History of Police in America Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

history of the police department in America. The writer explores why the nation determined police departments were necessary and how they began their ascent to various cities.

Before one can understand the current police departments in America it is important for one to understand how the police came to be viewed as something that was needed. Police departments in America origins have been traced back to early English Society. Before the Norman Conquest there were no police forces that were formally administered and implemented. Instead society depended on something called the pledge system which entailed a type of code of honor. This code said that each village member pledged to protect the entire village against crimes such as thieves and murderers. If any member of the village saw something occurring they were honor bound to make such a fuss the rest of the village would be alerted. They as well as the village members that they had alerted were honor bound to pursue and deal with the criminal in question. While this system was considered successful for many years as villages grew larger it became necessary to design a more organized system. This is when the tithing system came to be. A tithing was ten a ten family group in a village. The ten families banded together and worked with the honor system of before, but the tithing was also overseen by one person that was called a constable. Constables have since been considered the first real police officer in the world (Police History and Organization History of Police (http://www.uaa.alaska.edu/just/just110/police1.html).

Later in history the pledge system became replaced by the watch system. The watch system was just like the pledge system but it required the hiring of watchmen who would watch over property and belongings and alert the village if a crime was being committed. This system was used and improved on over a 500-year period and constantly refined to the point that it is today.

The law enforcement system that is currently in place in America started out with similar backgrounds as the English force. In America residents skipped the pledge system and went straight to the then current overseer of colonies system (Police History and Organization History of Police (http://www.uaa.alaska.edu/just/just110/police1.html).

While the English had something called a watchman, the Americans had overseers called sheriffs. The county sheriff was the primary law enforcement agent in the states. In the early days sheriffs in America were paid on a system that would be considered a commission scale today. The sheriffs were paid for each arrest that they made in their duties. Each arrest received a fixed amount. If the sheriff arrested a killer he would get one fixed fee as pay, and if he arrested a thief he received another fixed fee as pay. This system encouraged the sheriffs to make arrests but it also had the potential to entice sheriffs to make false or unsubstantiated arrests for the purpose of making enough money to take care of their families. In addition to making arrests each sheriff was responsible for colleting all county taxes, running the jail and investigating crimes and problems.

As America's cities became more urbanized the cities did away with depending on a county sheriff for their law enforcement needs and instead began to hire individual town marshals (Police History and Organization History of Police (http://www.uaa.alaska.edu/just/just110/police1.html).The town Marshals had very individual policing abilities. In the case of town marshals the local government had very little to say about how he ran his job. While good marshals were responsible, and an asset to their cities, there was the potential for bad marshals to take advantage of their power to the detriment of the city and people in the city.

The first United States actual police departments were formed in the 19th century. The very first department was developed in 1838 in the city of Boston. This was followed shortly thereafter by a police department in New York in 1844 and then a police department in Philadelphia in 1856(Police History and Organization History of Police (http://www.uaa.alaska.edu/just/just110/police1.html).As official departments began to spring up around the nation the local governments began to take charge and control of their operation and expansion. This served to bring the political budgeting into the equation and the police departments were charged with the task of showing the political body in their area how the money was being spent and when more was needed, why it should be given.

As this expansion continued the local governments became involve in the hiring and firing of personnel which initially created problems of its on.

For several years police departments around the nation had little or no control over who was hired in to work there. This meant that the local political body had complete control over it which translated to having to know someone to get hired. The hiring process soon became more about who one knew instead of how qualified one was or what it was they knew how to do (Police History and Organization History of Police (http://www.uaa.alaska.edu/just/just110/police1.html).

The work of early America police departments was primitive in its nature at best. Patrol officers were relegated to walking around on foot and trying to keep a lid on crime. This was difficult for them to do because people could escape easily by horse or other means which would leave the officer behind. In addition the evidence of corruption and brutality by police departments and officers was rampant. This was caused by the fact that the local political body had complete control over who was hired and how long they were able to keep their jobs. If someone who was not above board was owed a favor by a local politician it was not difficult for them to get hired as a police officer. Once they had the power of the badge behind them they could become corrupt and have power and authority to coerce and bully the community into doing what they wanted done (Police History and Organization History of Police (http://www.uaa.alaska.edu/just/just110/police1.html).

During these early police department days corruption and police brutality was a daily occurrence. The brutality could occur for several reasons including the need to shake down local businesses for higher up corrupt politicians and the desire to beat those who tried to fight the charges that they were arrested for.

The early days of police forces in America had little training on their forces. There was also a lack of supervision as officers patrolled their areas. The lack of supervision and lack of training opened the door for corruption to go unchecked for long periods of time with nowhere for the victims to turn for help. If they turned to the local government they never knew if they were reporting to someone who was equally corrupt. While there were many good and hardworking officers during this infancy of American police departments there were times of stress where the public was at the mercy of crooked cops with nowhere to turn for help.

The main problems with the early American police department system included:

Complaints and Problems with the police are something that is not new (Police History and Organization History of Police (http://www.uaa.alaska.edu/just/just110/police1.html).

Bribery of police officers

Lack of training

Lack of control (minimal supervision)

Political control of departments

Lack of education

Brutality (difficult for police to get backup support) (Police History and Organization History of Police (http://www.uaa.alaska.edu/just/just110/police1.html)"

20th Century Police Reforms - attempts to get over some of the problems of policing

Policing became more technologically sophisticated around the turn of the century.

A police uniforms were first introduced in 1853(Police History and Organization History of Police (http://www.uaa.alaska.edu/just/just110/police1.html)." This was an important change because it allowed officers to be quickly identified. In 1867 police phones were installed so police could…

Sources Used in Document:


Police History and Organization History of Police (Accessed 2-2-2003)


Cite This Term Paper:

"History Of Police In America" (2003, February 03) Retrieved January 17, 2019, from

"History Of Police In America" 03 February 2003. Web.17 January. 2019. <

"History Of Police In America", 03 February 2003, Accessed.17 January. 2019,