend
time in saloons and barbershops.
g. Bad weather encouraged officers to evade patrolling the streets.
h. First communication system
i. Call boxes that officers could use to call into precincts
ii. Sabotaged them by keeping them off the hook or lying about where
iii. Lack of effective system made it impossible for citizens to contact
C. The Police and the Public
a. Never a golden age of policing.
b. High turnover of officers and the population was very mobile
c. Police drank on duty and frequently used excessive force.
d. Citizens were very disrespectful
i. Gangs threw rocks at officers
ii. People would resist arrest and fight back.
e. Not possible to know a lot of people on beats
i. Composition of neighborhoods changed under the pressure of
ii. Officer assignments were not stable.
1. Officers were assigned to new and growing neighborhoods;
citizens met many officers
f. Ethnic and religious tensions among citizens and officers
g. American urban policing was highly impersonal and was marked by police-
h. London police were highly professional and American police were not.
i. London free of political interference and able to gain respect and high
j. Began to carry weapons as standard equipment in 1800s in response to crime
and violence increases.
k. Police were major social welfare institutions to homeless
D. Corruption and Politics
a. George W. Plunkitt
i. Represented everything wrong with American policing
ii. District leader for Tammany Hall that controlled NYC politics
iii. Explained in writing how corruption worked
iv. Believed in rewarding people that won the victory v. Funded Tammany Hall through kickbacks or payoffs from gamblers
vi. Corruption lasted because people liked what they got out of it
b. Corruption was one of the main functions of local government and police
were only one part of the problem.
c. Officers took payoffs for not enforcing, gambling, drinking, and prostitution
d. The money was divided amongst all ranks
e. To move up rank, officers would have to pay bribes.
f. Blue collar workers fought to win politics so they would not have to enforce
laws around drinking, because saloons was were a lot of their relaxing and
work too place.
E. Immigration, Discrimination, and Police Corruption
a. 12/3/1882; 137 people arrested for violating the Sunday Closing Law
b. People arrested that day were mostly Jewish, who close on Saturdays in
compliance with their religion, would have been forced to close two days a
c. Protestants were more vigorous in enforcing the laws, while Irish Catholics of
Tammany Hall ignored them.
d. Jewish peddlers had to pay 5 dollars to not get arrested and carts that didn’t
pay were marked with chalk and free game to other cops to arrest.
F. The Failure of Police Reform
a. Efforts by reformers unsuccessful for the most part.
b. Focused on changing the formal structure of police departments to a board of
police commissioners appointed by the governor or legislature.
c. Created struggle control along political party lines, ethnic groups, and
d. Winning did not improve the quality of policing because they only looked to
remove bad people who were their opponents and wanted to put good people
in who were their supporters.
e. Had no ideas on how to improve, selection, training or anything else useful to
the police task.
f. Theodore Roosevelt fought to end Tammany Hall and tried to eliminate
political corruption and police inefficiency.
g. Roosevelt tried to raise standards and ensure enforcement laws with little
h. He did not achieve any lasting changes in the NYPD
G. The Impact of the Police on Society
a. Cities did not become orderly in the 19 century and historians argue that
police might have contributed to this.
b. Others argue that they were so few in numbers that they could not have
c. Growth of order was more a result of a natural adaption to urban life.
d. Police played a supportive role, at best, to the urban life of reporting to work
every day at the same hour. e. Marxist historians argue that officers were used to harass labor unions and
f. Many strikes led to violence during this time.
g. Police succeeded in becoming a social and political problem than a help
VI. The Professional Era, 1900-1960
A. The Professionalization Movement
a. August Vollmer
i. Father of police professionalism
ii. Defined the reform agenda that continues to influence policing today.
iii. Most famous for advocating higher education for officers
iv. Organized the first college-level police science courses at the
University of California
v. Father of modern cj education
b. Wickersham Commission Report on Police
i. Summarized the reform agenda of modern management for police
departments and higher recruitment standards for officers.
c. Police reform part of a much broader political movement known as
progressivism between 1900 and 1917
d. Progressive reformers sought to regulate big business, eliminate child labor,
improve social welfare and reform local government as well as professionalize
B. The Reform Agenda
a. Reformers defined policing as a profession
i. Police should be public servants with a professional obligation to serve
the entire community on a nonpartisan basis.
b. Reformers sought to eliminate the influence of politics on policing
c. Argued for hiring qualified chief executives to head police departments
i. People who had proven ability to manage a large organization.
d. Tried to raise personnel standards for rank and file officers
i. Established minimum health, intelligence and moral character for
e. Professionalism meant applying modern management principles to police
i. Centralizing command and control and making efficient use of
f. Created the f