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Police bureaucratization

Problems of modern police organization

Organizational discipline


Until World War II, the larger continental European countries had centrally controlled police organizations, usually divided into a division for policing the capital and other large cities and a national service for policing smaller towns and rural areas. These were often supplemented by more heavily armed security police units that were essentially military in nature. The combination of central control, rigid selection of recruits (often through the army), special recruitment and training of command personnel, and rotation of command personnel produced highly efficient police systems whose personnel were generally free of the influence of the local politics and corruption that have plagued many departments in the United States. However, such police systems have also been associated with successful suppression of political dissidence and have traditionally developed in societies where the state has been confronted with serious problems of organized, armed political unrest.

The constitutional preference in the United States has been for a police under local control that would be available neither to the duly constituted central government nor to any organized group that might seize control of the federal apparatus. This constitutional situation has been accompanied in the United States by special problems of securing efficiency and honesty in police operation. However, recent very rapid improvements in the quality of police practice, especially in the larger cities, indicates that local control per se need not be incompatible with high-quality police.

In addition to municipal police, there are county sheriffs’ departments which in large parts of the United States constitute full-fledged police units. State police units exist in all but a few of the states. These concentrate on highway patrol but may perform general police functions in rural areas and are also important forces available for suppressing disorder. At the federal level in the United States, the tendency has been to create specialized police units to deal with specific problems, such as counterfeiting, narcotics, customs, and immigration. The specialized units are in addition to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which has much more general functions in enforcing federal law.

The English police system stands in many ways intermediate between that of the United States and the more centralized pattern of some Continental countries. The London Metropolitan Police are responsible directly to the central government, while other departments are under a loose inspectorial control which is coupled with a system of monetary grants-in-aid from the central treasury (Cramer 1964).

When the Allies occupied Germany and Japan at the end of World War II, they introduced police systems patterned after the Anglo-American constitutional structure. In Japan the change from a completely decentralized police introduced by Occupation authorities in 1947 to a much more centralized one in 1954 illustrates the difficulties involved in adapting the police systems of one country to the conditions of another. Decentralization resulted in underfinancing of local units; police reliance on large private donations, including some from organized gangster groups; and near helplessness of local units in the face of organized gang violence and later in the face of a systematic and disciplined campaign of political rioting directed against the central government (Nakahara 1955). In contrast, the disorders and riots that confront the police in the United States are rarely led by disciplined cadres, nor have they been directed at overthrow of the constituted government.

Police organization and social control. The establishment of uniformed, armed, and organized police as a response to the problems of social control in modern societies creates a number of problems, such as the political neutralization of the police, organizational creation and maintenance of discipline and commitment to legality in behavior toward the citizen, and development of efficient and impartial enforcement of the law. The means evolved to solve some of these problems may have negative results on others. Moreover, the control, organization, and behavior of the police will reflect the differences in civic culture between countries: for example, differences in the degree of consensus about the values represented in law and in the institutional supports for police authority, on the one hand, and traditions of police restraint on the other. The civic culture will, in turn, reflect differences in the nature and degree of heterogeneity of different societies, the degree to which laws representing minority viewpoints are passed, and the way in which law enforcement through the police relates to other forms of authoritative control in the particular society.

Location of governmental centers. Of obvious though often overlooked importance is the relationship between patterns of urbanization and the location and nature of governmental centers. In many countries—for example, England, France, Germany, and Argentina—the capital city is also the metropolis or at least one of the largest cities. The location of national government physically in a large city means that problems of civil disorder can become very serious from the point of view of the governing regime. When such disorder is politicized, the government is accessible physically, and even relatively minor disorders can seem to pose fundamental threats to the regime. Where the regime is represented in the person of a king domiciled in the metropolis, sensitivity to disorder will be even greater (Chapman 1953).

One of the major differences between the United States and many other industrialized, urbanized countries lies in the simple fact that the national capital is not a major metropolis and until recently was not even a large city. Furthermore, the capitals of the states, which under the federal constitutional system share sovereignty, are often not the largest cities in each state. Since it is the large cities that have been the major sources of politically relevant disorder, the United States has thus had less need of the highly disciplined riot police of other countries. This geographical isolation of governmental elites from the mass of the population has helped maintain the stability of democratic institutions, despite the volatile history and extreme heterogeneity of the United States; while there have been many riots, the mob has not been a prominent actor on the political stage. Thus simple geography has partially performed the function of insulating elites from the mass—a precondition of modern democracy, according to theorists of mass society (Kornhauser 1959). From this point of view, distance can be a partial substitute for force.

Police bureaucratization

Bureaucratization—an organizational technique whereby major centers of civic power become neutralized from the point of view of the governing regime—has been of great significance in the development of modern police. Bureaucratization is a device whereby commitment to the occupational organization or occupational community and to its norms of subordination and service takes precedence over extraoccupational social commitments. Thus, in modern societies the political neutrality and legal reliability of the police is less a matter of the social sources of recruitment than of internal organization, training, and control. This, of course, is no less true of the organization of, for example, tax-collecting services or public education. In this sense, then, the police do not differ from the other large-scale civil services. Nevertheless, the situation is particularly crucial with respect to the police, because they are commonly called upon to enforce unpopular laws and, of course, because they are armed and organized. Perhaps this fundamental significance of police bureaucratization can be seen by attending to the fact that given well-organized, well-disciplined, and internally well-regulated police, it is necessary for civil authorities to assure themselves only of the political loyalty and dedication to legal process of the controlling police elites.

Such problems are not confined simply to the unstable governments of some developing societies or to the often conflict-ridden regimes of continental Europe. A major device whereby American Negroes have been able to secure better police protection as well as relief from police suppression has been the political capturing of city governments, or at least the development of sufficient political influence to be able to persuade city officials to appoint top police officials, chiefs, commissioners, etc., who are more sympathetic to the civic aspirations of the Negro population. Of course, the successful translation of elite perspectives toward minority groups throughout police rank and file is not to be taken for granted; nevertheless, it is true that wherever a determined top police administration backed by a city government which has been under pressure from powerful Negro groups has seriously attempted change of racial law enforcement, the efforts have generally been successful. To a very considerable extent, American minority groups have been able to secure civic respect from the police to the degree that they have been able to generate political influence.

