18 Mar 2013

Policing in America; Reform Era Policing

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Policing in America; the Evolution

This is our second week looking at the history of law enforcement in the U.S. Birthed from England’s first professional policing model, American law enforcement progressed through three major evolutionary eras and this week we’ll be looking at reform era policing. Last week was exciting to learn that college classes were requiring students to read daily. The Badge Guys invite you to go beyond the read, and engage an entire community with comments and questions.

To quickly remind you where we were, and where we are;

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 Reform (Professional) Era; an Overview

Last week’s conversation focused on America’s first phase of law enforcement evolution, the Political Era. Readers revealed a subtle appreciation, that despite the close connection and control by elected officials, this was the earliest efforts at community policing.

While this paradigm of “social worker” suited the politician and public, the fraternity of policing was primed to change channels. It was partisan politics creating the environment of police corruption. Reformers engaged the ideal of policing as a profession.

The Professional Era struggled with the transitional ideology of the current social worker role versus the emerging scientific crime detection professional. The 19th century ushered a revolutionary period for policing.

August Vollmer Leads the Way

Led by August Vollmer, an extensive body of literature on policing’s purpose, practice and policy emerged. Applicant standards, testing and improved training increased the stature of the occupation.

The adoption of a professional body also saw the first conventions, fraternal orders and benefit societies. While Vollmer advocated for the social worker paradigm, he did not support the political influences adversely effecting policing.

This led to the development of civil service systems. While science was being applied to police administration, the Wickersham Commission conducted the first true examination of crime and criminal justice on a national scale.

Automobile, Telephone, and Radio

Removing the Old Irish beat cop from his daily walks was the 1930’s implementation of the automobile. Cops no longer had to personally take reports, as the telephone and two-way radio segregated them from the public they were once enmeshed with.

The emphasis on technology, scientific investigations and organizational efficiency promoted the paradigm of crime-fighter above that of the social worker. This model of policing remains as the primary function of policing in the U.S.

The Reform Era devalued public participation in crime deterrence, detection and apprehension. Response times became the standard for measuring operational success as opposed to the quality of public service delivered.

Another national attempt at reform was made in 1955 as the National Institute on Police and Community Relations suggested renewed emphasis placed on police-public communications. The institute was abolished by 1969.

Technology of Television

While technology introduced the Reform Era, it was ultimately responsible for its end. The 1960’s race demonstrations and riots were regularly televised. The 1968 Chicago Democratic National Convention allowed national television audiences to witness the abuse of force levied upon the public by police.

With rising crime and national discontent with police practices, a call came for a referendum integrating the community back into the practices of protecting their communities. Police as partners was the mandate, and community-oriented practices were the next evolutionary period.

This Week’s Debate; 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? Does the disconnected crime-fighter model better serve our communities purposes? Is there room for community-oriented policing within the highly scientific world of law enforcement investigations? Are police response times a good or bad indication of operational success?

This Weeks Schedule

Monday = Juli Adcock brings her experience from the beat to your screens as she offers a unique perspective on reform era policing and asks whether an important connection between the public and the police was lost as a result.

Wednesday = I’m back with a deeper study of this issue offering my own insights from my own studies on the issues.

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