"There is no history, only biography" (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

    The police role, function, purpose, or mission in society has evolved a great deal over time.  To understand this evolution requires an understanding of history.  It also requires us to think beyond the technical and operational aspects of police work, and consider, if you will, the philosophy of policing, or more specifically, the place of unquestionable use of force in a society.  Many consider this "unquestionable use of force" feature to be the central, if not THE most important, aspect of the police role in society.  Egon Bittner (1970) certainly believed that, and do others (Colwell & Huth 2010) who refer to it as the need for society to have some kind of institution that fulfills need for an "anima-based" system of "unconditional respect."  When you think about it (and put perhaps too fine a point on it), it's what the institution of policing really represents -- a "who ya gonna call ... when you need something done forcefully and quickly ... no questions asked ...."  No other occupational role in society demands this level of non-transparency, lack of scrutiny, and/or blind obedience.  It's universally hard-wired into every piece of family socialization in every society across time -- something your mother or father probably always told you -- that policemen should always be respected, and you should never disobey them. 

    Historical insights give us lots of ideas about the police role in society. Glaeser (2000), for example, makes the case that policing is essentially all about the control of space (territoriality), thus fulfilling the first of Max Weber's (1930) operational requirements for a nation-state: territoriality, legitimacy, and monopolization on the use of force. Policing is also one of those few lines of work, like teaching and medicine, which have intimate connections with social life, social progress, and social change. Too narrow a view of the police role is bad, but care must also be taken to avoid too broad a view.  Scholars therefore, sometimes distinguish between the words "role" and "function" in sorting out the purpose or mission of policing at a national level.  A "role" consists of the duties and privileges that the police have inherited or earned over multiple generations.  A "function" consists of those things the police do that have survival value for them, whether they (or us) are aware of those things (intended function) or not (unintended function).  Goldstein (1977) is the scholar most people draw upon for a list of the 2 roles and 7 functions of policing, as follows:

Roles and Functions of Policing

  • crime fighting -- the dramatic chasing, arresting, and occasional gunfighting with criminals, including crimes that simply annoy other citizens and negatively affect the quality of life

  • order maintenance -- keeping the peace and providing social services (help) to the community

  • To prevent and control conduct threatening to life and property

  • To aid individuals who are in danger of physical harm or attack

  • To facilitate the movement of people and vehicles

  • To assist those who cannot care for themselves, like the intoxicated, the addicted, the mentally ill, the physically disabled, the old, and the young

  • To resolve conflict between individuals, groups, or individuals/groups and their government

  • To identify problems that have the potential for becoming more serious problems

  • To create and maintain a feeling of security in communities

    Given the above delineation, it is apparent that police are involved in some very noble causes.  It is almost as if they hold some kind of parental role, like the right of a parent to use strict discipline in raising youngsters.  In fact, they do have that right.  As Bittner (1970) puts it, police work from its earliest origins onward has always been a "tainted" occupation -- the fire used to fight fire; the necessary evil used to fight evil.  Like the military who you call when you "absolutely, positively have to have something blown up overnight", the police are who you call when "somebody's doing something they ought not to be doing, and somebody ought to do something about it right away."  As Klockars (1985) puts it, even the most democratic societies allow for the existence of an institution like the police for when there are times you have to fight dirty.  Police are thus always on morally dangerous ground.  The tools they use to achieve their noble causes are not the most noble tools, but no noble society can survive without the occasional recourse to ignoble action.

    Further, it can be said from an examination of police history that police have, from the beginning, always been involved in morals enforcement -- at least the communication of goodness and proper morality amongst the populace.  Who's morals? -- you may ask.  It doesn't really matter.  They preserve the class lines and status quo very well, and outside of Alcoholics Anonymous, there's no better enforcer of middle class values than the police.  Morals enforcement is either another (ambiguous) part of the police role or an unintended function, but it's still there, all wrapped up in a professional mystique which doesn't allow for the intrusion of personal morality.  Law enforcement is so much about public morality that Manning (2003) argues it is the most essential, day-to-day function.  Rabbi Friedman (2005) goes further in saying police are the priests of a secular religion.  Indeed, thinking about police from a larger vantage point can yield some interesting insights.