Negroes represent the last American minority group still undergoing this process. The development is particularly slow in parts of the southern United States, where law enforcement and maintenance of caste relations have traditionally been partly synonymous. Although police professionalization and bureaucratization are often strongly resisted by the white political structure, they have begun to appear as one of the major gains of the so-called Negro revolution (McMillan 1960). Perhaps in the long run, however, the most significant feature of police bureaucratization is that it tends to prevent the police from substituting their private attitudes or private occupational cultures for legal norms in law enforcement. One ha’s only to cite examples of county sheriffs and sheriffs’ deputies in parts of the rural South, where not only personal animosities but also racial attitudes have played a part in law enforcement, to show that recruitment of amateurs from among the local populace involves serious dangers.

Very broadly speaking, it may be pointed out that the process of internal bureaucratization of the police tends to make recruitment a less significant factor in the reliability and neutrality of the police. However, when a particular governmental regime is highly unpopular with some particular segment of the population, and when the political reliability of the police has not been achieved by bureaucratization, it may be particularly important to recruit from specialized segments of the population whose loyalty arises from extraorganizational, social commitments as well as from adherence to the police occupation. Thus, during the early stages of political development in some modern multitribal states, the police may be recruited almost entirely from one particular tribe. In this way, the regime counts on intertribal tensions and frictions of the community as a device for assuring that the police will enforce the law against members of other tribes.

Many of the most significant problems of modern police, however, lie precisely in the balance between bureaucratic isolation, on the one hand, and integration into the local community, on the other. Among the most significant consequences of this dilemma that have been pointed out by American researchers is the fact that isolation from the community without careful bureaucratic organization can result in police occupational cultures which can become private subcommunities heavily involved in illegally determining the distribution of law enforcement and the use of violence (Westley 1953). Isolation to a degree is obviously necessary. However, isolation may be accompanied by public contempt, which has been so frequent in the United States, with its generally low regard for public service. Thus, when isolation is not accompanied by organizational control, training, and indoctrination, it can, on occasion, result in a situation where the police are, to be sure, apolitical but where their conceptions of appropriate conduct and appropriate relations between police and populace can become an autonomous and disturbing element, even in a predominantly civil and legal social structure (Banton 1964).

Problems of modern police organization

The organization of the police into disciplined bureaucracies is dependent upon certain social conditions. However, if such organization is successful, it can, in turn, create problems related to the linkages between police and community, the nature of policing in modern urban societies, and the problems of decentralized decision making peculiar to police work (Wilson 1963). Most detailed research on these matters has been done in the United States and England, especially the United States. Developments in the United States are especially useful for illustrating the general conditions which make for both successful police organization and newer problems in policing.

Professionalization of the police

Bureaucratization of the police, is, of course, importantly facilitated where public employment is highly regarded and well paid, and where police service can provide prestigeful lifetime careers. It is under these circumstances that the necessary personal commitment to the service and the necessary occupational morale are most likely to develop. The United States has had particular difficulty in this regard. The state as an abstract entity has not been regarded with the special mystique of some countries, nor has it been invested with the special symbolic aura of the English crown. In addition, the public service occupations in general have not been of the highest prestige; this is generally the case in market-oriented societies which are traditionally devoted to the pursuit of private fortune. Judging from recent research, however, there has been considerable improvement in this respect since the early 1900s, and this trend can be expected to continue (Janowitz et al. 1958). In addition, the increasing concentration of population in large cities has allowed the development of larger departments with the possibility of more rigorous selection of personnel, better training, and the development of a more self-consciously professional administrative corps among police commanders.

Until recently it has been difficult for police commanders in the United States to secure sufficient independence from local politics to develop systems of recruitment, promotion, and assignment based upon merit rather than political preferment. These difficulties in securing professional autonomy have been especially pronounced in the older and more heterogeneous cities of the North and East, where the combination of unpopular laws and ethnic minority involvement in both machine politics and municipal services has often led to complex linkages between organized crime, the police, and ethnically based political machines. The major cities in the South, Southwest, and West have had fewer of these problems. During a period of rapid social change, underdeveloped public services in general, great heterogeneity of population, and legislatures dominated by rural interests who often wrote their own sectional and class norms into formal law, such connections between police, politics, and community were inevitable. Indeed, they served to ease social change and the urbanization and civic assimilation of the large immigrant populations, who were able to acquire relatively quick access not only to local politics but also to the police arm of government.

Patterns of police authority

Under conditions of increased professionalization of municipal police, the problems of internal discipline, efficiency, honesty, and respect for formal legality are increasingly being solved. Their solution, however, raises other difficulties related to police-community relations, on the one hand, and new determinants of discretionary decision making, on the other. Where the police, as in England, have been able to rely on long-standing patterns of deference to the symbols of legitimate authority, coupled with a longestablished cultural homogeneity and crowned symbolically by the monarchy, relations between police and populace reflect the gradual development of customary forms of behavior as well as formal legal restrictions on police and populace alike. Under such circumstances, police authority is supported by the institutional environment, such as the law courts, as well as by popular attitude and social custom. On the other hand, where patterns of deference are not well developed, as in the United States, and the police are seen as simply doing a job rather than as representing an institutional order, the legal system in general receives less support from custom and other institutions of society; in turn, the legal system is likely to represent the deep ambivalence toward authority which characterizes the larger culture. Thus, in the United States police powers are severely limited as compared with those of the Continent, and police authority is not buttressed by developed custom within the bounds of formal law, as has been the case in England (International Conference … 1962; Banton 1964).

This combination of lack of supportive deferential custom, the relatively unprivileged position of the state, severe legal restrictions on police powers, and high crime rates—especially high rates of violent crime, on the one hand, and organized crime, on the other—has posed especially difficult problems for the police in large American cities. As a consequence, certain informal practices that are illegal or of doubtful legality, which are probably found to one degree or another among police everywhere, have received special attention from American social researchers. Among these are the widespread use of discretionary powers that are poorly based in formal law and the noticeably declining problems of corruption (LaFave 1965; Skolnick 1966).

Increased concern with these practices, together with the rapidly growing political and civic awareness and influence of Negroes, the increasing bureaucratization and professionalization of the police, and the increasing necessity to regulate an affluent and mobile citizenry (especially in traffic control, which cannot always be identified with traditional categories of criminal conduct) have led to an awareness that older patterns of police practice and older patterns of contact between police and community must give way to rationally calculated and organizationally inculcated forms of conduct. Rather than seeking to share communal sentiments and reflect them in their behavior, the police must try to develop ways of managing interpersonal contact so as to minimize challenge to police authority as well as degradation of the citizen.

Symptomatic of this change is the increasing amount of social research, including public opinion surveys, with implications not only for general understanding of police but also for police practice (Great Britain … 1962a; 1962b; Clark 1965; Preiss & Ehrlich 1966; Bordua 1967). This replacement of custom by rule and management has often been described by sociologists as characteristic of modern mass societies. It seems likely that as deference patterns decline in other societies, many features of recent American experience will develop there.

