The Evolution of American Policing
by Dan O. Sabath, FIrearms Editor
 

It is no secret that America inherited much of its governmental institutions from Great Britain. American law enforcement is no exception. British policing can be traced back to before the Norman Conquest of England in 1066.

    The first Europeans who landed on our shores, found a strange and wondrous new land, inhabited by strange and wondrous people. The newcomers had all they could do to establish themselves and to protect themselves from those who did not wish to share their land. Thus, policing was the responsibility of all able-bodied men, and, of course, young boys as well.

    After "things" got fairly well settled the job of maintaining order in the new colonies was given to Justices of the Peace, and one might see "culprits" in pillories or stocks, paying their debt to society. But, as colonies changed into towns and towns into cities, the Justice of the Peace system was not enough. It became time for an organized, and paid, police force.

    In 1636 the city of Boston established Night Watch, which idea worked reasonably well as long as the area remained a rural and agrarian one. New York City established the Shout and Rattle Watch in 1651, but, by 1705 Philadelphia found it necessary to divide the city into ten patrol areas.

    In the almost 100 years between the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, the more than rapid growth of population and industrialization in America mandated the development of municipal police departments. In 1833, Philadelphia organized an independent, 24 hour a day, police force. In 1844, New York City had two police forces; daytime duty and the night watch. During this period, police departments were headed by police chiefs, appointed and accountable to political bosses. Corruption was commonplace.

    Part of the inherited law enforcement was the Sheriff system. (Remember the dastardly Sheriff of Nottingham from Robin Hood?) As America moved toward the west, in most frontier towns the Sheriff was the chief law enforcement official. He could be recruited from the local community, or more often a Sheriff was selected by his reputation, and not always a savory one. The Sheriff system still exists today, but, on a more formal and politicized basis.

    Todays law enforcement agencies and departments are highly specialized organizations, with ongoing training to prepare to meet a great variety of problems and situations. Today we have federal, state, county, and municipal police. The world, our world, has gotten to be a most dangerous place, and we all are dependent on peace officers from every organization for our" life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."