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Policing - Changing Views

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The increased professionalism of public police departments in the 1930s led to their dominance over private police organizations until the 1970s. The high crime rates of the 1960s and 1970s, however, led to the rapid growth of private security firms. By 1975 there were twice as many private police as public. By 1990 two million private security officers A major change in policing brought back practices of the nineteenth century, such as the use of foot as well as bike patrols. Known as community policing, police began to partner with community members to prevent crime and increase the chances of catching criminals. (© Kelly-Mooney Photography/Corbis)
(like bodyguards) were employed in the country compared to six hundred thousand in public police agencies. This trend toward private policing continued into the twenty-first century as security from terrorism became a greater concern.

By the 1980s with a strong public push to "get tough on crime," police forces saw a change in support and respect from their communities. Retiring members of the Supreme Court brought in new justices who were more conservative or traditional in their thought and decisions. The Court made rulings favoring the prosecution of crime rather than protecting the rights of the accused. Restrictions were eased on searches and stopping suspicious persons. The exclusionary rule was relaxed making it easier to obtain warrants.

Police in cities, such as New York, performed shakedowns or pat-down searches of suspicious people on the sidewalks, reducing the number of illegal firearms. Most searches occurred without warrants in situations outside of homes where a warrant was not needed, such as traffic stops or on the streets while in pursuit of a criminal. Roadblocks and searches only required reasonable suspicion, not probable cause and a warrant. Flying over property in a helicopter or small plane did not require warrants, so police could keep an eye out for suspicious activity by air. Also, if a person agreed to a police search, then Fourth Amendment protections were not involved.

Another major change brought back policing practices of the nineteenth century. These were foot as well as bike patrols. Known as community policing, the overall police strategy changed from reacting to calls for assistance to working in partnership with community members to prevent crime and increase the chances of catching criminals. Citizen cooperation was encouraged and programs like Neighborhood Watch and Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) helped heal relations between police and the public. By the end of the twentieth century, well over half of all U.S. communities had adopted some form of neighborhood policing.

Another major change came with adoption of a new theory in policing to control crime known as "Broken Windows." Police focused on stopping minor or lesser crimes, which in turn restored order to the streets. As a result, major crimes also decreased in those areas.

The 1990s proved a better period for policing in America. Crime rates went down and stayed down, particularly for violent crimes, which fell 30 percent in New York City in 1995. The drop in crime was probably due to more police, increased tactics to seize illegal guns, longer prison sentences, more prisons, more jobs, and a decline in drug use. Perhaps the biggest factor was the aging population: males between seventeen and thirty-four years of age had grown up and settled down.

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