Early police in the United States Based on www.britannica.com
The United States inherited England’s Anglo-Saxon common law and its system of social obligation, sheriffs, constables, watchmen, and stipendiary justice. As both societies became less rural and agrarian and more urban and industrialized, crime, riots, and other public disturbances became more common. Yet Americans, like the English, were wary of creating standing police forces. Among the first public police forces established in colonial North America were the watchmen organized in Boston in 1631 and in New Amsterdam (later New York City) in 1647. Although watchmen were paid a fee in both Boston and New York, most officers in colonial America did not receive a salary but were paid by private citizens, as were their English counterparts. In the frontier regions of the United States in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, there arose a novel form of the Saxon tradition of frankpledge: the vigilante. In areas where a formal justice system had yet to be established or the rudimentary policing apparatus had proved inadequate in the face of rampant crime, it was not uncommon for citizens (called “regulators”) to band together in “committees of vigilance” to combat crime and to introduce order where none existed. This socially constructive form of vigilantism—lawlessness on behalf of lawfulness—and the question of when and where it degenerated into rank mob rule have been popular topics in American historiography. Beginning in the early 19th century, large numbers of immigrants from Germany and Ireland settled in the steadily growing urban centres of New York City and Boston. Their cultures and lifestyles initially offended the sensibilities of Americans whose families, mainly from England and The Netherlands, had settled in the country in the previous century or earlier. Indeed, the existence of large immigrant populations in the crowded cities of the East was perceived as a threat to the very fabric of American society. Eventually, the political, economic, and social dominance of Americans of English and Dutch extraction was eroded. Meanwhile, crime, rioting, and other disturbances became endemic in the cities. The American response to growing urban unrest was twofold. Versions of the constable and night-watch system were tried, and voluntary citizens’ groups were encouraged to try to solve urban problems. Reformers distributed religious tracts and Bibles, started Sunday schools, created such organizations as the Young Men’s Christian Association, and presented themselves as moral exemplars to immigrants and the poor. By the mid-19th century, middle-class frustration with the deterioration of the cities had led to the passage of laws regulating public behaviour and creating new public institutions of social control and coercion—penitentiaries, asylums, and police forces. The first police department in the United States was established in New York City in 1844 (it was officially organized in 1845). Other cities soon followed suit: New Orleans and Cincinnati (Ohio) in 1852; Boston and Philadelphia in 1854; Chicago and Milwaukee (Wis.) in 1855; and Baltimore (Md.) and Newark (N.J.) in 1857. Those early departments all used the London Metropolitan Police as a model. Like the Metropolitan Police, American police were organized in a quasi-military command structure. Their main task was the prevention of crime and disorder, and they provided a wide array of other public services. There were no detectives. In part because of an ideological commitment to local control over most institutions, police power in the United States became the province of state and local governments, and each city established its own police department. The authority for policing was decentralized to the level of political wards and neighbourhoods, which developed relatively autonomous police units. The police established intimate relations with neighbourhoods and neighbourhood leaders and initially did not even wear uniforms. Middle- and upper-class reformers believed that one of the primary tasks of the police was to reestablish political and social control over a population racked by ethnic and economic rivalries. The tension between being closely linked to communities and being an instrument for reforming them inevitably resulted in a struggle for political control of the police—a struggle that was one of the dominant themes in the history of police in the United States. Detective policing in England and the United States The investigation of crimes was not a central function of the early preventive police departments in England and the United States. Yet, despite the high hopes of reformers when they created police forces, the number of preventable crimes was limited. As crimes continued to occur, police were pressured into accepting responsibility for investigations and creating detective units. The London Metropolitan Police established the first detective branch in 1842; that unit became the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) in 1878. Detective units later were established in the police departments of many American cities, including New York City in 1857 and Chicago in 1861. Investigators usually were former thieftakers or constables who had continued their stipendiary investigative activities after the creation of police departments. Although they brought investigative skills to the police, they also brought the bane of stipendiary police—corruption. In 1877 three of London’s four chief inspectors of the detective branch were found guilty of corruption; that scandal led to the branch’s abolition and its reorganization the following year as the CID. Chicago disbanded its criminal investigative division in 1864, as did Boston in 1870, and New York City suffered major scandals in 1877—all as a consequence of corruption. All those cities soon reconstructed their investigative units, but significant improvement in the professional conduct of detectives did not occur until well into the 20th century. English and American policing in the late 19th century After passage of the County and Borough Police Act in 1856, police departments spread throughout England. Provincial police were funded by both local and central governments. After the Home Office certified the quality of a provincial police department, the central government paid half the cost of local policing, and local taxes paid the rest. The dominant methods of provincial policing were foot patrols and criminal investigations. Policing in the United States during the late 19th century was complicated by migration and immigration, which continually reshaped the ethnic and cultural makeup of cities, and by the radical decentralization of police authority within the cities. The major strength of the decentralized approach was that it brought the police and the public into close contact. Police knew the local citizens, and