Professional Policing: The Unfulfilled Expectation Of American Independence:

MAPLE’s Police Leadership Committee has been working diligently since the end of the summer to address some of the critical issues pertaining to the leadership of the American police service. The committee chose to explore the historical roots of policing, believing that the service can’t know where it is going, until it knows where its’ been. This venture provided some very interesting insight, which the committee would like to share with the membership.

The starkest revelation was the distinctive differences in the development of the police service in the American south and north, and in the United Kingdom. Each region has a unique and separate history. The southern experience was clearly marked by the institution of slavery, and an orientation toward domestic security. Because slaves outnumbered slave owners, the ownership class developed a very militarized and repressive style of policing, akin to an army of occupation. Southern slave states instituted the so-called “slave patrols” with the authority to arrest slaves found off their plantations. These patrols also had the right to search without warrant, slave quarters as well.

The northern experience was different. While some northern colonies did engage in slavery, the extent of the institution was far less extensive than in the south. Consequently, responsibility for maintaining local law and order was largely relegated to local constables, a tradition that extended back to England and continued right up to the civil war.

Industrialization had a major impact on modern policing and could be described as the womb from which it was born. Urbanization was the hall mark of this period, which dawned immediately following the American Revolution. People from all backgrounds and walks of life migrated to urban centers such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore, leaving farms and fields, seeking work in the growing number of factories and enterprises spawned in these new urban centers. This conglomeration of people created significant social, safety and security problems for these young growing cities.

The effort to deal with these problems, remained a local affair, subject to the influences of local politics. Urbanization also led to the development of the spoils system, in which the political party in power took total control of the local government, and administered its functions. Such a system led to rampant abuse. Nowhere was the ineffectiveness of this system so apparent than in the burgeoning city of New York. Political organizations such as Tammany Hall took over the administration of local government, including the police. The administration of the police and in particular, hiring, was totally influenced by political interests, with little regard for the competence or integrity of the officers. Municipal functions were exploited for leverage to establish monopolistic control by the party or interests in power. As these political interests competed, they paid only as much deference to the services demanded by the public, as was necessary to preserve and maintain their political power. The situation in Great Britain was similar in some ways to the American urban experience but there was a notable difference. Urbanization and industrialization forced dramatic social and cultural changes in England and the Chartist movement (the effort to democratize the nation by giving commoners the right to vote), was pressing upon the nation’s social control infrastructure. Mass demonstrations and protests became common place and the scale of these protests began to exceed the capacity of the old ancient constable system.

During the mid-nineteenth century conditions in all three venues reached critical mass.The south became increasingly destabilized due to increased slave revolts and violent border clashes over the issue of expanding slavery into new territories and states. This ultimately culminated in the civil war. Social disorganization in the northern urban areas spawned increasingly more violence, to the point where the growth of commerce and culture were stifled. Great Britain also began to experience social upheavals due to the chartist movement and labor interests.

Southern plantation society was ultimately destroyed by the Civil War, but elements of it revived to a degree under Jim Crow. Militarily the south had been defeated, but its institutions survived to some extent in localized form in county government. Northern urban areas were forced to form police forces to suppress riots and street mob activity, so that cities could function and commerce could develop. However, the police institutions that grew out of these experiences remained relatively ill-defined as to their purpose and were heavily influenced by special interests.

It was in Great Britain, where the first real effort to professionalize policing was made. The effort originated from a proposal offered by Sir Robert Peele, a member of the House of Lords. Peele had served as the head of the Royal Irish Constabulary, the royal colonial police force in Ireland. He fashioned a new strategy to govern this force, which was heavily influenced by several prominent social reformers of his day, Edwin Chadwick and Jeremy Bentham. Both men championed prevention over detection as the most effective approach to crime control. Peele’s proposal reflected this strategy. The British government adopted Peele’s plan appointing two commissioners, Charles Rowan and Richard Mayne to do the implementation. Both were given life appointments. Rowan was a distinguished military officer and Mayne was a career bureaucrat. Under the authority of Britain’s Home Office, they created the Metropolitan Police. Because of the authority of the Home Office (part of the Royal Cabinet), they were able to insulate the emerging department from local political interference. Explicit directives were formulated as to the conduct of the force and the candidates who were selected. It was emphasized that these new officers were to be selected, trained and promoted based on merit.

The history of American policing from the post-Civil War period onward, has been the attempt to replicate the reforms of Rowan and Mayne. However, this effort has met significant resistance. Unlike the British experience, the decentralized democratic nature of American urban government, has often inhibited efforts to impose reform, as was done in England. American police reform has been the story of a perpetual struggle between locally rooted special interests against reformers. The latter have not fared well. A great impetus for change in the United States came about during the decade of the sixties when the US Supreme Court rulings began superseding state law, forcing local police forces to upscale the quality of their performance. The standard imposed has yet to be fully met in many jurisdictions, highlighting and amplifying the great challenge facing American policing in our modern era. The expectations for police conduct and performance in the United States, have no equal in the world. The courts have foisted upon the American police service the heavy burden of resolving the great conflict between freedom and security, in a manner that can meet the expectations of the nation’s founders, its’ people and its’ historical promises. This is a very tall order.

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