THE ANCIENT ERA (3000 B.C. - 400 A.D.)

    In the beginning, there was kin policing, with its penchant for blood feuds and tribal justice rituals. Many pre-civilized villages always had a rudimentary form of law enforcement (focused mainly on morals enforcement) derived from the power and authority of kinship systems, rule by elders, or perhaps some form of totemism, naturism (or other supernatural belief). Under kin policing, the family members of the offended individual were expected to assume responsibility for justice by capturing, beating, branding, or mutilating the offender. To be sure, there were also theocratic institutions (religious temples, magic rituals, grand viziers), but these were primarily used as a system of appeal (also: sanctuary or refuge) and sometimes for purposes not associated with justice.  In ancient times, the police function was almost inseparable from the military function as ancient rulers always kept elite units (bodyguards) close at hand to protect them from threats and assassination attempts.  The ancient civilization of Egypt was, among other things, a police state.  In Mesopotamia, in cities like Uruk, Umma, Eridu, Lagash, and Ur, widely regarded as the "birthplace of civilization," the social climate was one of constant warfare, and domestic policing evolved around the spoils of war in terms of using retrained, captured enemy soldiers as policemen.  Some of the the more prominent of these early policemen were captured Nubian slaves, prized for their tall height and stature.  Such people were often put to work as marketplace guards, Praetorian guards (bodyguards), or in other mercenary-like positions. As a police force, their different color, stature, and manner of dress made them quite visible among the Mesopotamians. The idea of police visibility would eventually become a first principle of crime control.

    As city-states evolved, kin policing was fully replaced by king's policing. It's conventional to note that things like the Code of Hammurabi marked the first known system of criminal law as well as the start of other practices. The Hebrews developed the Mosaic Law and a rudimentary adversarial system. The Greeks experimented with highway patrol and jury trials (Athens) as well as secret police and mercenary systems (Sparta). Across Africa, trials were being conducted while sitting down (three-legged stools of justice). Violators were brought before thrones of justice in the name of the crown, and to keep the peace meant, for the most part, keeping the king's peace of mind.  Keeping the king's peace of mind became the impetus for much of Greek philosophy (Aristotle, Plato) and its speculation on happiness and virtue.  Perhaps the most important Greek contribution was the association in peoples' minds about the majesty and awe of justice, and the association of good law and order with virtue.

    It's widely recognized that the first organized police force were the Roman vigiles, the first group of nonmilitary, nonmercenary police. They were created by Gaius Octavius, the grand nephew of Julius Caesar, around 27 B.C. After his uncle was assassinated, little Octavius swore revenge and rose to power with a desire to reform Roman society. Once he became ruler, he took the name Augustus Caesar, or more simply Augustus, the first emperor of Rome. Let's take a closer look at the steps involved in his establishment of the world's first organized police force:

The Roman Police System

  • The first thing Augustus did was create a special unit, called the Praetorian Guard, to protect him from assassination. 9000 men were selected and divided into 9 cohorts of 1000 each. 3 of these cohorts operated as undercover operatives housed among the civilian residents. The Praetorian Guard eventually became involved in assassination plots themselves, and were disbanded or reabsorbed by future emperors and/or the military.

  • The second thing Augustus did was create a daytime city fire brigade of 600 slaves and spread them among 14 separate precincts. The slaves proved inadequate and were disbanded, but the prefect (precinct) system proved workable.

  • The slave fire brigade was replaced by urban cohorts, headed by a prefect of the urban cohorts. These were a less select military unit of men who weren't good enough to get into the Praetorian Guard. There were several thousand of them. They were primarily responsible for fire safety during daytime hours, and only occasional police duties, and they were fairly inadequate at both.

  • The urban cohorts were supplemented by nighttime cohorts, and there were several thousand of them, recruited and selected from among freedmen only. They were known as the vigiles (watchmen) of Rome, and were empowered not only to fight fires but to arrest law breakers. The prefect of the vigiles eventually became a powerful man, passing judgment on most lawbreakers, except for serious lawbreakers who had to be turned over to the prefect of the urban cohorts. The vigiles were armed with clubs as well as short swords. They eventually took over the duties of the urban cohorts.