Discretionary decision making

In democratic societies the problem of assuring that the police are organized so as to be a reliable instrument for the maintenance of order and the suppression and prevention of crime, while at the same time assuring that they exhibit restraint and sensitivity to citizen rights, means that organization of the police cannot be like that of an assault battalion which on command can be relied upon to do its duty regardless of cost to itself, its enemies, or the surrounding social fabric. Nor can it be organized to respond purely to external stimulation in an automatic and “programmed” fashion. Police organization involves elements of military command from the center, as well as elements of automatic response to stimuli at the periphery; however, the peculiar conditions of modern policing require above all that discretionary judgment within a framework of rules be widespread.

Because rules cannot specify all eventualities, the decision making of police in a democracy is determined by morale, on the one hand, and by the relationship to the local community culture, on the other. The problem of morale is essentially one of assuring a commitment to central organizational and legal purpose as a basis for discretionary decision. The problem of relation to the local community is essentially one of maintaining a sensitivity to the culture of the community as it involves questions such as modes of exercising authority and kinds of offenses which can be proceeded against only at great social cost; it also involves a sharing by the police of the general society’s sense of the significance of individual dignity.

Involvement in the community

The balances between discretion and command and between isolation from and involvement in the general culture are, in some ways, the same problem, since it is participation in the general life of the community that helps the police fill in the ambiguities of formal law and departmental regulation. Integration into the community also prevents the police from substituting their own occupational and organizational culture for the law or for the moral sentiments of the local populace. Such community integration is facilitated by cultural homogeneity and by the absence of wide disparity between the formal law and social custom.

The involvement of police in the community can, however, be overdone, as evidenced by many of the difficulties of developing restrained law enforcement in racially mixed communities in the United States. Where dominant community sentiment in the segments of the population holding power dictates denial of legal rights and protections to Negroes, integration of the police into local culture may defeat the specific aims of legal policy as well as the general aim of equal dignity for all citizens. In general, the use of law as an instrument of social change requires sufficient isolation of the police from local involvements that they can act in accordance with new legal directives that are likely to meet resistance.

In stable and homogeneous societies, there is likely to grow up a body of customary practice linking police and citizenry which serves to supplement and refine the formal law and the use of police authority. Where such custom has been of long standing, thus making both citizen and police behavior predictable and mutually tolerable, the basic trust of the citizenry in the police is likely to make demand for more elaborate formal control of the police unlikely. However, where social change is rapid and the conditions for such customary adaptation are not present, demands for more control are likely to be prominent. The recent movement for civilian police review boards in the United States is an example of one such demand deriving from such a lack of stabilized trust.

Deployment of police resources

Police operations vary greatly, depending on a number of factors in addition to those already mentioned. Among these factors are the kind and amount of illegal behavior, as well as its social organization; the degree to which uniformed police are expected to carry out the general functions of public protection and regulation in areas other than dealing with crime and disorder; the nature and distribution of communication facilities in the population; and the relative use of mechanical and electronic aids in crime detection and law enforcement.

In some societies the police have many duties and become a general administrative arm of government. This may be true either because of a general conception of the role of central government or because of the relative scarcity of other trained administrative services. In the United States, where crime rates are high and where traffic regulation consumes an important share of police resources, police commanders have attempted to limit police operations to the central ones of protection of life and property through the suppression of crime and disorder. In addition, in their attempts to develop a more prestigeful and professional service, leading police spokesmen in the United States have tended to look to the traditional professions, such as law and medicine, where specialization and the ability to limit functions have been accompanied by high prestige. This effort is especially significant in the United States, where autonomously developed performance standards and specialized technical competence have been sources of occupational prestige, whereas performance of generalized service to the state has not. Performance of functions outside the areas of crime control and the maintenance of public order is not necessarily incompatible with a high standard of police service, however. Indeed, the public image of the police may be more favorable where police service includes considerable supportive activity in addition to more repressive services.

Problems of organization and deployment of police are closely related to the nature of illegal behavior, its social organization, and the social channels whereby information on illegal activity is made available to the police. In modern, urbanized societies much routine information concerning crime comes from the citizen complainant, who is usually the victim of the crime. The spread of telephones in the population, coupled with the use of two-way-radio-equipped patrol cars in the larger cities of the United States, Canada, and Scandinavia, has made possible very rapid reaction to citizen calls. This reaction is usually mediated through a central radio dispatch center, which also enables considerable control over the activities of policemen by superiors.

In the United States the high incidence of crime —especially crimes against the person—plus the lack of tribal or other means for dealing with crime results in a very large volume of work for urban police departments. This large volume is partially due to the lack of private security arrangements of a nonpolice nature; homesteads are not walled, and there is nothing like the famous concierge arrangement of France. Thus there is a need for the police to react very rapidly in a very decentralized fashion, as well as a need for centralization of police communication. For this kind of police work, deployment and allocation of police resources are determined largely by the willingness of the citizenry to request police protection.

Other police operations, such as vice control, are less reactive in nature and, indeed, may have no victim or complainant in the ordinary sense. Under these conditions, police work involves a more initiatory strategy, and decisions as to deployment and resource allocation are much more under the control of police authorities themselves. Such “service” crimes as gambling, prostitution, and liquor or narcotics sales involve considerable organization on the part of criminals; moreover, they have no victims willing to complain and act as prosecuting witnesses, and they can take place in premises protected by legal guarantees of privacy (Stinchcombe 1963). It is also characteristic of these offenses that they are likely to involve violation of laws which do not necessarily represent a high degree of social consensus. This combination of circumstances, coupled with the large amounts of money which result, makes corruption of the police more likely than in the case of other types of crime, and corruption can function much like a private tax. It also means that removal of police from politics is more difficult, since the social differences which underlie the law will make themselves felt in political demands for more strict or more lenient enforcement.

Among new techniques being used by the more highly mechanized police systems of large United States cities, and to a lesser degree in Canada and Scandinavia, are elaborate electronic computer installations used to search records, sort through modus operandi files, and provide very rapid responses to inquiries from field officers concerning suspicious automobiles. These new techniques of communication, information retrieval, and dispatching are significant not only with respect to the speed and effectiveness with which police respond but also with respect to the effectiveness of command and control within departments (Bordua & Reiss 1966).

