II. British Tradition
The police have been a common feature in American society for more than a century. Today, police officers are seen patrolling streets, directing traffic, and serving the public in a multitude of ways. It has not always been so. Historically, the police were political assets for the power elites and had no pretence of treating everyone equally. The purpose of this research paper is to review briefly the history of the police, discuss the modern-day reality of police work, and assess the future of policing.
II. British Tradition
A great deal of U.S. policing heritage can be linked directly to its British roots. Policing in the community, crime prevention, and elected sheriffs all have origins in English law enforcement. The history of policing in England includes a variety of stories and scenarios that involve radically conservative interpretations of law enforcement and a liberal view of governmental intervention (Reith, 1938). Originally, all security in England was private. Those who could afford the luxury lived in well-built houses that were guarded by servants who acted as bodyguards. The remainder of the population merely hoped that their neighbors and those chosen as “watchmen” would protect them and chase away the criminal element. This system of shared and informal policing was referred to as “kin” policing (Reith, 1956) and the “frankpledge system.” It was established to encourage citizens to act as the “eyes and ears” of the authorities, to protect their family and neighbors, and to deliver to the court any member of the group who committed a crime.
The pledge to protect others created a sense of security based on being protected by one’s family and neighbors. Communities were organized into tythings, or groups of 100 citizens, which were part of larger units called shires (similar to counties today). Shires were headed by shire reeves (later called “sheriffs”). Shire reeves were appointed by the king, and were primarily responsible for civil duties, such as collecting taxes and ensuring obedience to the authority of the king. From the frankpledge system came the parish constable system. In the 13th century, the position of the constable was formalized, thus permitting the appointment of watchmen to assist in their duties (Bayley, 1999). Watchmen had numerous responsibilities, from guarding the gates of town at night to watching for fires, crimes, and suspicious persons. This system of law enforcement continued without much change until the 18th century.
During the 18th century, there was unprecedented population growth and the population of London more than doubled. Accompanying the growth was a more complex and specialized society, resulting in law enforcement problems that challenged the control systems in existence. Rioting in the cities, which the existing system could not control, is one such example. As a result of the changing social climate, a more formal and organized method of law enforcement became necessary. It was around this time that Henry Fielding (author of Tom Jones) and his brother, Sir John Fielding, helped improve policing in London and all over England by suggesting changes to the existing system of control that developed into what is known as the modern police department.
The First Modern Police: London
It was Sir Robert Peel, the British Home Secretary, who created a 3,000-strong police force. Peel drafted and then guided through Parliament the “Act for Improving the Police in and Near the Metropolis,” which is better known as the Metropolitan Police Act of 1829. Under the direction of Peel, the police were organized for crime prevention. By 1829, the entire city was patrolled by men assigned specific territories, or beats, on a 24-hour-a-day basis (Reith, 1956). The officers, or “bobbies,” wore blue uniforms so that they could be easily recognizable as public servants whose purpose was to deter crime. The leaders of the London police force provided a central administration, strict discipline, and close supervision of the officers. They eventually decided to introduce a military structure to what had been a rather loose organization. Peel and his bobbies were so successful that requests for help from outside areas were received and assistance was sent. This movement set the stage for modern police departments, which were developed according to the principles of what has become known as “the London model of policing.” Thus, the structure and function of current police agencies, as well as their overall mission, are heavily influenced by Sir Robert Peel.