    The Middle Ages (400 A.D. - 1600 A.D.) in England and Europe saw significant developments in policing.  Most countries either had no system of law enforcement or one of two systems, depending upon which part of Europe you were in. Where law enforcement existed, it was most likely a variety of the watch system -- a system premised on the importance of volunteers patrolling the streets and guarding cities from sunset to sunrise calling out things like "2 o'clock and all's well".  The predominant function of policing during this period was class control (keeping watch on vagrants, vagabonds, immigrants, gypsies, tramps, thieves, and outsiders in general).  Despite some innovations during this time (the Magna Carta of 1215 being a notable example), most of this era was characterized by lawlessness and corruption.  By the 1500s, there was no country in the world with more robbers, thieves, and prostitutes than England. Other countries, too, experienced lawlessness to such a degree that citizen groups, known as vigilantes, sprang up to combat crime.  European nations responded to the twin problems of crime and vigilantism by adopting one of two systems, explained below:

European Systems of Policing during the Middle Ages

Gendarme System Watch System

     The gendarme system was created by Charlemagne and is associated with centralized policing found in French speaking and Romantic language countries. The closest word in English to "gendarme" is "marshal", although "inspector" might be a close second.

     All gendarmes were considered agents of the crown, and could travel anywhere to bring anyone to justice. Gendarmes would charge fees based on performance. Gendarmes were feared and respected professionals.

     The pledge system (also called the Watch system) was created by Alfred the Great (England) and is associated with decentralized policing by constables or deputies. The term comes from the word frankpledge, a Norman version of the old Saxon tithing or hue and cry system.

     Every able-bodied citizen was pledged to perform some kind of police work unless excused by a "shire-reeve" who also promoted high-performing watchmen into "constables" who somehow became England's most beloved amateurs.

    Prior to 1066 (the Norman Invasion), the little villages of England operated under mutual assistance pacts known as the tithing system. All men over the age of 12 were required to be in a tithing, which was responsible for the behavior of its membership. If the tithing failed to apprehend an errant member, the entire tithing was required to pay restitution to an injured party. The chief tithingman was responsible for raising the hue and cry, or call to arms, whenever someone needed to be apprehended.

    Under the frankpledge system (1066-1300), ten tithings were organized into a "hundred", supervised by a constable whom the local nobility appointed. The primary duty of the constable was to quartermaster the equipment of the hundred and raise forces quickly. Ten hundreds were further organized into a "shire", supervised by a "shire-reeve". Shire-reeves were considered the local representatives of Norman royalty, and also had judicial powers along with judges who traveled the realm to hear cases and exercise correctional powers along with town bailiffs. Over time, the position of constable also came to represent the power of the crown, but it was a position that mixed Norman authority with Saxon tradition. When the English countryside was eventually divided up into parishes with aldermans and wards, it was the constables who emerged as the most important parish officials because the shire-reeves were mostly brutal, corrupt, and run out of town.

    An understanding of the Statute of Winchester of 1285 perhaps best summarizes the English heritage. Among other things, this law did the following:


    Colonial America (1600-1800 A.D.) was at risk from foreign enemies, Native Americans, and their brother and sister colonists.  Their only protection was themselves (militias) and, at times, the military.  By the seventeenth century, the northern colonies started to adopt the English model, and in many northern states, this was called The Watch.  In the southern states, which had more of a tradition of vigilantism, slave patrols developed.  Both urban and frontier American policing was largely inept and corrupt.  Early America also experimented with the constable system which operated during the day, with the watch system in place at night.

    Some would say America adopted the English watch system wholesale, but there were unique American innovations.  Shire-reeves became sheriffs, towns had constables who organized groups of watchmen who in turn helped organize citizen posses, and mayors usually had a high constable or marshal as their right-hand man. It is important to note that primarily because the English system was so closely emulated, the American system came to be characterized by: (1) limited authority (legitimacy problems); (2) decentralization (local control and variation); and (3) fragmentation (one hand doesn't know what the other is doing).

