Police Forces

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Police Forces

Police: History of Police Forces

Introduction to Police Forces

The conception of the police force as a protective and law enforcement organization developed from the use of military bodies as guardians of the peace, such as the Praetorian Guard of ancient Rome. The Romans achieved a high level of law enforcement, which remained in effect until the decline of the empire and the onset of the Middle Ages. Beginning in the 5th century, policing became a function of the heads of fiefdoms and principalities.

During the Middle Ages, policing authority, particularly in England, was the responsibility of local nobles on their individual estates. Each noble generally appointed an official, known as a constable, to carry out the law. The constable’s duties included keeping the peace and arresting and guarding criminals. For many decades constables were unpaid citizens who took turns at the job, which became increasingly burdensome and unpopular. By the mid-16th century, wealthy citizens often resorted to paying deputies to assume their turns as constables; as this practice became widespread, the quality of the constables declined drastically.

In France during the 17th century King Louis XIV maintained a small central police organization consisting of some 40 inspectors who, with the help of numerous paid informants, supplied the government with details about the conduct of private individuals. The king could then exercise a kind of summary justice as he saw fit. This system continued during the reigns of Louis XV and Louis XVI. After the French Revolution (1789-1799), two separate police bodies were set up, one to handle ordinary duties and the other to deal with political crimes.

In 1663 the city of London began paying watchmen (generally old men who were unable to find other work) to guard the streets at night. Until the end of the 18th century, the watchmen-as inefficient as they were-as well as a few constables, remained the only form of policing in the city.

The inability of watchmen and constables to curb lawlessness, particularly in London, led to a demand for a more effective force to deal with criminals and to protect the populace. After much deliberation in Parliament, the British statesman Sir Robert Peel in 1829 established the London Metropolitan Police, which became the world’s first modern organized police force. The development of the British police system is especially significant because the pattern that emerged not only became a model for the American police system but also had great influence on the style of policing in almost all industrial societies.

The Metropolitan Police force was guided by the concept of crime prevention as a primary police objective; it also embodied the belief that such a force depended on the consent and cooperation of the public, and the idea that police constables were to be civil and courteous to the people. The force was well organized and disciplined and, after an initial period of public skepticism, became the model for other police forces in Britain. Several years later the Royal Irish Constabulary was formed, and Australia, India, and Canada soon established similar organizations. Other countries, impressed by the success of the plan, followed suit until nations throughout the world had adopted police systems based on the British model.

In the United States, the first full-time organized police departments were formed in New York City in 1845 and shortly thereafter in Boston, not only in response to crime but also to control unrest. The American police adopted many British methods, but at times they became involved in local partisan politics. The British police, on the other hand, have traditionally remained aloof from partisan politics and have depended on loyalty to the law, rather than to elected public officials, as the source of their authority and independence.” (1)

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Notes and References

Guide to Police Forces

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