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The History of Modern Policing


American policing is a product of English heritage. The English contributed three factors into American policing, which were; limited police authority (i.e. The Bill of Rights), tradition of local control of law enforcement agencies, and a highly decentralized and fragmented system of law enforcement. Sir Robert Peel is the “father of modern policing, who was a member of England’s elite social and political class. The 1780 Gordon riots triggered a 50 year debate over the need for better public safety in England. Due to the effective plans of Peel, officers became known as “Bobbies.” The new mission of policing was crime prevention. Peel borrowed the organization structure of the London police from the military, including uniforms, rank designations, and the authoritarian system of command and discipline.


The American colonists created law enforcement institutions as soon as they established organized communities. There was a sheriff, who was appointed by the governor, which was the chief local government official. His responsibilities included collecting taxes, conducting elections, maintaining bridges and roads, among other things. The watch and the constable were also part of the law enforcement of this time. These officials were reactive agencies, who only responded to complaints brought to them, and did not engage in patrol. Crime victims had no convenient way of reporting crimes; officers patrolled on foot, and had no way of communicating with one another in case of trouble.


Modern police were established in the United States in the 180s and 1840s. The reasoning behind the new ways of policing was the ethnic riots of this time period. The police officers did not wear uniforms or carry weapons during the early stages of United States policing. The nineteenth century had no personnel standards. Men had no education, poor health, and criminal records, all the officers were handed was a badge, baton, and a copy of the department rules. The positive side of this job was officers got paid more than blue collared workers. Most of the time, double what factory workers made, too bad that isn’t the way it is today. Routine police patrol was hopelessly inefficient; there was no supervision as well. Many police officers would lie about where they were and go to bars and hang out on the job, this resulted in many officers having an alcohol abuse problem. Citizen violence caused the American police officer to begin carrying firearms. Plunkitt represented everything that was wrong with American policing in the nineteenth century; he considered corruption to be the essence of democracy. Meanwhile, police were taking payoffs for not enforcing laws on drinking, gambling, and prostitution.


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August Vollmer was the father of American police professionalism. He advocated higher education for police officers; he was also the father of modern criminal justice education. Under his theories, police agencies began dominating police reform through the 160s, policing as a profession, and hiring qualified chief executives to head police departments, they also raised personnel standards and managed principles to police departments. Departments began to specialize units, such as juvenile, traffic, and the like. Reforms progressed slowly. Police unions began to emerge during this time. The FBI was established in 108 by President Theodore Roosevelt. Advances in technology began to emerge, the two way radio made I easier for officers to converse with one another, the telephone made it easier to contact police, and the automobile made it easier for police to patrol. During 1, Hoover created the Wickersham Commission, which was a national study of the American criminal justice system. The report found police routinely beat suspects. In 10, Wilson won control of the UCR (Uniform Crime Reports) and the FBI opened its National Police Academy. They also developed the Ten Most Wanted list and the crime lab.


Miranda vs. Arizona (166) was an important case which required police officers to advise criminal suspects of their rights before being interrogated. In 161, Mapp vs. Ohio declared evidence gathered in an illegal search and seizure could not be used against the defendant. The PCR program was also created during this time; it spoke to the community groups and schools, offered “ride along” programs which allowed citizens to view police, etc. The Kerner Commission and the Kansas City Preventive Patrol Experiment also happened during this time.


African Americans and women were beginning to be more prominent during this time, as well. Officers began to recruit college students; training hours for new officers went up greatly. Crime went down in the 10s. During this time, many tensions between the police and racial and ethic minorities reemerged into a serious problem (i.e. Rodney King, Abner Louima, and Robert Wilkins). Racial profiling had become a national movement during this time, also.





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