Police, agency of a community or government that is responsible for maintaining public order and preventing and detecting crime. The basic police mission—preserving order by enforcing rules of conduct or laws—was the same in ancient societies as it is in sophisticated urban environments.
|II||HISTORY OF POLICE FORCES|
The conception of the police force as a protective and law enforcement organization developed from the use of military bodies as guardians of the peace, such as the Praetorian Guard of ancient Rome. The Romans achieved a high level of law enforcement, which remained in effect until the decline of the empire and the onset of the Middle Ages. Beginning in the 5th century, policing became a function of the heads of fiefdoms and principalities.
During the Middle Ages, policing authority, particularly in England, was the responsibility of local nobles on their individual estates. Each noble generally appointed an official, known as a constable, to carry out the law. The constable's duties included keeping the peace and arresting and guarding criminals. For many decades constables were unpaid citizens who took turns at the job, which became increasingly burdensome and unpopular. By the mid-16th century, wealthy citizens often resorted to paying deputies to assume their turns as constables; as this practice became widespread, the quality of the constables declined drastically.
In France during the 17th century King Louis XIV maintained a small central police organization consisting of some 40 inspectors who, with the help of numerous paid informants, supplied the government with details about the conduct of private individuals. The king could then exercise a kind of summary justice as he saw fit. This system continued during the reigns of Louis XV and Louis XVI. After the French Revolution (1789-1799), two separate police bodies were set up, one to handle ordinary duties and the other to deal with political crimes.
In 1663 the city of London began paying watchmen (generally old men who were unable to find other work) to guard the streets at night. Until the end of the 18th century, the watchmen—as inefficient as they were—as well as a few constables, remained the only form of policing in the city.
The inability of watchmen and constables to curb lawlessness, particularly in London, led to a demand for a more effective force to deal with criminals and to protect the populace. After much deliberation in Parliament, the British statesman Sir Robert Peel in 1829 established the London Metropolitan Police, which became the world's first modern organized police force. The development of the British police system is especially significant because the pattern that emerged not only became a model for the American police system but also had great influence on the style of policing in almost all industrial societies.
The Metropolitan Police force was guided by the concept of crime prevention as a primary police objective; it also embodied the belief that such a force depended on the consent and cooperation of the public, and the idea that police constables were to be civil and courteous to the people. The force was well organized and disciplined and, after an initial period of public skepticism, became the model for other police forces in Britain. Several years later the Royal Irish Constabulary was formed, and Australia, India, and Canada soon established similar organizations. Other countries, impressed by the success of the plan, followed suit until nations throughout the world had adopted police systems based on the British model.
In the United States, the first full-time organized police departments were formed in New York City in 1845 and shortly thereafter in Boston, not only in response to crime but also to control unrest. The American police adopted many British methods, but at times they became involved in local partisan politics. The British police, on the other hand, have traditionally remained aloof from partisan politics and have depended on loyalty to the law, rather than to elected public officials, as the source of their authority and independence.
|III||POLICE IN THE UNITED STATES|
The United States has a fragmented system of police administration comprising some 19,000 separate municipal and county law enforcement agencies and an estimated 21,000 additional federal, state, and local agencies with specialized jurisdictions of responsibility. Approximately half the local law enforcement agencies consist of fewer than ten police officers.
|A||Law Enforcement Agencies|
The principal law enforcement agencies of the federal government are the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and the United States Postal Service. The jurisdiction of federal law enforcement agencies is limited to the government’s power to regulate interstate commerce, impose taxes, and enforce constitutional and federal law. Department of Justice agencies include the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which deals with bank robberies, kidnappings, terrorism, and violation of other federal laws and provides training, identification, and laboratory services to local police; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, which investigates alcohol and tobacco smuggling, bombings, and violations of federal firearms and arson laws; the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which investigates cases involving illicit narcotics and drugs; and the U.S. Marshals Service, which has responsibility for safeguarding and transporting federal prisoners and acting as marshals for U.S. courts. Law enforcement agencies in the Department of Homeland Security include the United States Coast Guard, which protects the country’s ports and waterways; the Bureau of Border Security, which enforces immigration laws and includes the Border Patrol; the Secret Service, whose primary responsibilities include protection of the president and vice president and their families and investigation of counterfeiting; and the United States Customs Service, which investigates smuggling and inspects passengers, vehicles, and cargo entering or leaving the country. Within the U.S. Postal Service, the Postal Inspections Service deals with such crimes as mail fraud and misuse of the mails.