    The irony is that England toward the end of this period was moving to abandon its watch system since more efficient institutions were coming into existence; like the Bow St. Runners in 1750 (the first detectives) and the Bobbies in 1829 (named after Sir Robert Peel, who were also called Peelers - "I spy blue, I spy black, I spy a peeler in a shiny hat" - the first professional police force in the world).  Peelian reforms, as they would eventually be called, became the world standard, and included such things as discipline, appearance, recruitment, and visibility (omnipresence).  Peelers or "Bobbies" became known for how well they blended in with ordinary civilians, and could talk and walk amongst them.

    The American watch system continued to rely on the hue and cry, which resulted in rather silent and unseen policing.  Boston's night watch, for example, formed in 1631, consisted of only 6 watchman, 1 constable, and a handful of volunteers.  Some professionals existed, but most American policemen were sorely underpaid if paid at all.  New York City (then New Amsterdam) in 1652 experimented with what was called a rattle watch, where patrolmen communicated with one another by shaking little wooden rattles in an early form of 10-codes.  NYC also adopted the Roman precinct system. Volunteers mostly made up the slave patrols that roamed the South. The Carolina colony's slave patrol of 1704 was the model for much of the rest of the South, and established the concept of knowing every square inch for 15 square miles -- a precursor to the modern police beat.  Early American policemen were often so dull in intelligence they were called leather heads, and it was an oft-frequent event for a judge to sentence certain minor offenders to a sentence of police work as punishment.

    By the nineteenth century, American policing became dominated by politics.  Officers primarily became tools of politicians.  They were not impartial and professional public servants.  In 1857, for example, a full-scale police war broke out in New York City between officers affiliated with the Republican party and the Democrat party.  The period between 1800 to 1900 became known as the Spoils Era ("to the victor go the spoils") because by the end of this Century, municipal police were firmly in the hands of big-city political machines.  The riots began around 1835, mostly involving factory workers or racial/ethnic tensions with "degenerate" groups such as the Irish and Native Americans.  American policing responded by assigning police forces a riot control function, and America as a whole soon discovered that a volunteer, watch-oriented system was totally inadequate. 

    It became apparent that full-time, salaried police officers were needed, so in 1845 in New York City (the generally accepted date and place for the start of paid, professional policing in America), the so-called "Coppers" were born, named after the copper stars they wore as badges on their Peelian uniforms. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  The cops became the ones called upon to control the riots, and they were trained to think of themselves as better than the working class they were recruited from. They were armed with guns (like most citizens at the time) even when policy or public opinion prohibited it. Other cities followed and expanded on the this model: e.g., New York City: Philadelphia with the use of wanted posters and a Rogues Gallery (mug shots); Boston with the use of informants, lineups, and detectives; Chicago and Detroit with rapid response "Paddy Wagons" or horse-drawn "flying squads".  Rapid response, in fact, became popular with most Americans, and soon municipal police came to be known for it.  By 1911, all were motorized and speedy response became the hallmark of American policing.  It also led American policing right into the expectation they would be there as an all-service functioning entity, or in Egon Bittner's words, fulfilling the need for "something ought not to be happening and something ought to be done about it now".  This service function fit well with a spoils system, for obvious reasons.

    This era also saw the beginning of state police agencies. Although the Texas Rangers (founded 1845) are said to be the first state police organization, they became the stuff of legend only because of the atrocities they committed, like wiping out Commanche tribes or slaughtering thousands of Mexicans. Originally starting out as Rangers of the King, a group of henchmen for cattle baron, Richard King, the Texas Rangers personified the Western motto, "shoot first, ask questions later". It's widely accepted that the first professional state police agency was the Pennsylvania Constabulary who were originally formed to assist mine owners in breaking coal strikes. The Massachusetts State Police were also an early group, and Western states other than Texas also had Rangers.

    This era also saw the beginning of federal police agencies which were prompted in part by the California Gold Rush of 1848. Some of the first ones were the Postal Inspectors, IRS, Border Patrol, Secret Service, and what would later become the FBI shortly after the turn of the century. The model for federal investigators was Allan Pinkerton, a barrelmaker who founded Pinkerton's Private Security Agency in 1855. Pinkerton's Agency busted strikes, secured the railroads, ended horse theft (via photography), provided military intelligence, and protected presidents. Pinkerton offices, with signs displaying an eye and the motto "We Never Sleep" were in almost every American city during the 1800s along with the presence of other private security firms, like the Holmes burglar alarm company and the Brinks and Wells Fargo armored truck delivery services. 


