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Chapter Summary and Key Concepts

Chapter 5 highlights the history of law enforcement and links that history to the way that police agencies are organized today.

History and Development of the Police

  • The institution of the police is a relatively new phenomenon, although police have existed in one form or another for thousands of years.

  • Police in early history usually derived from the military.

  • The development of law enforcement as an institution has been episodic, uneven, and fraught with issues of politics, class and racial biases, and a lack of consensus as to what the police are supposed to do.

  • U.S. law enforcement is based on the English system, especially in terms of limited police authority, local control, and a fragmented system.

  • In the southern and western United States, vigilante movements provided some social control in areas that lacked established and effective law enforcement agencies.

  • Informal policing began in New York City in 1625. Chicago’s official police force was created around 1855 and reorganized several times until 1913. Police officers in both cities had broad discretion in enforcement of the law.

  • In the nineteenth century, some companies maintained their own police forces. Two of the most famous are Pennsylvania’s Coal and Iron Police and the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.

  • The Pendleton Civil Service Act of 1883 formed a civil service system that administered employment and promotions based on merit rather than political connections.

  • In 1931, August Vollmer wrote the Wickersham Commission report. Vollmer advocated that police be non-partisan, use scientific principles, become more specialized, and be led by qualified executives who could run large organizations.

Policing Today

  • The police are vested with the responsibility of detecting crime and bringing lawbreakers to justice.

  • All modern U.S. police departments are organized in a similar fashion.

  • The majority of law enforcement agencies are based on a quasi-military template, with uniforms, ranks, hierarchical chains of command, and centralized decision making.

  • Although some obvious similarities exist between civilian police and military organizations, individual police officers have more discretion, higher visibility, and a great deal less authority.

  • Law enforcement agencies are spread across federal, state, and local levels of administration.

Levels of Law Enforcement

  • Federal law enforcement agencies have nationwide jurisdiction but concentrate on specific crimes. The FBI and Secret Service are two examples of federal law enforcement agencies.

  • State-level law enforcement is organized in a variety of ways, with each state having a slightly different system. Highway patrol units are the most well-known of the state agencies.

  • Local law enforcement agencies handle most of the nation’s crime.

Innovations in Policing

  • In 1972, the Kansas City Preventive Patrol Experiment measured the efficacy of police patrol in terms of its effect on crime, the delivery of police services, and citizens’ feelings of security. The study found that the level of patrol made little difference.

  • In 1977, the Rand Study of Detectives attempted to determine how effective detectives are in solving crimes. The study suggested that more efficient ways may exist for law enforcement agencies to do detective work.

  • The Drug Abuse Resistance Education program began in 1983 in Los Angeles to give children information about illegal drugs, what happens when people use or sell illegal drugs, and methods to avoid illegal drugs. Schools throughout the nation are currently running the program.

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