Trends in Policing

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Since the founding of this country, to the wild west, and up to the present, the agenda of the policing bodies have been clear: to uphold and enforce the laws of our society. Of course the way they do this today had undergone changes from the first police forces of early America, law enforcement has seen trends come and go. Law enforcement is divided into three major eras throughout history. These eras are the political era, the reform era and the community era. The political era that took place between 1840-1930 was characterized by five points, which was the authority was coming from politicians and the law, a broad social service function, decentralized organization, an intimate relationship with the community, and the extensive use of foot patrol. The downside to the political era was that the police got its authority from the politics and the law, the close tie with politics posed as a problem. “In New York, for example, the first chief of police could not dismiss officers under his command. The tenure of the chief was limited to one year. Consequently, any early New York cop who was solidly supported by his alderman and assistant alderman could disobey a police superior with virtual impunity. So while the British were firing bobbies left and right for things like showing up late for work, wearing disorderly uniforms, and behaving discourteously to citizens, American police were assaulting superior officers, refusing to go on patrol, extorting money from prisoners, and releasing prisoners from custody of other officers...” Klockars (1985, p. 42)

Needless to say that corruption became a big problem in American law enforcement. Probably the biggest factor that underlined the problem of corruption during this era was the soils system, whose motto was, “To the victor go the spoils.” This resulted in gross political interference with policing. For example, the winning party was under the impression that its members should be immune from arrest and given special privileges in naming favorites for promotions and they assisted in carrying out personal vendettas against other political opponents. So what happened is that this system led to the politicians staffing the country’s police forces with incompetent people as rewards for support and “fixing” arrests, or making sure arrests were not made which secured their immunity from supervision. As for the role of minorities in this era of law enforcement, African-Americans served as police officers as early as 1861 in Washington D.C. Most of the minorities were first hired in the larger cities, and by 1900 made up 2.7 percent of all watchman. That number declined by 1910 when less than 1 percent of police officers were African-American. During this era, minority police officers were hired exclusively to patrol black areas and were only aloud to arrest other black citizens and actually could only patrol in cars marked “Colored Police.” Very few of the African-American officers were ever promoted or given special assignments. The role of women in this era was restricted mainly to processing female prisoners and to positions as police matrons. Police department didn’t see women as regular police officers until the turn of the century, and by the end of World War I, more than 220 cities employed police women. Women were actually welcomed into the police departments where they were assigned to handle cases involving children and women. The second era in law enforcement was known as the reform era which took place in 1930-1980. This era is recognized by the characteristics of the authority coming from the law and professionalism, crime control as their primary function, centralized, efficient organization, professional remoteness from the community, and an emphasis on preventive motorized patrol and rapid response to crime. A major advocate of this era was a man by the name of August Vollmer,...
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