    The twentieth century continued to see police strikes, the Boston police strike of 1919 being one of the worst, but the first couple decades of the 20th Century (known as the Progressive Era) saw a number of innovations, most notably a shift in policing from brawn to brain, and the end of miscellaneous duties like dog catching, inspecting, and licensing. The spoils system was gradually replaced by a civil service system with the first anti-corruption measure, the Pendleton Act, attempting to eliminate nepotism (the hiring of relatives). Originally passed in 1883, the Pendleton Act wasn't enforced until 1900, and generally marks the end of the spoils era.

    Professionalism took place at the top with formation of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) in 1902. It's first president, Richard Sylvester, chief of the Washington D.C. P.D., was widely regarded as the father of police professionalism. He advocated a citizen-soldier model, and was responsible for development of the many paramilitary aspects of policing.  August Vollmer, chief of the Berkeley P.D., would become the patriarch of police professionalism by 1918. He advocated a scientific crime fighter model, and was responsible for introducing America to crime labs, fingerprint repositories, uniform crime reporting, and the merger of police science with criminology. Across America, bigger police stations were being built as job titles changed (from town marshal to chief of police, commissioner if elected, superintendent if appointed).   In 1920, prohibition went into effect, and law enforcement suddenly had a new problem on its hands -- organized crime.  In 1931, the Wickersham Commission issued its report, which was the first national study of the U.S. criminal justice system.  August Vollmer was its primary author, and it recommended extensive upgrades to American policing if prohibition laws were to be enforced properly.

    Professionalism also took place at the bottom with police unions. The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) were created in 1915, and followed soon by American Federation of State County Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Teamsters, and the umbrella group, International Conference of Police Associations (ICPA). Police unions are unique (some would say non-union) because they cannot strike.  Citizen groups became involved in police reform. One group that served as a model for the rest of the nation was the Chicago Crime Commission. Not an investigative commission, but a civilian oversight or review board, groups such as this helped bring intellectual ideas about the causes of crime to policing. For the first time, policewomen were given a chance to do real police work, not just work as juvenile matrons or undercover decoys. Interest developed in the idea of higher education being important for police officers as well as the idea of enforcing the law in neutral fashion (i.e., the neutral function - to serve and protect).  However, the main problem that American policing dealt with for thirty years (1930-1950; the Gangster Era) was organized crime, focused on below:

