General History of Policing

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General History of Policing

In our own century it was the revolutionary romantic, not the professional policeman, who glorified the omnipotence of Lenin's security chief Feliks Dzerzhinsky; the layman, not the specialist, who dreamt of government so meticulously engineered that its police could monitor the conversations of all passengers on every express train criss-crossing the continent at any hour. (Liang 1992)

In this brief historical examination of the history of policing since the eighteenth century it has been necessary to make a number of generalizations. This is particularly true when discussing the secret police forces that were central to many totalitarian regimes in the twentieth century. There is a tendency in police literature to associate countries with one or two manifestations of policing. John D. Brewer noted in his investigation of South African policing that the greatest focus is placed on the South African Police, thus ignoring "other functionally compatible forces, such as the old South African Mounted Riflemen, railway police, mines police, the location police employed by the Native Affairs Commission, and latterly, Black forces in the homelands and townships" (Brewer 1994). Similar conclusions can also be applied to a number of police systems surveyed in this short overview. The intentions of this essay are to portray the complexities and experiments that have forged modern policing and to present a jumping-off point for anyone wanting to explore individual police forces in more detail.

It is beyond the scope of this introductory essay to offer the complete history of policing throughout the world. Rather, this essay is an attempt to trace the origins and major developments in police institutions since around 1700. Due to the expansion of the British Empire during this period, common law developments take up much of this examination, since British police institutions influenced the development of police institutions in countries as far-flung as South Africa, India, Australia, and Canada. Other important developments came out of continental Europe and Asia—these will be noted as well.

A perusal of police systems around the world demonstrates a remarkable diversity of police organizations. Some are religious in nature, or at least inspired by religion, such as Saudi Arabia's religious police, the mutawwiun, and the Ottoman Empire's police system. Others are based on legal traditions or are heavily influenced by ideology and political theory, such as the former Soviet KGB and the secret police networks in Cuba, North Korea, and China. The common law legal system has exerted its influence on police systems around the world, bringing common law policing to Singapore, Kenya, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, while also indirectly influencing developments in policing in postwar Japan and many other countries.

Any comparison between city police in Tokyo, Moscow, Los Angeles, and London results in probably more similarities than differences. Regardless of the nature of policing around the world in the twenty-first century, police organizations share more common traits than ever. With the advent of sophisticated crime and terrorist networks, police battle the enemies of social order on a number of fronts, in many cases sharing a common enemy while thousands of miles apart. Police organizations also share many of the same frustrations, whether in Africa, Asia, or the Americas; jurisdictional disputes and turf squabbles continue to plague police organizations, large or small, coordinated or uncoordinated, centralized or decentralized.

Any meaningful examination into the origins and history of policing is shackled by the almost universal emphasis on 1829 and the establishment of the London Metropolitan Police. But, speaking for a number of scholars, police historian Philip Rawlings suggests that "the history of the police that is emerging" is much more complex than that, demonstrating that the history of policing "is one of diversity, both before and after 1829, and of slow evolutionary change" (Rawlings 2002). While Rawlings's work focuses on Great Britain, his statement can also be applied to the wider world of police.

The term police can be traced back to the Greek politeia, which alluded to all the affairs that affected the survival and order of the state. By the 1700s, European states used la police (French) and die Polizei (German) to refer to the internal administration, safety, protection, and surveillance of a territory. While the English eschewed the word police because of its absolutist connotations, the term gained increasing currency in France during the Napoleonic era. The term police was probably imported into England from France at the beginning of the eighteenth century and initially referred to good government through the introduction of sanitation, street lighting, and the like.

Any definition of policing prior to the modern era is problematic, due in part to the broad range of duties expected of so-called police in previous centuries. Regardless of their tasks, police duties were typically performed through mutual obligation by community members. Even in preliterate societies, individuals were often expected to act in a police capacity, whether bringing to justice a malefactor who threatened a community, or exercising personal vengeance prior to judicial institutions.

The tithing system was an early example of community law enforcement in Anglo-Saxon England. From the era of King Alfred (849–899), the main responsibility for keeping the peace fell upon each community through a well-understood principle of social obligation. Each tithing was essentially a collection of ten families, with each member inextricably linked by a pledge to be answerable to the lawful behavior of the other members of the tithing group. A world away in ancient China, a system similar developed in which order and security was maintained through clansmen. One deeply ingrained notion that persisted in China was that everyone should participate in the creation of order. As early as the 1100s, one Chinese writer described mutual responsibility as "when one family has a robber and cannot seize him themselves, then the group of neighbors is to arrest him." Similar developments heralded the evolution of law enforcement throughout the world prior to the Industrial Revolution of the early nineteenth century.