Organizational discipline

Over and above control through the usual techniques of rule making and supervision, many departments in the United States have been led to maintain undercover units designed to monitor the efficiency and honesty of the police themselves. Such internal investigation units have been effective when combined with firm control in reducing corruption and greatly increasing citizen respect for the police. Internal investigation units and central communications audits allow organizational control of dispersed field officers, but they may also create problems of morale, since they bypass subordinate command levels and imply mistrust. Such extreme measures for internal control are likely to become less necessary as conditions change in the United States, especially as police recruitment, training practices, and overt supervision practices improve. These organizational improvements, coupled with improving public respect for police, should help increase the sense of occupational honor among the police, which is crucial in the long-run assurance of competence and honesty (McMullan 1961).

The internal control problems of large city departments have been greatly complicated in the United States by the long history of local political interference in internal police affairs. As a response to this problem, civil service tenure for police has become very widespread in an attempt to protect individual policemen from threats to their livelihood by political influence. In the process, however, it has become quite common for the ultimate power that imposes severe disciplinary measures, such as demotion or dismissal, to be lodged outside the police department. Dismissal for cause may require highly formal hearings, and appeal may lie to the regular courts. While this system helps eliminate unfair, arbitrary, or politically motivated decisions by police command personnel, it simultaneously weakens internal control exercised along more acceptable lines. This security of tenure for the rank and file and the necessity for quasi-judicially presented evidence is one reason why reforming departments stress the need for undercover internal investigation. Through such investigations it is possible to secure appropriate evidence of wrongdoing and, in most cases, induce resignation rather than initiate formal proceedings.

Given the widespread willingness of the populace to corrupt the police—usually in petty ways —and the widespread ambivalence toward authority exercised in the name of the state, it is necessary in the United States to place the police under a far more severe discipline than would be acceptable to the general population. Police everywhere are, of course, subject to close discipline, yet in many societies this is accompanied by either a complementary restraint and respect on the part of the citizenry or by a definition of the police as having a special elite position which helps in maintaining their morale. In the United States, in a well-run police unit, the rank-and-file officer is likely to experience a subordination less stringent than that experienced by his counterparts in other countries; however, the discipline that he experiences is far more severe, relative to the patterns of authority in the surrounding civil society.

The organizational discipline—more apparent in large or rapidly improving departments than in small or static ones—not only sets police apart from the general populace but, perhaps more importantly, makes for a great contrast between the values of the police occupation and those of other segments of the system for the administration of criminal justice. The increasing emphasis on rehabilitation, reform, and resocialization of offenders has been accompanied by a decline in the use of legal coercion and a de-emphasis, at least in ideology, of ideas of punishment and rigid restriction. It thus sometimes seems to the police that modern ideas of treatment of criminals require relaxation of restraint on offenders and an increase in restraint on officers. Despite the increasing similarity of education and the decreasing intellectual isolation of police administrators in the United States, the differing conditions of organizational control will probably make for continuing conflict between police and other aspects of the criminal justice system.

Moreover, it may be anticipated that some of the difficulties faced by police in the United States will appear or increase in other countries. As wealth and education are more widely distributed, traditional patterns of citizen deference break down and the traditional supports for police authority weaken. These changes produce difficulties not only in relating police to populace but also in the internal control of police themselves.

David J. Bordua

[See alsoCriminal law; Gambling; Penology; Punishment; Social control.]


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POLICE. Police, services composed of trained, full-time, paid officers dedicated to reducing the causes of crime, deterring its commission by regular patrols, and investigating lawbreaking and apprehending its perpetrators, are central to the operation of modern, bureaucratic, and centralized states. But at the start of the early modern period, most European states lacked effective professional police forces, and such agencies developed only slowly, in part because of the relative weakness of early modern state institutions and the fiscal limitations under which they labored. Also, the very word "police" described for early modern administrators all those institutions and regulations necessary to establish a well-ordered state, not just to fight crime. Thus officials encumbered some early police agencies with far more duties than those of their modern counterparts.

Everywhere too the effectiveness of early modern policing was limited by the reluctance of much of the population to have recourse to the police. Historians find this reticence revealed in several ways. Early modern Europeans often themselves regulated much of the behavior controlled by modern police. Among established populations, disputes that produce police action in modern societies often entirely escaped the attention of the authorities in the early modern period, when they concluded with subjudicial settlements mediated by priests, notaries, or local dignitaries. Additionally, interpersonal violence frequently resulted in vendettas that endured for years before coming to the cognizance of the authorities. Indeed, citizens sought state judicial and police authority only under certain circumstances. For example, local residents readily reported to authorities the activities of outsiders, like wandering vagrants, and they also sought the assistance of agents of the state against neighbors whose misdeeds transcended local thresholds of tolerable behavior. Early modern police agencies, both traditional institutions and newer forces that proved to be the precursors of modern policing, depended on such civilian cooperation for the limited effectiveness they possessed.


When they did have contact with representatives of police authority, most early modern Europeans dealt with agents of seigneurial, municipal, or royal courts charged with executing arrest orders issued by magistrates in response to citizen complaints. On the Continent, larger courts often had paid officers for such duties, men bearing a variety of titles, including sergents in many French jurisdictions and sbirri in the Papal States. The numbers of such officers were always limited, and they were at a great disadvantage in the face of concerted opposition to the execution of their orders. In late-seventeenth-century Amsterdam, for example, the force of the schout, an official who functioned much like a public prosecutor and police chief, numbered only eighteen men in a city of 200,000 inhabitants. The same number of officers served the criminal court of Florence, the Otto di Guardia e Balìa, in the mid-sixteenth century when the city had sixty thousand citizens.

At even greater disadvantage were the unsalaried officers of justice common in several countries. In England, western Germany, Sweden, and much of the Dutch Republic, justice and policing were in the hands of unpaid citizens serving terms of office that punctuated their everyday occupations. Often without formal legal education, the justice of the peace of England, the länsman of Sweden, the Schultheis of Württemburg, and the judge of the Dutch schepenbanken sought execution of their orders by unpaid officers also drawn from the local community. These men, including the English constable and the Dutch baljuw, ruwaard, or drossard, might sometimes be in considerable danger while fulfilling their duties because they usually acted alone. Their only possible aid might have been the citizen participation in a general hue and cry required by ordinances in England and many German jurisdictions.

In addition to these agents of the courts, most European towns had various forces that also performed police functions. Even small cities on the Continent possessed ceremonial municipal guard units composed of local citizens who turned out armed and uniformed on such occasions as a royal visit, but they were ill-trained and of little practical use for law enforcement. More common were various sorts of watch units enlisting men who sometimes drew municipal salaries, like those of the guet of Bordeaux in the eighteenth century. The Bordeaux watch was quite typical of many such units in its numerical weakness. It had but seventy men to patrol a city with a late-eighteenth-century population of about 100,000 persons. Night watch arrangements in England were even less formal and until the eighteenth century depended on the Statute of Winchester of 1285, which required individual citizens to take unpaid turns in nightly patrols of their local parishes.


