This week we are looking at the evolution of policing in America and the rich history of law enforcement throughout the United States. While our roots are closely tied to England, U.S. policing has experienced three major evolutionary eras. Before tuning out with, “Not another history lesson,” these are the interesting aspects influencing who we are today.
Over the next three weeks we will debate the good, the bad, and the indifferent characteristics of each era. There is a mysterious phenomenon about police training academies that make an indelible impression on young cadets. Every officer I have asked over the past 23 years remembers who the “father of modern day law enforcement” is.
He is the U.K.’s own Sir Robert Peel, hence the nickname “Bobbies.” Most questions about U.S. cop history fade into some haze of recollection after that resounding response. To quickly remind you where we were, and where we are;
The Evolution of Policing in America – Three Era’s
The Political Era – 1840 – 1930
The Reform (Professional) Era – 1930 – 1970
The Community Problem-Solving Era – 1970 – Current
While there are sub-sets to each Era, these are the overarching periods in our policing history defining how we operate today. The fun this month will be to take the main points from each historic period and relate them to current practices and topics.
We may even uproot some of the problems plaguing policing today. Let us again say welcome to The Badge Guys. These are the conversations of our communities, our profession, and our lives.
The Political Era; an Overview
Jumping in with a brief overview for this week, The Political Era begins our March Month of U.S. Police History. The New York model dominates this period as the full effects of the Industrial Revolution become realized.
The need for a full-time paid police force provided employment for minimally trained officers. There were no scientific investigation capabilities, as the best forensic techniques failed to distinguish the blood of a pig from a human.
New York’s state legislature established its first professional police force in 1844. Although modeled after the European practice, the control was placed under city government and elected politicians. Obviously, this opened the door for elected officials to reward policing jobs to friends and supporters as political patronage.
America experienced an era of extreme violence extending from immigrant and race riots in the East to the wild, wild Western migration and settlements. Riots often forced reform in the strategies used by police to quell them. The “baton charge” was the first significant use of an instrument against the public for maintaining force against resistance.
As the late 19th century began to experience a settling within the larger cities, police services focused less on brute force and more on providing social services to the elected officials’ constituents. Operating soup lines, finding lost children and locating jobs and housing for new immigrants dominated duties.
The social servant ideal may have been an idealistic element of the Political Era, but the closeness to politicians, lack of a strong organizational command structure and weak supervision of autonomously operating officers, led to wide-spread corruption as officers used “curbside” justice and minority discrimination to handle neighborhood problems. The timeless images remain ranging from the friendly Irish beat cop to the bungling Keystone cops.
This Week’s Debate; The Evolution of Policing in America: Have We Evolved at All
Today, advocates continue to clash over the best purpose for policing. Some feel an emphasis on the “social worker” practices are the best utilization of law enforcement resources, while others maintain that the “crime fighter” paradigm best serves the needs of our communities.
One, the other, or a combination of both? Do the issues of policing tied to elected officials remain in today’s policing profession and culture? Are police still used as the state’s arm of force for maintaining social control? Do remnants of the Political Era still exist?
This Weeks Schedule
Juli Adcock discusses the evolution of policing in the US and the influence of the political era:
I’m back on Wednesday with my take on this issue with a post titled Keystone Cops & The Evolution Of Policing; Have We Evolved?