The Police and Organized Crime

    The Gangster Era started out with the Volstead Act (more commonly called the 18th Amendment or Prohibition). It turned out to be an unenforceable law.  Nothing was prohibited.  The 1930s also brought widespread unemployment (the Great Depression). Both events produced "big-time" gangsters, such as Al Capone, John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Machine Gun Kelly, and Bonnie and Clyde, who became heroes to the American people. It was inevitable that crime fighting would become the main function of policing in this era as police struggled hard to become as effective as the criminals seemed to be.  Prohibition changed everything. The Volstead Act placed police officers in an adversarial role for the first time. Previously, they allowed public opinion to influence much of law enforcement policy, but now, they found themselves in the forefront of something called - vice control. The public had no intention of giving up alcohol, and the police had to resort to brute force and dirty tricks. To make matters worse, every time the police seemed to be successful at enforcing the alcohol ban, the power of organized crime increased. A lot of petty criminals (bootleggers) became organized criminals (gangsters) during Prohibition. Police had their hands full. A whole bunch of new crimes were emerging: joyriding, drive-by shooting, ransom kidnapping (Lindbergh baby), daylight bank robberies.  There was a need for leaders who could restore a perception of police as effective crime fighters. Two personalities emerged: J. Edgar Hoover and Elliot Ness. Hoover rose from the ranks of the FBI (the G-men) to become its Director (the Boss) from 1924 to 1964. In 1929, Elliot Ness, who headed the Prohibition Bureau (later the ATF) also made a name for himself and his T-men. Both men were masters of public relations, and the image they instilled would keep organized criminals wondering who was gonna get 'em - the G-men or the T-men. Hoover denied the existence of organized crime on definitional grounds, and concentrated on depression-era folk heroes (and political subversives). He personally arrested the last of the Ma Barker gang in 1959. Both Hoover and Ness regularly used wiretapping, spy techniques, and the latest technology to ply their trade. They believed in their agents being above reproach (untouchable), and one of Hoover's most important contributions turned out to be the FBI National Academy which largely became a citadel of expertise in law enforcement.  Behind the scenes, there were other, perhaps more significant, contributors to police effectiveness - people who were not particularly good image makers, but simply innovative municipal police chiefs. They started movements, established legacies, and made real reforms. They included: August Vollmer (Chief - Berkeley); O.W. Wilson (Chief - Wichita & Chicago); and William Parker (Chief - Los Angeles). Parker went on to become a consultant for the TV show Dragnet which he believed accurately portrayed his ideal for policing - an impersonal, "Just the Facts, Ma'am" approach to professionalism. Let's look at two of these figures in some detail:
    August Vollmer was the police chief for Berkeley, California from 1905 to 1932. He is perhaps best known as the founder of the "college cop" movement and the author of the Wickersham Commission Report of 1931. If Richard Sylvester is to be regarded as the "father of police professionalism", Vollmer is to be regarded as no less than the "patriarch of police professionalism". He successfully implemented a vision of police as scientific crime fighters, and introduced America to such things as stop lights, police car radios, crime laboratories, and lie detectors, just to name a few of his many contributions.  Let's zero in on the "college cop" movement Vollmer started. The idea was that every police officer should have at least a bachelor's degree. It was a short-lived movement, lasting from about 1921 to 1943, cut short by the demand of returning World War II veterans to obtain hiring preferences, regardless of educational qualifications. Debates since then have focused on whether college education is a bona fide occupational qualification. Vollmer was really more interested in "high IQ" and you have to remember that many police jobs across the country back then were regularly filled by people who were rather dull and feebleminded (leatherheads). For example, on the IQ tests available at the time, policemen in the city of Detroit scored an average of 55 while Vollmer's force scored an average of 147. Vollmer supported the policewoman movement precisely because he believed women had higher IQs than men. He also hired the first black person to work in law enforcement. He promoted his people often and equally.  Colleges and universities back then didn't offer the kind of curriculum Vollmer thought "college cops" needed. What passed for criminology, for example, was either sociology or Lombrosian ideas about stigmata. Vollmer had earlier established a police training academy on the campus of UC-Berkeley, and it was widely renowned for courses in bicycling, photography, law, biology, and chemistry. It was only natural, then, for UC-Berkeley to house the first department of criminology in the nation, and Vollmer helped create it, eventually becoming Dean of the School, supervising a curriculum based on public speaking, sociology, psychology, abnormal psychology, and statistics. At various speeches during IACP meetings, Vollmer advocated a number of reforms, most related to the need for standardized training or modernization of law enforcement. One of the reforms he proposed was the establishment of a Uniform Crime Reporting system (UCR). After all, part of the success Berkeley PD enjoyed in reducing the crime rate to zero (some say it was displaced) was due to its exceptional record-keeping system (ID and MO files). J. Edgar Hoover, of course, ended up getting the credit for the idea of a national crime reporting system (UCR). The Wickersham Report written by Vollmer represented the first set of baseline standards for comparison and reform of police departments. Most of these eventually became CALEA standards for accreditation, but the Report contained a number of other recommendations needed and put into effect, such as: (1) Personnel standards -- removal of employees, even the chief, "for cause"; (2) Communications & records -- modern systems based on Berkeley model; (3) Salary & benefits schedule -- fair schedules of pay and promotion by grade; (4) Separate units -- for crimes involving juveniles and vice; (5) State information bureaus -- crime data collection and analysis centers; and (6) Training academies -- creation of regional ones, such as the Northwestern Traffic Institute, Southern Police Institute, Wichita, San Jose, and Michigan State.
     Orlando Wilson (close friends could call him O.W.) used to work for Vollmer in the Berkeley PD (Vollmer called him his smartest college cop) and became the police chief for Wichita from 1928 to 1939 and Chicago from 1960 to 1971 (the last few years being semi-retired). The years in between were spent as a postwar Civil Administrator in Europe and Dean of the School of Criminology at UC-Berkeley where he set up the well known San Jose model of criminal justice education, involving "tracks" in law enforcement, corrections, and criminalistics or criminology. He is perhaps best known as the author of the Police Code of Ethics and the definitive police science textbook, Police Administration, co-authored with Roy McLaren. The book is a masterpiece of principles, tables, and formulas. It instigated such things as roll call training, swing shifts, and patrol allocation. Wilson's career seemed to intertwine with the quest to remove politics from law enforcement. He started off with a heavy hand in Wichita, quickly firing or demoting over 22 employees, including a group he referred to as "deadwood detectives". He initiated integrity, psychological, and IQ testing, small spans of control, semirigid chains of command (commanders to captains), divisional structures, and eventually earned a reputation as a strict disciplinarian. He also directed the training academy in Wichita, and it placed so many chiefs around the country, it became known as the West Point of law enforcement. While in Kansas, he wrote the Square Deal Code which the IACP copied (not giving him credit) and proclaimed as the Police Code of Ethics. In Chicago, Wilson directly confronted the "Irish Style" of policing, a system of patronage where needy Irishmen got city jobs, by replacing police commissioner Tim O'Connor with himself as police superintendent. On an almost daily basis, he confronted the power of Mayor Daley and machine politics. He brought a number of blacks into law enforcement, eliminating the flat feet criteria that had been used to discriminate. He upgraded the duties of patrol officers, adding responsibility for preliminary investigations and requiring them to be computer proficient. Psychological profiling was used on his officers as well as UNSUBs, and it was Wilson who helped solve the Richard Speck case. Just when he thought he had the Chicago PD under control and could ease into retirement, the police officers (pigs) overreacted during the 1968 Democratic Convention, giving his legacy, the city, and law enforcement everywhere a reputation that would last several years.

