PowerPoint III

 Historical Overview of American Policing 

Political and Economic Context

          The more stratified a society, the greater will be the reliance on formal methods of social control, in this case, organized police forces

        As a corollary to this general principle, we might add that police forces in stratified societies have always functioned to help maintain class control and in effect help perpetuate the existing stratification system

 First Known Police Forces

          Babylonia during the years when Hammurabi issued his famous code (2181-2123 B.C.).

        police under the direct control of monarchs

         Early Greece - kin-police where all citizens were policemen.

         prosperity created greater wealth concentrated in the hands of a few

        created social classes and the need to put individual and class interests before the interests of the community as a whole


         After many years of civil strife, Augustus (63 B.C.-14 A.D.) took control and maintained "law and order" with an Imperial police force known as the Vigiles

        one policeman for every 75 citizens

        Today it is one police officer for every 300 or 400 citizens

         Rome went from rural agricultural society to large city-state

        informal social norms (e.g., Twelve Tables) could no longer function effectively, as there were growing conflicts between the rulers and a growing proletariat and slave population.

        one of the major functions of the police was to protect the property and powerful positions of the rulers.

 Early English Society

          The biggest change came with the Norman Conquest of England in the 11th century

         Prior to the Norman invasion policing was a community responsibility, as in other feudal societies.

         William the Conqueror created his own unique legal system, complete with justices of the peace and various kinds of police forces.

 Tythings and the Tythingman

          Villages throughout England were divided into units of ten families, called tythings

         Within these units one person (tythingman) was responsible for keeping order in his section of the village.

        Comparable to police beats or sectors today.

         Mutual pledge system - small sums of money were awarded to citizens who reported crimes to the Tythingman or responded to the Tythingman’s hue and cry (an announcement that a crime had occurred). 

         In addition to catching thieves, the Tythingman also reimbursed those who lost property

 The constabulary system

          In time, Tythings were combined into hundreds (each hundred had ten Tythings) which were policed by constables

         These hundreds were eventually combined to form shires (what we would today call counties).  The shire was policed by a shire-reeve or sheriff.

         This was the dominant form of policing in England until early in the nineteenth century.  This system became influential in America.

         The constable performed his duties during the day while citizen volunteers took turns performing their duties at night -the night-watch

         Policing was considered a community responsibility and was under the control of the community members. 

         The constable was not concerned with preventing crime in the context that we know it today.  He did not spend his time looking for potential criminals.

 The Metropolitan Police of London

          Enclosure Movements

        Mass migration of landless people to urban centers in search of employment

        Peasants engaged in various types of revolt and criminal activity in response to the situation they found themselves in

        From the standpoint of the ruling elite, this situation needed some form of social control rather than addressing the causes

         Bow Street Runners – often called “thief-takers” hired to recover property of a victim (sort of like a bounty hunter)

         Gordon Riots & Luddite Riots

        Precipitating events that led to the formation of the London police as existing police forces were often fraudulent and unable to control the mobs that were forming in response to horrible economic conditions

         Military had to be called out to control mobs

         Thousands of poor people displaced by the Enclosure Movement

         “A large mass of unproductive population…without occupation or ostensible means of subsistence…hundreds of thousands go forth from day to day trusting alone to charity or rapine; and differing little from the barbarous hordes which traverse an uncivilized land.”

        So stated a contemporary observer of the day

         It was the presence of mobs and protestors that led to the formation of this new police force, rather than crime per se

         Notice that most of the “crimes” resulting in a court appearance and a prison sentence were minor - vagrancy, poaching, petty theft, disorderly conduct, and public drunkenness

        during the 1830s about 85 percent of all arrests were for drunkenness, disorderly conduct, and similar minor offenses

 Sir Robert Peel



          Sir Robert Peel – a key figure, after whom the term “bobbies” originated.

        Peel stressed that the new role of the police would be the prevention of crime through increased patrols.

         control of policing shifted from the community (i.e., during the constable period) to control by the state

         Peel a key figure, after whom the term “bobbies” originated.