Only slowly did some European states manage to create full-time, paid, professional police forces, and France led in this process. France was the only European state to create and maintain a centrally administered agency of rural policing in the early modern period. That force, the Maréchaussée, originated in an armed military police force that not only maintained order along the army's line of march and pursued deserters but also had the power to try in its own courts those it apprehended. By the sixteenth century the French monarchy added to that force's military duties competence over a growing list of nonmilitary offenses, including highway robbery, vagabondage, popular disturbances, and other offenses that the crown viewed as fundamental threats to France's stability. Until the French Revolution the Maréchaussée retained its dual power to arrest certain kinds of criminals and to judge those it apprehended in military courts, whose verdicts were not subject to appeal.

The number of lawbreakers who experienced this summary justice of the Maréchaussée was limited chiefly by the force's manpower. By 1789 the Maréchaussée mustered only 4,114 officers and men assigned to outposts throughout the kingdom. Such numbers were inadequate for effective rural policing, and in the Bordeaux généralité in 1790, for example, only 111 mounted policemen patrolled 26,000 square miles of territory. Thus the blue-uniformed Maréchaussée officers must have been rare sights indeed in most rural hamlets, and their effectiveness, like that of more traditional police agents, ultimately depended on the cooperation of those they policed. Nevertheless, many French people recognized the importance of professional rural policing, and their demands (cahiers de doléances) for the Estates-General of 1789 frequently called for an improved force. As a result, legislation in 1791 created the gendarmerie nationale, an enlarged Maréchausseé deprived of its judicial authority, that still served rural France in the early twenty-first century.

France also led Europe in the creation of modern urban policing. In his edict of 15 March 1667 Louis XIV created the office of lieutenant général de police de la ville, prévôté et vicomté de Paris. The holder of this office was a magistrate who presided over a police court once weekly but, more importantly, was the administrator charged with maintaining all aspects of order in a growing capital city whose population reached 600,000 by the 1780s. The traditional early modern definition of police functions initially shaped the work of subordinates of the lieutenant général, and street lighting, trash collecting, firefighting, care of foundlings, building inspection, enforcement of commercial regulations, censorship, and other duties occupied many of them. But in 1788 the lieutenant général also commanded 1,931 men who did the work of a modern police force. He deployed various types of uniformed units for mounted and foot patrols of the city, coordinated the efforts of police investigators and spies, and administered police justice through his own court, aided by forty-eight commissioners (commissaires), magistrates stationed throughout the city and empowered to initiate criminal procedures and to order arrests.

The only other early attempts by a European central government at large-scale policing operations originated in the lands of the Spanish monarchy. In their Castilian lands, the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella created the Council of the Holy Brotherhood (Santa Hermandad) in 1476 to consolidate locally funded militias into a federation of rural forces that had police and judicial powers, like the Maréchaussée, over a select group of crimes, including murder, rape, highway robbery, and rebellion. Founded in response to the disorders of the succession crisis of the early reign of Isabella in Castile and to lawlessness accompanying the Granada War of 14821492, these armed and uniformed forces never developed into a permanent national police. The monarchs never gave the council crown funding, failed to extend it to the rest of their Iberian territories, and disbanded it entirely in 1496 with the end of the Granada War. For over two centuries thereafter, rural policing responsibilities were entirely in the hands of local governments, not all of which had the will or means to fund forces. Even when the crown established a number of royal police units in the eighteenth century, these forces lacked central direction and adequate funding. Only in 1835 did Spain achieve national policing with the advent of the guardia civil.

Spanish monarchs also attempted to establish rural policing in their Netherlands territories. There, a force endowed with both police and judicial powers operated in Artois from about 1517 until the county's annexation by France in 1659. Other such forces emerged in the seventeenth century in the counties of Flanders and Namur, but all had limited effectiveness because of insufficient funding and manpower, problems that continued to hamper the work of police brigades functioning in these areas even after they passed to Austrian Habsburg rule in 1714.

Elsewhere in Europe efforts at improved policing, funded by growing state resources and driven by a rising fear of crime rooted in several developments, appeared only in the eighteenth century. Certainly the growth of a cheap popular press highlighted existing crime for government officials and encouraged them to improve police services. Officials also sought to bolster police resources in response to new threats to public order. Historians of British crime, for example, show that property crime increased in periods of economic distress, and these periods frequently followed the conclusions of the century's many wars. Additionally, population growth and structural economic changes, like enclosure, everywhere produced large numbers of vagrants, who generated considerable fear in settled populations.

Greater London, Europe's largest metropolitan area, produced a number of developments in eighteenth-century policing. Composed of numerous independent municipalities, it presented significant problems in policing. Until 1735 the various municipalities of the metropolis attempted to meet their police needs within the provisions of the Statute of Winchester, that is, with constables and unpaid night watches whose authority ceased at individual parish or municipal boundaries. In 1735 two parishes, St. James, Piccadilly, and St. George, Hanover Square, secured legislation permitting them to levy local taxes to pay permanent, professional patrols for their jurisdictions. Other jurisdictions followed suit, and slowly thereafter local and national authorities created a variety of police units, including highway and river patrols, with general jurisdiction in the metropolitan area. One of these units, the Bow Street Runners, initially privately employed by the London magistrates Henry and John Fielding, was the prototype for the modern detective branch of policing. Only in 1829, however, did Parliament create the London Metropolitan Police, a unified force with jurisdiction encompassing all of Greater London.

The middle and late eighteenth century witnessed experiments in rural policing too, especially on the European continent. Southern German states, including Baden, Bavaria, and Württemburg, employed mounted police units called Hatschiere, composed of former soldiers, to patrol rural areas and especially to search for vagrants. These states also used hussars, cavalrymen drawn from the regular army, for patrols and arrests, but neither these units nor the Hatschiere seem to have had sufficient discipline or numerical strength to provide effective policing. The same problems seem to have afflicted the mounted police units created by Victor Amadeus III of Piedmont-Sardinia in the 1770s and 1780s.

European police agencies remained relatively weak by modern standards through the late eighteenth century. Nevertheless, the foundations of modern policing are evident in developments in the late early modern period.

See also Crime and Punishment ; State and Bureaucracy .