    The Sixties (or Revolutionary Era, 1960-1970) were a time of many movements: civil rights, student rights, Vietnam, and the counterculture. The nation experienced numerous assassinations and saw the beginning of alarming trends such as mass murder and serial murder. The number of police officers killed in the line of duty became a concern as about 100 a year seemed to become the average (along with 300 citizens a year killed by police). Despite wars on poverty and on crime, the crime rates tripled during these years.  Drug abuse and drug-related crime were rampant.  For the police, they had to deal once again with major urban rioting, and at least one Commission, The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (1968), blamed the police for starting almost all riots (by escalating routine traffic stops with their racism and abrasiveness). The police had lost whatever legitimacy they once had. Even the Supreme Court was punishing them. Mapp v. Ohio (1961) handcuffed the police with the exclusionary rule. Miranda v. Arizona (1968) required them to read criminals their rights from little cards. The death penalty was abolished from 1967 to 1977.

    One of the most influential Commissions in criminal justice was the President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice, sometimes referred to as the President's Commission. It was formed in 1965 by President Johnson, and it issued several reports in 1967. These reports were known as the Task Force reports because each one addressed a specific area of criminal justice. The executive summary was called The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society. The Task Force reports were extremely critical and influential. They provided a model for the overhaul of the criminal justice system, in fact, the only model, since no one had ever created one before. It was the "gun" model found in the opening pages of every criminal justice textbook even today. The reports popularized the phrase "criminal justice system" and provided such a body of knowledge that colleges and universities soon began creating (by 1974 at least) 2-year and 4-year programs in criminal justice. Computerized police information systems (NCIC, SEARCH) were also created about this time period.

    In 1968, Congress passed the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act. There have been numerous Acts since then with the words "Omnibus" (comprehensive) and "Crime Control" in them, but most people will probably know which one you mean when you just say the Omnibus Act in criminal justice. The Act was a large infusion of money into the criminal justice system. It created the largest bureaucracy in federal government (until its demise in 1982), the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA), which provided over $7 billion for research, development, and evaluation of programs, 60% of the money being spent on police hardware (a criticism of LEAA). To give you some idea of the money involved, $7 billion works out to about $200,000 a year to any average sized police department who asked for it. Money was also provided for police education through a program called Law Enforcement Education Program (LEEP). For police who signed up for college classes (or students majoring in criminal justice), this program provided for tuition subsidies, book purchases, and in some cases, $300 a month to spend anyway you want as long as you promised to continue or find work in the criminal justice system. It's widely acknowledged that LEEP, more than anything else, including the Task Force reports (which were used as textbooks), had the effect of creating most of the academic programs (LEAA clones) in criminal justice that exist at colleges and universities today.