they were often recruited from the very neighbourhoods they policed. Such close contact allowed police to spot troublemakers, identify local problems, and provide various public services. The decentralization of police jurisdictions to individual cities also created problems. It did not produce effective crime control, well-policed cities, or efficient public services. Although crime did not respect jurisdictional lines, police forces were required to do so; the policing powers of officers were restricted to the jurisdiction they policed and were not transferable to other areas. Thus, no police organization had jurisdiction over the American western frontier, though crime was rife there. A further problem was that there was no national policy of policing in the United States, as there was in England following the adoption of Peel’s Principles. During the 19th century the authority of municipal police officers in the United States derived from the local political power, but their ability to gain the cooperation of citizens depended most often upon the abilities of individual officers. As a result, American police departments developed a personalized style of policing that allowed officers greater discretion than that used by the London bobby. This form of policing led to the creation of the myth of the “tough street cop” who handled all problems on his beat through the application of physical punishment—an image that still dominates police lore and media portrayals. During this period, however, American policing was characterized by corruption, inefficiency, political interference, and discriminatory law enforcement. In response to intrajurisdictional crime waves in the second half of the 19th century, states enacted laws giving many business corporations the authority to create their own private police forces or to contract with established police agencies. The Coal and Iron Police of Pennsylvania was a company police force that later became notorious for its antilabour vigilantism. The most famous independent police force was the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. Created in 1850 by Allan Pinkerton, a political fugitive from Scotland whose father was a police sergeant, the Pinkerton agency provided a wide array of private detective services and specialized in protecting trains, apprehending train robbers, and strikebreaking and other activities directed against labour unions. Attempts in the late 19th century to develop a coherent vision of an intercity police system were largely unsuccessful, and the police theory that did develop was formulated mainly in local political halls. As immigrant groups gradually gained political control of city wards and neighbourhoods, the link between the police and neighbourhood politics became closer. In some instances the relationship was so close that the police actually became adjuncts of local political machines. The linking of police and politics bred political and financial corruption and injustice. Police became involved in partisan political activity to ensure the election of particular candidates; they received “gratuities” for not enforcing unpopular vice laws; and they excluded strangers from social and political life. The political and organizational problems associated with municipal policing in the United States prevented the development of professional policing according to the English model. By the end of the 19th century, middle- and upper-class citizens in many cities were trying to centralize local political power to end the control of some wards by ethnic minority groups. Reformers attempted to centralize services on a citywide basis, create a civil service that would end political patronage, provide police chiefs with tenure in office, and transfer control of police to cities at large—or, if all else failed, to the state government.
The development of police in AustraliaAustralia, settled as a penal colony in 1788, initially used the English constabulary and watch-and-ward systems.Watch and WardProblems plagued those systems, however, because both constables and watchmen were often recruited from the ranks of convicts. Modeled after England’s Metropolitan Police Act, the Sydney Police Act of 1833 led to the establishment of urban police forces. Police coverage was extended to rural areas in 1838, when each of the country’s six states created its own police agency. Although the state police encountered a lack of public acceptance and many of the same problems of police in England and the United States, their task was complicated by additional responsibilities. They were mandated not only to capture criminals but also to inflict corporal punishment on convicted persons. Australian police duties also included the enforcement of health and welfare provisions of the law.
A system developed in 13th century England to preserve the peace in local communities. Guards were appointed and the duties of the constables at night (watch) and in daytime (ward) were defined. Town gates remained closed from dusk to dawn, strangers had to produce sureties to prove their identity and business, up to 16 men maintained the watch in cities, twelve in boroughs, and four in smaller communities. Modifications to the system were eventually incorporated in the Statute of Winchester of 1285, a collection of regulations aimed at keeping the peace.
The development of police in CanadaCanada’s earliest legal traditions can be traced to both France and England. Quebec city followed the early models of French cities and created a watchman system in 1651. Upper Canada, later renamed Ontario, adopted English traditions and established both a constabulary and a watch-and-ward system. The English system was imposed on French areas after 1759. Using England’s Metropolitan Police Act as a model, Toronto created a police department in 1835, and Quebec city and Montreal followed suit in 1838 and 1840, respectively. In 1867 provincial police forces were established for the vast rural areas in eastern Canada. The North West Mounted Police (renamed the Royal Canadian Mounted Police [RCMP] in 1920) was created in 1873 to police the western plains. The original 300 officers initially were assigned the task of eliminating incursions by whiskey-trading Americans who were inciting Canadian Indians (now known as First Nations) to acts of violence, and later the force spearheaded attempts to make the Canadian frontier an integral part of Canada. It protected immigrants and fought prairie fires, disease, and destitution in the new settlements. The Canadian mounted police represented a significant departure from Anglo-Saxon policing traditions. Similar in organization, style, and method to the models of France and Ireland, they operated more like a military organization than a traditional police force. Strong leadership ensured that they operated with restraint and within Canadian political traditions.
** End of Page