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Police: History

"modern" Policing In America

The first modern police forces in America borrowed heavily from those established in England. In particular, American law enforcement agencies adopted the mission of crime prevention and control, the strategy of preventive patrol, and the quasi-military organizational design of the first modern police department established in London. In addition to these three elements, American policing borrowed other features from the British system, for example, the tradition that police have some limitations on their authority (Walker, 1999). The protection of individual liberties was highly emphasized in both England and America, therefore limits were placed on governmental and police authority. This was not the case in other European countries, where, as Walker notes, police agencies were given broader powers and citizens had fewer individual liberties. Another feature borrowed from the English heritage is that of local control of police agencies. Although many other countries have one centralized, national law enforcement agency, the English and American systems do not. In the American system of law enforcement, police are controlled at the local, state, and federal level, although the majority of departments are local municipalities. A related defining feature of American policing adopted from English heritage is that of a highly decentralized and fragmented system of law enforcement. According to 1993 figures, there are nearly twenty thousand different law enforcement agencies within the United States (Maguire et al.). Lack of coordination and cooperation among local law enforcement agencies is generally characteristic of the American system of law enforcement. These three elements (limited police power, lack of centralized control, and a decentralized and fragmented structure), combined with the quasi-military organizational structure of modern departments in England, describe the Anglo-Saxon model of policing.

There were differences, however, between the British and American systems of law enforcement. One of the most significant differences is the absence of strong political influences over police organizations in England, compared to the strong relationship between politics and policing that existed in American policing (Walker, 1999). While police administrators in England were protected from political influence, politics heavily influenced American police agencies. In fact, policing during the nineteenth century in America has been described as inefficient, ineffective, lacking professionalism, and highly corrupt (Walker, 1999).

Numerous scholars have described the evolution of policing in America. Although the historical facts are generally not disputed, the interpretation of these events does raise some debate. Within this entry, the evolution of policing in America will be presented loosely following the framework devised by Kelling and Moore, which describes three distinct eras (political, reform, and community). These eras are summarized in Table 1.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawPolice: History - Early Policing In England, The Beginning Of "modern" Policing In England, Early Policing In Colonial America