Beattie, J. M. Policing and Punishment in London, 16601750: Urban Crime and the Limits of Terror. Oxford, 2001.

Brackett, John K. Criminal Justice and Crime in Late Renaissance Florence, 15371600. Cambridge, U.K., 1992.

Emsley, Clive. The English Police: A Political and Social History. 2nd ed. London, 1996.

Kent, Joan R. The English Village Constable, 15801642: A Social and Administrative Study. Oxford, 1986.

Lorgnier, Jacques. Maréchaussée, histoire d'une révolution judiciaire et administrative. 2 vols. Paris, 1994.

Lunenfeld, Marvin. The Council of the Santa Hermandad: A Study of the Pacification Forces of Ferdinand and Isabella. Coral Gables, Fla., 1970.

Reynolds, Elaine A. Before the Bobbies: The Night Watch and Police Reform in Metropolitan London, 17201830. Stanford, 1998.

Williams, Alan. The Police of Paris, 17181789. Baton Rouge, La., 1979.

Julius R. Ruff

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POLICE agencies in the United States are oriented toward local control. Their counterparts in other industrialized countries, by contrast, are usually part of a centralized national police force. As a result of the focus on independent local control, there are some 20,000 different police agencies in the U.S. (not including the wide variety of specialized federal forces), financed and managed by states, counties, and municipalities. The lack of a centralized national system has led to problems of jurisdiction, information sharing, and even basic ideology. But the overriding fear of a national force and the abuse of its power has long been a hallmark of the American system of law.

Police Organization

Metropolitan police agencies in the U.S. were originally organized on a military model, and their development in the second half of the nineteenth century was strongly influenced by Robert Peel's Metropolitan Police Force of London, founded in 1829. The British system used an organization of constables and watchmen who patrolled the streets and often charged fees for their services. Early law enforcement efforts in the U.S. were loosely organized, as there was no perceived need for full-time, professional forces, and watchmen were usually volunteers. By the middle of the eighteenth century, however, large metropolitan areas such as New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago had created permanent fulltime police forces. Professional, fulltime state police forces were not commonplace in the U.S. until the twentieth century.

Because most U.S. police agencies have been created and funded by the local communities, and because they were created at different times, there are many variations in how the agencies are organized and financed. In general, city police are funded by the municipality and headed by a police chief, either appointed by the mayor or elected. Counties employ patrolmen and sheriffs, who usually answer to an elected county official. State police agencies, which have broader jurisdiction, assist in statewide investigations and are responsible for traffic law enforcement in areas outside municipalities. Local law enforcement agencies also have a variety of specialized units, including those for transit, parks, ports, housing, and schools.

Federal police agencies mostly developed later, although the United States Treasury established the U.S.

Mint Police in 1792. The Treasury Department oversees other specialized police agencies as well, including the U.S. Customs Service, the Internal Revenue Service; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; and the Secret Service. The Justice Department law enforcement agency was established in 1870 and includes the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the U.S. Marshals (in charge of guarding and transporting federal prisoners, among other duties). In addition, other federal agencies have been established for specific law enforcement. These include the U.S. Park Police, the Border Patrol, the National Security Agency, and the Federal Trade Commission. The executive branch directs most federal agencies, with oversight by the legislative and judicial branches.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 1996 there were 922,200 full-time, local police personnel, of whom 663,535 had arrest powers. Steady increases for the last two decades indicate a 2001 estimate of around 1,000,000 local law enforcement employees across the country, about a quarter of them women and minorities. Statistics from 1997 show that, on average, local police officers were required to have 1,100 hours of training (sheriffs averaged 900 hours), and, by 2000, more than thirty-seven percent of local police agencies were required to have some college education. In 2000, there were 88,496 federal officers, about thirty-one for every 100,000 people (in Washington, D.C., the ratio was 1,397 federal officers for every 100,000 residents). The majority of federal officers are in Texas; California; Washington, D.C.; New York; and Florida.

History of Police Forces

Permanent police forces were created in metropolitan areas such as New York (1853) and Philadelphia (1856) to handle the increase of population and the social problems that came with urban industrialization. Police officers were uniformed, making them easily identifiable on the street, which in turn expanded their duties beyond mere law enforcement; policemen gave directions, took in lost children, assisted the indigent, enforced health codes, and, with the emergence of the automobile, directed traffic and enforced the rules of the road. Police reform in the late nineteenth century made police officers civil servants, providing a salary and doing away with the earlier system of fees for services. As a result, police officers were more inclined to help all victims of crime, not just those who could afford the fees. In 1906, in an effort to end nepotism and favoritism, San Francisco established a system of hiring based on scores from civil service tests, a practice that became the national standard.

The twentieth century brought scientific research and technology to the world of policing. New techniques in identifying physical characteristics (such as fingerprints, first used in the early 1900s) meant police agencies spent more energy on criminal investigations, crime prevention, and other specialized tasks. Between the 1920s and 1940s, most large cities had special juvenile crime divisions; in the 1920s and 1930s, there was an expansion of traffic divisions; in the 1940s and 1950s, police agencies created public relations positions; the 1950s brought the first telephoto transmissions of documents, photographs, and fingerprints; and since the 1970s, police agencies have worked toward computerized data collecting, sharing, and analysis. By the end of the twentieth century, metropolitan police forces had specialized units for dealing with exigencies such as bombs, hostage situations, crowd control, underwater rescue, and terrorism.

Forensic science advanced evidence gathering and analysis in the last decades of the twentieth century, but smaller, rural police forces seldom had the resources or training to take advantage of scientific advancements. Whereas the results of DNA testing were usually considered reliable, such tests could take months without the necessary resources or trained personnel to conduct them. As of 2001 there were still several states with no uniform system of preserving crime scenes and gathering evidence.

Issues in Policing

Because police officers are authorized to use physical force, including deadly force, concerns over the abuse of power have long been a central and justified concern. The ethnic and racial makeup of early police agencies usually mirrored those who held political power, with nonwhites and women generally barred from employment as regular officers. Not until the 1960s did women and minorities became visible as police officers. By 2000, the Justice Department estimated that women and minorities represent around twenty-two percent of the nation's local police force.

Historically, the minority populations of urban areas have experienced strained relations with the police. In the 1850s, so-called nativist movements fought the inclusion of immigrants on police forces in Chicago and New York. Although police squads protected black residents from white mobs during the 1940s and 1950s, the 1960s brought race riots, including those in Chicago after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., which left nine people dead, and the 1965 riots in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts, which left four dead. Riots broke out in Los Angeles in 1992 after the not-guilty verdict in the case against four white police officers who had been videotaped beating Rodney King, an African American. New York had also notorious abuse scandals in the late 1990s, including the police torture of the Haitian immigrant Abner Louima in 1997 and the shooting death in 1999 of the West African immigrant Amadou Diallo. Such high-profile cases have spurred a reexamination of police policies and the way internal investigations are conducted.

