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Policing - Professional Policing

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Professional policing

Through the first decades of the nineteenth century U.S. communities were growing into cities with rapid industrial growth. Along with larger populations and increased crowding came civil disorder. The volunteer system of constables and night watchmen were soon outmatched by growing crime rates. Various cities tried new arrangements of replacing volunteer constables and night watchmen with more formal, paid police forces.

In the 1830s a series of riots occurred primarily in Boston, often involving groups of Catholics and Irish immigrants. In response, some of the larger cities such as Philadelphia, Boston, and New York began moving toward professional policing. New York City was the first American city to establish a professional police force and other cities gradually followed. These included Chicago (1851), New Orleans and Cincinnati (1852), Philadelphia (1855), St. Louis (1856), Newark and Baltimore (1857), Detroit (1865), and Buffalo (1866). Modeled after the London police force, they also Allan Pinkerton (seated at left), head of the Federal Secret Service, poses with his fellow Secret Service agents in 1862. (© Medford Historical Society Collection/Corbis)
adopted a preventive patrol approach. Once established in the larger cities, the development of police forces spread quickly to smaller communities.

During the American Civil War (1861–65; war in the United States between the Union [North], who was opposed to slavery, and the Confederacy [South], who was in favor of slavery) federal policing expanded. A priority for U.S. marshals was arresting Southern sympathizers in the Northern states. In 1865 Congress created the Secret Service to combat counterfeiting, a major problem since the country first began making its own currency. The assassinations of U.S. presidents in 1865, 1881, and 1901 led to the Secret Service becoming responsible for the protection of the U.S. presidents as well.

Important differences from the London police existed; the newly created U.S. police answered to local political leaders instead of being an independent police department. As a result, city councilmen often appointed friends into key police positions as rewards for support. Since they were not a part of city government, police related to the local public on an individual basis, building personal working relationships, and following community standards. As a result, enforcement varied from neighborhood to neighborhood.

Such a loose system of policing meant police were vulnerable to corruption. They often patrolled on foot alone, out of contact from the police sergeant in a time before officers carried two-way radios. Telegraph technology arrived in the 1850s and connected police stations by their typed messages, but telephones were not available until the late 1800s. Corruption involved almost all police departments, from chiefs to patrolmen. Police shared in the gains of thieves and received regular payoffs from criminals. Policemen often bought their promotions within a police department, paying thousands of dollars.

Much of policing in the nineteenth century involved community service activities such as assisting the homeless and poor, maintaining order, making arrests for drunkenness, or returning lost children to their homes or orphanages. In the 1890s with the further growth of industrial cities and the arrival of thousands of immigrants from east European countries, the police began handling more serious crime like murders, assaults, and burglaries as crime rates grew along with the city populations.

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