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Policing - Seeking Reform

police city officers reformers

By the end of the nineteenth century, politicians and the public pushed for reform to make police departments more professional and part of the city government. As part of the city, police forces would no longer be controlled by political leaders such as mayors and councilmen. The reformers wanted training programs, increased standards for recruits, and focus more on crime and less on civil service.

One of the lead reformers in New York City in the 1890s was future U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919; served 1901–09). He served as the newly created city police commissioner. Roosevelt believed in promotions based on merit (the performance of the individual) and tougher physical and mental requirements. Unfortunately, little came from these reform efforts.

In the first decades of the twentieth century patrol officers still worked twelve-hour days and were poorly paid. Most police departments did not even require their officers to have a high school degree. As employees in other workplaces such as factories began to form labor unions (organizations that sought better working conditions), police attempted to create their own unions. This trend, however, was short-lived; in 1919 most of the Boston police force went on strike for the right to form a union. While the officers were on strike a crime wave hit Boston and police lost all public support to improve their working conditions. Most of the strikers were fired and the police union movement disappeared until well after World War II.

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