Although abuse of power by police officers is a legitimate concern, according to a 1999 review of police agency statistics, police officers use force in only 0.2 percent of

their interactions with the public, the majority involving physical force without the use of a weapon.

Police Agencies in the Future

Social science has aided police work just as forensic science has. Most modern metropolitan police forces have adapted to the diverse needs of their communities, with specialized units and creative alternatives to traditional police methods. One of the strongest trends has been toward community policing, an attempt to make police officers more familiar to the residents and merchants of a neighborhood. Community involvement in policing has also influenced the investigation and rectification of police abuse and corruption, with the public demanding a greater role. Fears of "racial profiling," the alleged tendency of police officers to target minority groups, has spawned efforts to educate police about the cultural differences between ethnic and racial groups.

Police reform has been slow, because discussions generally take place at the national level, whereas new policies are drafted by local departments. This situation will almost certainly evolve as the need for interagency cooperation increases, and as federal police agencies work in concert with local agencies to form a national computer database for gathering information and sharing intelligence.


Dulaney, W. Marvin. Black Police in America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.

Riley, Gail Blasser. Miranda v. Arizona: Rights of the Accused. Hillside, N.J.: Enslow, 1994.

U.S. Department of Justice. Home Page available from

Vila, Brian, ed. The Role of Police in American Society: A Documentary History. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999.

Woods, Gerald. The Police in Los Angeles: Reform and Professionalization. New York: Garland, 1993.


See alsoBoston Police Strike ; Los Angeles Riots ; Miranda v. Arizona ; Police Brutality ; Police Power .

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A body sanctioned by local, state, or national government to enforce laws and apprehend those who break them.

The police force as we know it came into being in England in the 1820s when Sir Robert Peel established London's first municipal force. Before that, policing had either been done by volunteers or by soldiers. Police officers in the twenty-first century have technological advantages at their disposal to help them solve crimes, but most rely primarily on training and instinct to do their work.

In the United States, policing was originally done by the "watch system" in which local citizens would go on patrol and look for criminal activity. As cities grew, so did the amount of crime, and it became impossible to control it through volunteers. In the mid-1840s, New York City established the first paid professional police force in the United States. By the end of the nineteenth century, major cities across the nation had their own police forces. Regional police organizations were also established. Federal policing agencies such as the U.S. Park Police (who patrolled national parks), the Postal Inspectors (who helped ensure safe mail delivery) and the Border Patrol (which kept criminals from sneaking into or out of the country) were introduced. In 1905, Pennsylvania established the nation's first state police; other states quickly followed suit.

During the first decades of the twentieth century, police forces were established in smaller municipalities, and police officers took a more active role in fighting crime and protecting citizens. The widespread introduction of telephones and automobiles made it easier for police to respond quickly to emergencies.

Over the ensuing years, many of the techniques and tools commonly associated with police work—mug shots, fingerprint analysis, centralized records, crime labs—were introduced and constantly improved. Although the scenarios commonly created by television police shows are exaggerations of how much technology can actually do, such innovations as DNA testing have made it easier for the police to positively identify criminals.

The average duties of the modern police officer can vary widely from community to community. In a large city whose police force has dozens of divisions and neighborhood precincts, an officer's duties may be quite specialized. In a small town with a police force of only a few people, each officer will likely have to know how to do several jobs to be able to fill in for their colleagues as needed.

The duties of a police officer on the New York City police force provide an example of what the police do. New York officers are expected to patrol their assigned area, either by car or on foot. They apprehend criminals or crime suspects, stop crimes in progress, and assist people who are in trouble (such as complainants in domestic disputes or emotionally disturbed homeless individuals). They investigate crimes and crime scenes, collect evidence, and interview victims and witnesses. They help find missing persons and handle cases of alleged child abuse. They help identify and recover stolen property, and they testify in court as necessary. They also keep detailed records of their activity by filing reports and filling out various forms.

Police officers are expected to be in good physical condition. They may have to run after a suspect, carry injured individuals, subdue suspects (who may be armed or physically strong), and carry heavy equipment. They may have periods of extreme physical activity, followed by hours of no activity at all (perhaps just sitting in a patrol car for several hours). They must also be mentally alert and emotionally able to withstand the strain of their work. Although officers in large cities or dangerous neighborhoods may have a statistically higher chance of being injured on killed on the job, all police officers know that life-and-death situations can happen anywhere.

Not accidentally, police departments, especially those in large cities, are compared to military institutions. In fact, the police and the military have a number of goals in common, including discipline, endurance, teamwork, and clearly established procedures for all operations. Even the ranks given police officers are similar to those in the military.

Not surprisingly, police officers are required to undergo often rigorous training before being sworn in. The movement for formalized training began early in the twentieth century. August Vollmer, chief of police in Berkeley, California, from 1905 to 1932, believed that police officers needed professional training at the college level. He helped found a police training academy at the University of California's Berkeley campus, and Berkeley later established the nation's first college-level criminology department. Today, many colleges and universities have criminology departments and offer degrees in criminal justice. Many police departments will provide tuition reimbursement or scholarships to officers who want to continue their education after they have joined the force. Some officers get their law degrees; others get advanced degrees in criminology and become college instructors.

One of the major goals of many police departments is getting cooperation from within the community. Many officers receive training in communications, and most police departments have public affairs divisions that provide information for citizens who wish to organize neighborhood watch programs or who want to get information on avoiding crime. Some police departments, for example, have increased their foot patrols, believing that the officer "walking the beat" makes people feel safer and also builds rapport with local individuals. Police also work with each other as well as with other law enforcement agencies. State, county, and local police will often come together to solve a crime that falls within their jurisdiction. Agencies such as the federal bureau of investigation, the secret service, the Coast Guard, and others also work with the police to help solve crimes. The emergence of computerized records and databases make it easy for police organizations across the country and even overseas to exchange information about suspects and criminals. In emergency situations (fires, explosions, or natural disasters), police officers work in tandem with fire fighters, medical professionals, or emergency service workers.

further readings

Bittner, Egon. 1990. Aspects of Police Work. Boston: Northeastern Univ. Press.

Das, Dilip K., and Arvind Verma. 2000. Police Mission: Challenges and Responses. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press.