         He was a large landowner and son of a wealthy manufacturer

         control of policing shifted from the community (i.e., during the constable period) to control by the state

         For a good look at the result of policing see the discussion in the 3rd paragraph under the section on Robert Peel in chapter 2 describing some of the typical petty crimes resulting in arrest

        Then look at any recent FBI Uniform Crime Report – most arrests are for “public order” and other “Part II” crimes

 Hallmarks of the London Metropolitan Police  

          Make policing strong enough to maintain order but restrained in relation to responding to political conflict. 

        London police founded on military principles, strict rules of conduct, and management practices that were well defined

         Refrain from personalization. 

        Recruit officers from outside London; officers who had no personal ties to those whom they would be policing.

         Police monitored the behavior of the “dangerous classes” so that the comfortable and satisfied could sleep more soundly at night or not be annoyed by the sight of public drunkenness

 The Development of the Police Institution in the United States

          Colonial America - local sheriff and constables  

        Night watchman patrolled the streets in larger communities.  Constables and night watchmen were ordinary citizens.

         Many sheriffs and constables were paid fees for collection of property

        Corruption was common

19th Century Constable

 The NYPD Emerges

          Labor conflict, rioting, etc. resulted in full-time police force – the NYPD

 Social Context

          The organization of a full-time organized police force was the result of actions taken by business and political leaders in large cities in the North.

         Police typically used as strikebreakers

         Spent bulk of time on “public order” offenses, like in London 

 A Case study of Buffalo Police

         The rise in police personnel did not correspond to a rise in crime (in Boston too)

         In Buffalo the size of police force had little to do with population growth and crime

         From 1873 through 1900 the largest category of arrests was “public order” offenses (averaged 70%) – arrest rate +469% in the 1890s

        Most common charges: drunkenness, disorderly conduct, vagrancy, being a “tramp”

        Rate of violent crime unchanged

 The “Dangerous Classes”?

          Clearly the “dangerous class” in this period consisted of labor unions and laborers

         Most arrested during periods of political unrest were laborers who were charged with “public order” offenses

        All within  the context of social and political struggles

 Late 19th Century Context

         Economic crisis in the 1880s and 1890s

        642 banks failed and 16,000 businesses closed in 1893 alone

         Labor struggles took center stage and police were in the middle

        Rioting common during strikes

        Haymarket Square bombing (1886) – became an international event as 8 “anarchists” were found guilty (who actually did it was never firmly established)

 Business Control of Police

          In Buffalo most police commissioners were owners of businesses, rather than drawn from the majority of the population (laborers)

         Police officers came from working class and were often reluctant to get involved in labor disputes

        Many had family members involved in union activities

         Many ended up being bribed, in effect, with bonus pay

 Private Policing

          Like the early “fee-for-service” constables, private policing has enabled the rich to purchase their own protection from crime.

         “private” and “public” order

        “public” police was related to the need for some form of “public peace.”  

        “private peace” – something separate from the more general public (mostly related to the protection of a person’s private space – home, business, etc.)


          Established in Chicago during the 1850s.

         Was to provide additional protection to private corporations and supplemental services to the Chicago police department.

         They were, in effect, a corporate goon squad by basically engaging in labor espionage

         The US Senate passed a few “anti-Pinkerton” laws, but states got around these by creating their own police forces to deal with labor disputes (e.g., Pennsylvania State Police)


          Was so repressive that a special Congressional committee was set up to investigate (Church Committee)

        They found all sorts of documentation of rather ordinary people whose lives had been almost destroyed by false accusations

        Found evidence of actual crimes committed, including murder

         For details on the scope of this report see: http://www.icdc.com/~paulwolf/cointelpro/cointel.htm

 Police & the Drug War

          In 2005 the police arrested 1,846,351 people for drug law violations, compared to 1,476,100 in 1995 (a 25% increase); in 1975 a total of 601,400 were arrested for drugs, while in 1985 a total of 811,400 were; thus between 1985 and 2005 the percentage increase was 127%.

         During the year 2005, almost half (47%) of the total arrests for drug law violations were for pot (786,545). Of those, about 90% were arrested for possession alone. The total number arrested represented an increase over 1999, when 704,812 were arrested for pot.