The act of policing has a long history, all the way back to the Roman Empire. The Romans were known for their structured and effective policing skills and when England was under Roman rule it was also subject to Roman policing. At the time of the Roman Empire there were no actual police forces; rather, nobles and clan chiefs were responsible for maintaining order and upholding the law, including in what is now the United Kingdom (Wikipedia, 2005). Once the Roman Empire declined, it was up to kings and nobles once again to dispense with policing through the work of often unpaid “constables.
” One interesting but little known fact is that the word constable is still used in the United Kingdom, to define a police officer. The word constable had its origins in the Roman Empire. The Latin phrase that eventually became the Anglo Saxon word constable was comes stabuli, meaning “Count Of the Stable” (Constable Bob Vann, n. d. ). Constable is the English contraction of its ancient roots, and to fast forward to modern terms, the word cop is an acronym for Constable On Patrol.
Constables were mentioned in English history as early as the 9th Century but it wasn’t until the 17th century that the public pressed for an organized police force in London. Up until that time, constables not only upheld the law, they also collected taxes and levees. Finally in 1663, London hired watchmen to patrol the streets at night, creating the first paid law enforcement body that augmented the unpaid constables (Wikipedia). In 1800, Scotland formed the first official police force with the idea of preventing crime rather than simply catching criminals in the act.
In 1829, London established its Metropolitan Police, which is considered to be the first modern civilized police force very different from the previous system. The United States followed England’s system, being originally a colony of England; the constable system was carried over to the United States with the English. As the population grew in the new country and huge numbers of immigrants began pouring into the United States, slums developed and the sheer number of people overwhelmed the constable system, making it necessary to completely revamp the idea of law enforcement.
Citing New York as an example of early law enforcement, the city created its first municipal police force when Mayor William Havemeyer secured the passage of a police bill (William Andrews, n. d. ). In the beginning, the police force was swayed by politics of the time, and many changes were made under the influences of the rival Tammanay Democrats and the Whigs. Police officers served one- to two-year appointments and also supervised elections (Andrews). Eventually two rival police forces were created and that eventually came to a head in such a way that a local police force was established in 1870.
Law enforcement in the United States has developed into Federal, State, County and local sections, each acting under a commanding officer or sheriff. Today’s law enforcement is a sophisticated, multi-level system with many branches including the FBI.
- Andrews, William. “The Early Years: The Challenge of Public Order, 1845 to 1870”, Spring 3100 Magazine, New York Police Department. n. d. , 11 November 2005 http://www. ci. nyc. ny. us/html/nypd/html/3100/retro. html “Police”, Wikipedia 2005, 11 November 2005 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_enforcement