Basically, two kinds of state police agencies exist in the United States: those with general functions similar to local police and those with limited responsibilities, mainly involving highway patrol on state roads.
A city police force is usually organized as one of several departments within the local government. The police are part of the local criminal justice system, which is the means by which society deals with criminals. The system includes the prosecuting attorney's office, the courts, probation offices, and corrections agencies.
There are thousands of private and industrial security forces in the United States. These organizations employ a substantial percentage of all persons engaged in police work, and the use of private security by both businesses and individuals is increasing rapidly. Large corporations often maintain security forces to curb internal thefts, shoplifting, robberies, and trespassing.
The executive head of a police department—the commissioner, superintendent, or chief of police—is usually appointed by a mayor, city administrator, or legislative body. In larger agencies, executive officers may be selected through a civil service or merit system, after moving through the ranks from patrol officer to sergeant, lieutenant, captain, and (in still larger agencies) deputy or assistant chief.
At the county level, the head of the agency usually holds the title sheriff. The sheriff is almost always elected and has the power to appoint deputies. Sheriffs' departments often provide law enforcement services for unincorporated areas of counties and are usually responsible for functions not normally carried out by municipal police, such as operating the county jail, providing courtroom security, and serving legal documents, including subpoenas and court orders.
A police department's goals are to prevent crime, investigate crime and apprehend offenders, control traffic, maintain order, and deal with emergencies and disasters.
|C1||Prevention of Crime|
The patrol division, consisting of uniformed patrol officers and supervisors, provides basic police services. In addition to foot and automobile patrol, officers engage in a variety of activities in response to citizens' needs. The greater part of patrol today is carried out by officers in police cars assigned to specific beats, or designated areas of the community. In small agencies, one-officer patrol cars are prevalent; in larger cities, combinations of one- and two-officer cars are common. Use of women officers for patrol duty is increasing; before 1970 the practice was unknown.
Recent research has raised doubts about the effectiveness of preventive patrol to curb most kinds of crime. Crime prevention, however, also means activities related to improving the security of homes and businesses, and to educating citizens to protect themselves. Most large police departments maintain a crime prevention unit to provide these services.
After patrol officers have conducted preliminary investigations, detectives who work in plain clothes further investigate serious crimes. Most detectives are assigned to the criminal investigations division after several years on patrol duty. In large departments, detectives are organized into specialized units, such as homicide, robbery, and narcotics. Contrary to popular belief, many cases solved by detectives are based on arrests made by patrol officers, or on leads supplied by officers or victims as a result of preliminary investigations.
Most traffic law enforcement and accident investigation is carried out by patrol officers. In large cities, however, specialists may handle serious or hit-and-run accidents, and motorcycle patrols may be responsible for freeway traffic. In the largest jurisdictions, officers may be assigned to traffic direction at busy intersections. A recent trend in many cities has been toward the use of civilian employees to handle parking violations.
|C4||Special Police Units|
Modern police service often includes special units to handle special problems. In major American cities, tactical units, highly trained and well equipped, are available to quell riots. Bomb squads are also on call; the bomb squad of the New York City Police Department, for example, is widely known for its outstanding work in handling bomb cases and scares. Other units specialize in dealing with hostage situations.
In most communities, about 60 to 70 percent of the time spent by patrol officers on operational activities is not crime related. Officers are called on to locate missing persons and lost children and to deal with marital disputes, crowd control, and ambulance calls.
Requests for police services are generally transmitted to headquarters by telephone and then by radio to officers in the field. Police have long operated on the theory that fast response time results in more arrests and less risk or injury to victims. The current trend is toward handling calls by priority, with emergency response reserved for cases involving an injured party or those in which a reasonable chance exists to prevent a crime or make an arrest at the scene. Modern computer-assisted dispatching systems permit automatic selection of the nearest beat officer in service. In some cities, officers can receive messages displayed on computer terminals in their cars, without voice communication from headquarters. An officer, for example, can key in the license number of a suspect vehicle and receive an immediate response from the computer as to the status of the vehicle and the owner's identity.
An increasing number of agencies are now using computers to link crime patterns with certain suspects. Fingerprints found at crime scenes can be electronically compared with fingerprint files. Other departments use computers for workload analysis, budgeting, and payroll systems.
In recent years technological advances have been made in such areas as voiceprint identification, use of the scanning electron microscope, and serology (an important tool because only 2 persons in 70,000 have identical blood characteristics). Some of the new laboratory techniques, although highly effective, are extremely expensive, so their use is limited to the most challenging cases. See Crime Detection.
|E||Contemporary Issues and Trends|
In the United States today, important and controversial issues have arisen regarding the administration and operations of police forces, especially in urban centers.