    The Seventies started out with an interest in Police Community Relations (PCR) and other innovations, such as the short-lived Team Policing experiment (involving demilitarization, blazers instead of uniforms, and patrolmen and detectives working side by side without any difference in rank). PCR was the dominant concern, and many private think tanks were started to help police out in this regard (PERF, Police Foundation, ABF, RAND, Mott Foundation). Some of the first successful programs were Open Houses and Ride-alongs, pioneered by the St. Louis PD. Other departments experimented with citizen self defense training, citizen police academies, or coffee klatches (community meetings or town halls). Police soon discovered through these outreach activities the importance and meaning of their public safety function. Fighting the fear of crime was just as important as fighting crime itself.

    Commissions investigated police corruption (the oldest problem in law enforcement) during the Seventies. Commissions became a common sight because they could be formed by citizens and financed by private donations or community groups. The New York City PD has been the target of investigation by the largest number of commissions; so often, it almost seems like a 20-year cycle, for example:

-1894 Lexow Commission - Tammany Hall machine politics
-1913 Curran Commission  - gambling, prostitution corruption
-1932 Seabury Commission - alcohol corruption
-1949 Brooklyn Grand Jury - gambling payoffs
-1972 Knapp Commission - drug corruption (Serpico)
-1993 Mollen Commission - drug corruption (Buddy Boys)

    The Knapp Commission was influential in reminding police departments how important it was to maintain strong Internal Affairs units that did proactive integrity checks as too many departments at the time relied on reactive measures such as snitch boxes. The Knapp report also inspired some lines of research into police corruption. The Mollen Commission found, essentially, that the drug war was unwinnable. The temptation is too great when officers regularly make routine traffic stops, open the trunk, and find suitcases filled with millions of dollars. The Buddy Boys were a whole precinct where the officers involved were actually buying (busting) and selling drugs. In recent years, the LAPD has also been the target of investigative commissions. In 1991, the Christopher Commission was appointed to look into charges of police brutality with the involvement of 15 officers and the brutal beating of Rodney King. Its close look at racism, and especially the tapes from the computerized consoles officers communicated with during the chase led to the Commission's adoption of an anthropological approach to the study of police culture.

    The Seventies era is also identifiable with one of the more modern reforms in policing - the community policing movement. Actually, the idea of problem-oriented policing came first, a somewhat centralized approach to pinpointing problems and coming up with creative solutions. Community policing is decentralized and tries to go beyond PCR in implementing "a philosophy based on citizens and police working together in creative ways to help solve contemporary problems related to crime, fear of crime, disorder, and decay." Both are examples of the brokerage function of policing, where police are the information and implementation specialists in a network of community services and untapped resources. Community policing focuses on crime, hence it doesn't give up the crime fighting function. Community policing focuses on fear of crime, therefore it recognizes this as a separate war and takes seriously public safety and service functions. Community policing focuses on disorder, which are nonarrestable offenses, hence it returns policing to a constable-era order maintenance function. Community policing focuses on decay, which are the physical signs of disorder (broken windows), involving police in such things as graffiti removal, beautification, and quality of life concerns.

  The 1980s and 1990s were relatively peaceful times, so much so that by 1997, America started to see some significant declines in the overall crime rates.  During the first half of the 2000s, crime reductions continued, as did academic research into policing.  However, the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina in 2005 had significant impacts on policing.  Both events demonstrated how ill-prepared policing was for large-scale disasters.


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Last updated: Jan. 19, 2014
Not an official webpage of APSU, copyright restrictions apply, see Megalinks in Criminal Justice
O'Connor, T. (2014). "Police History," MegaLinks in Criminal Justice. Retrieved from http://www.drtomoconnor.com/1030/1030lect01.htm.