Kelling, George L., and Catherine Coles. 1996. Fixing Broken Windows: Restoring Order and Reducing Crime in Our Communities. New York: Free Press.

Wadman, Robert C. 2004. To Protect and to Serve: A History of Police in America. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall.


Federal Bureau of Investigation; Police Power.

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police. For years Britons resisted having a proper police force, because they associated it with repression, especially of the French kind. They also feared it would raise their rates. This was despite rampant crime in the 18th cent., which in the absence of police was dealt with by draconian penalties, especially death, designed to deter. In the more humane 19th cent., however, the sight of poor folk being strangulated for minor offences became less acceptable, and other methods of crime prevention were sought. The middle classes also worried about public order, in an era (c.1790–1820) of serious riot and rebellion. Their only recourse was the army, backed up by even tougher sanctions. That could be counter-productive. Peterloo, for example, and the Cato Street executions set people against the government. A gentler means of public control was required.

Sir Robert Peel devised his first police bill while chief secretary for Ireland, leading to the creation of the Irish Constabulary in 1822. In 1829 he persuaded Parliament to accept something similar (though not so militaristic) for London, to be called the Metropolitan Police. For its first years it was clearly on trial. Its commissioners, therefore, proceeded cautiously. All policemen were put in a distinctive uniform, so that they could not be taken for ‘spies’. They were unarmed, except for short batons. Rules of conduct were demanding. Of its first 2,800 recruits, 2,238 were dismissed from the force, sometimes for simply taking a drink or a nap. But it worked. The police became accepted by a suspicious middle class, and eventually by large numbers of the working classes too. They may have deterred crime (though figures are unreliable; and other factors, like rising prosperity, were active). They developed methods of dealing with public demonstrations which were subtle but effective. Other areas of the country called the ‘Met’ in to help. After 1833 they were permitted to set up their own forces, on the London model. Most did. Those which did not were finally made to by Acts of 1856 (England and Wales) and 1857 (Scotland).

Another later development was the growth of a plain clothes detective branch. That began in London in 1842, but consisted initially of only eight men. They tended to be distrusted. In 1877 a scandal implicated three of the detective branch's four inspectors in a turf fraud they were supposed to be investigating. That provoked a shake-up, out of which the present-day Criminal Investigation Department was born in 1878. In the 1880s the latter spawned the police's first political arm: a ‘Special Branch’ formed initially to look after Irish-American Fenian bombers, but later extended to anarchists, suffragettes, and other sources of irritation to the government. The same period saw the police taking on other duties: regulating vice, drink, and gambling, for example, and watching out for foreign spies.

The police's most controversial role has always been its public order one. Its problem was that keeping order in times of civil unrest could be interpreted as acting for the state against the democracy. Strikes were the most difficult case. The 1890s, 1920s, and 1980s saw the police brought into the political arena in this way. In 1918 they had a strike of their own, which created another kind of concern. In general, the British police have maintained their image of being ‘consensual’, though periodically accused of racism.

Bernard Porter

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police, public and private agents concerned with the enforcement of law, order, and public protection. In modern cities their duties cover a wide range of activities, from criminal investigation and apprehension to crime prevention, traffic regulation, and maintenance of records. In many countries they also have a political function (see secret police). The foundations of the present English metropolitan police system were formulated in 1829 by Sir Robert Peel (see Scotland Yard). On the North American frontier, before the government was well organized, vigilance committees (see vigilantes) functioned as volunteer police. The Texas Rangers and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are examples of organizations that function especially in large, sparsely populated areas. The colonies maintained constables, and this office survives in the rural sheriff. Regular police forces appeared in many states after the establishment (1844) of the New York City organization. Administration of the police system varies in different countries. In Europe, especially on the Continent, it tends to be centralized. In the United States there is decentralization: Metropolitan police have the widest functions, and state police are chiefly concerned with traffic control and rural protection. Police agents of the federal government include members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, agents of the Dept. of Homeland Security (including the members of the Secret Service, who guard the president and certain other public figures), and agents of the Dept. of Justice. The fight against crime on the international level is coordinated by the International Criminal Police Commission, popularly known as Interpol.

See J. Cramer, The World's Police (1964); H. Hahn, ed., Police in Urban Society (1971); H. K. Becker, Police Systems of Europe (1973); D. H. Bayley, Patterns of Policing: A Comparative International Perspective (1985); J. Roach and J. Thomaneck, ed., The Police and Public Order in Europe (1985); J. D. Brewer et al., The Police, Public Order and the State (1988); D. J. Kenney, ed., Police and Policing (1988).

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po·lice / pəˈlēs/ • n. [treated as pl.] (usu. the police) the civil force of a national or local government, responsible for the prevention and detection of crime and the maintenance of public order. ∎  members of a police force: there are fewer women police than men. ∎  an organization engaged in the enforcement of official regulations in a specified domain: transit police | fig., humorous the fashion police. • v. [tr.] [often as n.] (policing) (of a police force) have the duty of maintaining law and order in or for (an area or event). ∎  enforce regulations or an agreement in (a particular area or domain): a UN resolution to use military force to police the no-fly zone. ∎  enforce the provisions of (a law, agreement, or treaty): the regulations will be policed by factory inspectors. ∎  maintain order and neatness in (an area, as a military camp).

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"police." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . 17 Dec. 2017 <>.

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police Body of people concerned with maintaining civil order and investigating breaches of the law. The first independent police force was established in Paris in 1667, becoming a uniformed force in 1829. Britain's first regular professional force was the Marine Police Establishment in 1800. The Metropolitan Police was created by Sir Robert Peel in 1829. The first police force to be established in the USA was the New York City Police Department, formed in 1844.

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police †policy; †civil organization XVI; civil administration regulating public order; civil force appointed to maintain public order XVIII. — F. — medL. polītia for L. polītīa POLITY.
Hence policeman, policewoman XIX.

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"police." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . 17 Dec. 2017 <>.

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policeanis, apiece, Berenice, caprice, cassis, cease, coulisse, crease, Dumfries, fils, fleece, geese, grease, Greece, kris, lease, Lucrece, MacNeice, Matisse, McAleese, Nice, niece, obese, peace, pelisse, piece, police, Rees, Rhys, set piece, sublease, surcease, two-piece, underlease •mantelpiece • headpiece • hairpiece •tailpiece • Greenpeace •chimney piece • frontispiece •timepiece • codpiece • crosspiece •mouthpiece • showpiece • earpiece •masterpiece •centrepiece (US centerpiece) •altarpiece • workpiece • ambergris •calabrese

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