In recent years, police unions, including groups associated with national labor organizations, have grown rapidly. Critics of this trend argue that unionized police forces are less likely to be neutral in controlling disorders that occur during labor strikes. Some people also believe that union affiliation will weaken official authority in maintaining discipline. Others argue that management deficiencies often prompt the need for unions and that unionization will lead to greater job satisfaction, higher morale, and increased tenure. Because police are public employees, laws restrict their right to strike or to participate in other job actions. The trend seems to be for police unions to engage in compulsory or binding arbitration when labor disputes arise.
|E2||Restraints on Police Methods|
The police continue to rely on investigative methods that emphasize interviewing witnesses, interrogating suspects, developing sources of information through informants, carrying out surveillances, and making undercover purchases of narcotics and stolen property. These activities and the searches and arrests that result have received the full scrutiny of the courts. In recent decades, the Supreme Court of the United States has imposed conditions on police methods, such as the requirement that after arrest and prior to questioning a person must be informed of his or her rights, including the right to counsel and the right to remain silent (See Miranda v. Arizona). The Court has also restricted the use of evidence obtained illegally or extralegally, such as information from unauthorized wiretapping.
|E3||Police and Civil Disorders|
The police are crucial in preventing and controlling civil disorders. In the aftermath of civil disturbances in the 1960s, for example, authorities recognized the importance of preventing police action from becoming a precipitating cause in itself, as well as the need for police to engage in positive community-related activities to alleviate tensions.
|E4||Use of Deadly Force|
No issue provokes more intense controversy within minority communities than police policy concerning the use of force, especially deadly force. Some police officials and most minority community leaders believe that a police officer should use a firearm only in defense of a life (either that of the officer or of some other person) in immediate jeopardy. Others think that existing state laws, many of which permit an officer to use any force necessary to arrest a suspected felon, should not be limited by local policies.
|E5||Equal Employment Opportunities|
In the past decade, prodded by changes in public attitudes and by court decisions, police departments have recruited increasing numbers of minority members and women. A movement away from arbitrarily determined eligibility requirements, such as minimum height and maximum ages, has also occurred.
In some cities, volunteer citizen patrols have been formed to prevent crime. In a few cases, these patrols operate without an official relationship to the police department. Far more common, however, is the use of police-organized, uniformed citizen groups generally known as reserve or auxiliary police.
|IV||POLICE IN OTHER COUNTRIES|
About 800 police forces operate in Canada today. Their operations resemble those of the United Kingdom and the United States. Two provinces, Québec and Ontario, have provincial police with general law enforcement responsibilities. In the other provinces, rural policing is assumed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Most European countries have police forces that are organized on a national basis. Policing in France, for example, is primarily the responsibility of two national law enforcement bodies: the Gendarmerie Nationale, which polices rural areas and small towns, and the Police Nationale, which is responsible for policing Paris and provincial urban jurisdictions with populations of more than 10,000. The French police system has influenced other countries, especially those that were formerly part of the French colonial empire.
After World War II, the Allied occupational forces introduced the British-American style of decentralized police forces to West Germany (now part of the united Federal Republic of Germany), partly to prevent a return to a national military force. The experiment was not totally successful, however, and a compromise currently exists between a national force and decentralization. Germany is organized into semiautonomous provinces or states, each with its own independently elected state government, judiciary, and police. There is also a federal investigative bureau, the Bundeskriminalamt, which is renowned for its sophisticated computerized records system and technology.
In the Middle East, Israel has a single national police force that has been patterned after elements of the British Palestine Police. Following independence in 1948, attempts were made to demilitarize the force, but recurrent conflicts with neighboring Arab states have compelled the police to maintain security against terrorist actions, as well as carrying on the usual law enforcement activities. The battle-hardened Israeli police have developed highly effective investigative methods and technical capabilities.
Little is known about the operation or organization of the police in Communist nations, as details of the system are generally kept secret.
The International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) was established after World War II, with headquarters in Paris. Interpol does not conduct worldwide criminal investigations; rather, it is a records clearinghouse that serves as a means of communicating information from the police of one country to those of another. The majority of nations, including all major Western powers, are members of Interpol.
See also Crime; Criminal Law; Criminal Procedure; Criminology; Penology; Police Power; Prison; Secret Police.
Contributed by: Police Executive Research Forum