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Police: History

The Police-citizen Crisis Of The 1960s

The 1960s were a period characterized by much civil unrest. Citizens were dissatisfied with the social and political conditions, and particularly with the treatment of minorities. During this time, the U.S. Supreme Court decided a series of landmark cases that limited the investigative techniques used by police officers. For example, the court decided in Mapp v. Ohio (367 U.S. 643 (1961)), that evidence obtained during a search and seizure that violated citizens' Fourth Amendment rights could not be used against them in a court of law. Dubbed the exclusionary rule, Mapp guaranteed that the fruits of an unconstitutional search could not be used during prosecution. In 1966, the court ruled in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, that a suspect must be advised of his or her right against self-incrimination (protected by the Fifth Amendment) and the right to council (protected by the Sixth Amendment) before police can interrogate that suspect. Any admission of guilt obtained prior to giving the Miranda warnings cannot be used against the suspect during prosecution. Critics of these and other decisions claimed that the Supreme Court was "handcuffing" police. Most studies have shown, however, that these rulings did not have the substantial influence that either side believed would result (Leo).

During this time, the civil rights movement was gaining momentum and becoming more militant. Protestors gathered to demonstrate against race discrimination and injustice within the criminal justice system. White male police officers became the symbol of all the political and social ills of American society. Police officers across the country responded to protestors with physical brutality, which served to increase the tension between minority groups and the police. This tension exploded in the form of riots and civil disobedience, often sparked by incidents involving the police (Walker, 1999).

In response, a series of presidential commissions were ordered to investigate these issues. The most famous, the Kerner Commission investigated the causes of the nearly two hundred disorders that had taken place in 1967. The Kerner Commission reported that there was deep hostility and distrust between minorities and the police. The report recommended the hiring of more minority officers and that police practices be changed significantly. Interestingly, the commission reported that those departments that were believed to be the most "professional" were in fact those that had the most serious disturbances and civil unrest. This challenged many of the assumptions of the professionalism movement (National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders).

Findings from social-scientific research further raised concern about the effectiveness of "professional" police departments. The American Bar Foundation's (ABF) field observation of police in 1956–1957 reported that officers exercised large amounts of discretion during encounters with citizens. Contrary to the popular conception of police officers as "crime fighters," studies found that officers spent most of the time maintaining order, providing services, and performing administrative tasks (Wilson; Bittner). The Kansas City Preventive Patrol Experiment found that increasing the level of preventive patrol within an area did not have a significant influence on the level of crime or reduce citizens' fear of crime (Kelling et al.). A study examining the effectiveness of criminal investigations reported that the percentage of crimes cleared by arrest is relatively low, that follow-up work is often unproductive, and that most detective work involves mundane tasks and paperwork (Greenwood and Petersilia). Another study showed that increases in the response time of officers did not increase the likelihood of obtaining an arrest (Pate et al.). Finally, evaluations of the effects of team policing (a police tactic that involved the creation of specialized teams responsible for policing particular geographic areas) showed no influence on the level of crime (Sherman, Milton, and Kelly). Collectively, these studies suggested that current police practices were not effective in preventing crime or satisfying citizens.

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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