The first official American police force was established in 1751 in Philadelphia, although it was only a night watch. Prior to that it was pretty much a system based on old English laws and relied mainly on volunteers and people who were conscripted. In just a few years, Richmond in Virginia and Boston had followed suit but it was nearly 100 years before there was a police force established in New York.
To start with, the police departments were controlled by the local politicians and split into the same municipal areas. The officers were usually recruited from within the area, which resulted in a police force that was not very diverse. It meant that ethnic groups such as the Irish or Jewish, had police officers that were Irish or Jewish, and that was not always a good thing.
They were often walking the beat in the area they lived so were familiar with what was happening and the people. The police of the time had no communications systems and relied on the help of citizens, which is when problems started to happen.
The changes made up until the 1930s were not anything major. Then technology started to evolve and patrol cars were introduced. These had two-way radio which was a boon if they needed help. The criminals would never know if there was a patrol car just around the corner, and more crimes were solved in a very short time. However, not everyone was in favor of them as some felt that the police in patrol cars were losing touch with their communities. Later experiments in Kansas showed that foot patrols made people feel safer, and they were able to gather information much quicker.
The Kansas study, and others that showed the same results led to the introduction of community policing. The idea behind this was that the police would become more involved in the community. This meant not just walking the streets, but being part of community projects and building relationships with local organizations.
All this time, technology was still progressing and now the collecting and analyzing of date was much easier. This is a change that has happened across the world, as well as collecting intelligence from other states and even other countries. Where in the past this could have taken weeks to happen, now it is instant.
At a 2015 police conference, Police Chief Frank Ramon said ‘ The law enforcement image is dependent on the professional, competent performance of the men and women who protect and serve their community’. This is very true, but sadly not always the case.
There have been high profiles examples of policing mistreating people, and even in some cases killing them. The murder of Daniel Shaver, who was unarmed, by police office Philip Brailsford is just one example of such a situation. Unfortunately, there are many more of them. This has meant that the public have started to lose respect for the police, and take the chance whenever they can to aggravate them. This is making a difficult job even harder.
Some police chiefs are also of the opinion that some of this is the result of how the media seem to blow every situation out of all proportion, always making the police officer look like the bad guy even when they have done nothing wrong. In some cases, this is proven when a police misconduct attorney gets involved, and they are able to show that the officer was only doing their job. Of course, in many cases the absolute opposite is shown to be the case and all too often, the officers involved get away with it.
Making The Public Feel More Secure
The police forces of the US are doing whatever they can to make members of the public feel more safe and secure. In 1998, they started experimenting with wearable cameras, to see if this deterred criminals from their objectives. Now police all across the nation wear them and they are usually known as bodycams. The United States Department of Justice decided in 2016, that bodycams should have at least one microphone and internal data storage that can be used with compatible software. They are normally worn on the officer’s chest or head.
Before the turn of the last century, although many police officers carried firearms, they were usually hidden away. No, they are on show for everyone to see, and hopefully, this will make criminals think twice about committing a crime if there is a police officer nearby. People who have nothing to hide are generally in favor of the police being armed, as it is something else that makes them feel safer in their own community.
Politics in Policing
Some people are concerned that politicians in the US are getting too involved in policing. Some of them are trying to dictate to the police chiefs on how to run their departments, This is most unfair when the police chief has more experience in safeguarding communities than the politician will ever have.
It is all about trying to win votes. They seem to be of the opinion that if the voters think a good idea about policing was down to them, more people will vote for them. This is probably true but not many politicians are going to come up with an idea that will be adopted by the local police department. The politicians and the police are both serving the community, but in different ways, The politicians need to leave the police alone to do their job in the best way they can and concentrate on doing their own tasks.
Of course, the FBI is an important part of the American justice system and they have to deal with the same problems as the local police officers. The difference is that people seem to have more respect for them, and they are less likely to argue if they are confronted by an FBI officer.
The local police forces need to win that respect back, and that is not as bad as it sounds as not all areas have a disrespectful community and not all police chiefs are faced with police officers going off the rails. But because of the high profile, these cases get in the media, people now think the whole police force is the same when really it has been a small minority of them that have committed police brutality.