Other Free Encyclopedias » Law Library - American Law and Legal Information » Crime and Criminal Law » Police: History - Early Policing In England, The Beginning Of "modern" Policing In England, Early Policing In Colonial America

Police: History - Policing Nineteenth-century America—the Political Era

officers time patrol little

As previously noted, American policing in the late nineteenth century was plagued with political influence. Local politicians used positions on the police force to reward their supporters after election. Therefore the ethnic and religious composition of police forces often reflected the groups who had local political influence. In addition, positions and promotions on local police forces could be bought. For example, Walker (1999) notes that in New York City, "a $300 payment to the Tammany Hall political machine was Table 1 SOURCE: George L. Kelling and Mark H. Moore. "The Evolving Strategy of Policing." Perspectives on Policing 4. Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Justice, 1988. the only requirement for appointment to the force" (p. 24). There was little or no training given to officers, no recruitment standards to speak of, and no job security because officers could be hired or fired at will. Corruption was a major characteristic of policing during this time period. Low-ranking officers, high-ranking police officials, and sometimes even entire departments were involved in corruption and misconduct. Patrol officers often accepted bribes to not enforce laws controlling moral crimes (e.g., drinking, gambling, and prostitution). This type of corruption was well known and pervasive.

Police work during this time period has been described as hopelessly inefficient due to officers' reliance on foot patrol with no effective communication system and little direct supervision. Officers often evaded work due to the lack of official oversight and citizens had difficulty contacting the police because the officers could not be located on their beats. However, police did provide a variety of social services to citizens, including feeding the hungry and housing the homeless. For example, Whitehouse reports that the Boston Police Department during the 1800s was responsible for a variety of public services, which included lodging the homeless, removing dirt and garbage, and checking every household daily for cases of cholera. Other urban departments also routinely housed the homeless and looked after wayward youths (Monkkonen).

Walker, however, cautions readers against the "myth that officers were friendly, knowledgeable about the neighborhood, and helpful" (1999, p. 25). He suggests that due to the high turnover of police officers and residential mobility, officers were unlikely to have close relations with people in the neighborhood. Furthermore, he suggests that police frequently used physical force and enjoyed little citizen respect. During this time period, increases in citizen violence finally led to the adoption of weapons carried by police officers. The nostalgic interpretation of police as friendly neighborhood characters walking the beat has led some scholars to caution that the good old days were not that good (Walker, 1984).

Surprisingly, the daily duties of patrol officers during this time did not differ significantly from activities performed by patrol officers today. The diary of a patrol officer from the Boston Police Department in 1895 describes most of his time spent responding to minor problems in the neighborhood and handling many problems informally (von Hoffman, 1992). It appears that officers during the political era spent little time handling major problems or serious incidents and rarely invoked the legal system. This is also true of patrol officers today.

Police: History - Policing Twentieth-century America—the Reform Era [next] [back] Police: History - "modern" Policing In America

User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or