Until the eighteenth century, military and paramilitary police forces were the rule rather than the exception. In 1285 England's Statute of Winchester codified a variety of time-tested notions about early law enforcement. Many of these had been developing for decades but had not yet been formally introduced by statute. Among the most noteworthy in terms of policing was the system of watch and ward, which introduced the town watchman, a fixture in urban life until the birth of modern policing some six centuries later. According to the Statute of Winchester, most English towns were required to maintain a watch of up to sixteen men. Watchmen were to be stationed at the walled gates of town between the hours of sunset and sunrise and all strangers within their jurisdiction (city limits) were to be confined during the hours of darkness. An unpaid, unprofessional position, all ambulatory men were required to participate as volunteers.


The origins of policing in continental Europe can be traced back to the Middle Ages, but major developments took place in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that laid the foundations for modern state police systems. By the middle of the eighteenth century, Europe's absolutist rulers, seeking a modern police force, looked to France, where Paris was considered the best policed city in Europe. European continental innovations stemming from Napoleonic France have had a dramatic impact on the development of centralized state policing throughout the world. Police historian Clive Emsley reported an exchange in which one lieutenant of the Paris police boasted that "when three persons gathered for a conversation, one of them was sure to be his agent."

By the 1790s, police states in Europe that were characterized by secret and oppressive police strategies flourished in the Hapsburg police system, which was considered the most centralized in Europe. At the Congress of Vienna (1814–1815), Czar Alexander I (1777–1825) of Russia was so impressed by the Austrian police (both civil and military) that he arranged for members of the Russian embassy staff in Vienna to draw up recommendations for the formation of gendarme regiments in Russia based on the Austrian model. It was not long before Russian gendarmes (often referred to as mounted police) were operating alongside the army under the direction of police commanders in Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

In the eighteenth century, continental police functions transcended the traditional duties conducted by common law police. When police specialist Raymond Fosdick (1915) surveyed European police systems in the early 1900s, he noted that Prussia even had special forces devoted to individual tasks, including Insurance Police, Mining Police, Water and Dike Police, Field and Forest Police, Cattle Disease Police, Hunting Police, Fisheries Police, Building Police, and so forth. All of these forces represented state functions and were responsible to state oversight, with nary a governmental activity unregulated by the police.

City police functions were no less comprehensive in Prussia. In Berlin, for example, the police president issued ordinances regulating the color of automobiles, the length of hatpins, and methods of purchasing fish and fowl. In both Germany and Austria, police had the power to frame rules and ordinances regulating the conduct of citizens, as well as limited powers to punish individuals.

The three classical European police states that preceded what would become the most famous police state in Russia were located in Prussia, France, and Austria. Their legal systems were mainly established to furnish order and stability. By the 1840s, most police states came under liberal attack and were gradually reformed into justice states or law states featuring a separation of powers—an independent judiciary and a commitment to rule of law.


As early as the 1890s, the French writer Anatole Leroy-Beaulieu (1842–1912) noted that "in no country has the police presence been more powerful than Russia under the Tsars" (Leroy-Beaulieu 1894). By the twentieth century, Russia was probably the most policed nation on earth. The word police was used for the first time in Russian legislation by Peter the Great (1672–1725) when he set up a police administration for Saint Petersburg in 1718. This force was not a separately organized force, nor was it similar to contemporary police systems in Europe. The greatest influence on the force stemmed from the Paris police model founded by Louis XIV (1638–1715) in the 1660s. By 1666, the police position of lieutenant-general of police for Paris had been established. The fourteen men who would hold this position between 1666 and 1789 were responsible for a variety of administrative and judicial tasks, including controlling prices, weights, and measures; inspecting markets; apprehending criminals; and conducting surveillance of suspected traitors.

French police origins can be traced back to the sixteenth century. Three hundred years later, mounted gens d'armes and archers consolidated to form the nucleus of what eventually became known as the gendarmie (which became slang for police officers on the Continent). Referring to the more recent nineteenth-century creation of British policing, police historian Philip Stead (1957) noted that what set apart French policing from the British model was its "long continuity." A second important variation was the more administrative nature of French policing that brought it more into the realm of civil life. But perhaps the most glaring difference between British policing and the French was that British policing was considered an expression of the community as opposed to being derived from the king. During the French Revolution (1789–1799), a national gendarmie was entrusted with maintaining internal and external security. During the Napoleonic Wars of the early 1800s, many countries within the French orbit adopted similar police units.

The gendarmie model of policing influenced France's neighbors Italy and Spain—most notably in Italy's Carabinieri and in Spain's Guardia Civil. Clive Emsley explained that the reason England did not adopt this model was because England's insular nature led to less involvement in conflicts with its neighbors during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

In 1799 Napoléon I (1769–1821) appointed Joseph Fouché (1759–1820) as the minister of the general police of the Republic of France. His ministry was considered mostly political in nature and he was reportedly unconcerned with such ordinary police matters as vice and street lighting. From the start, Fouché demonstrated a remarkable acumen well suited to police work. Considered the "father of police intelligence operations," during his tenure he reorganized the Paris police, initiating the prefecture system that exists to this day. Fouché is credited with establishing a centralized police force that was responsible to the national government. His administrative innovations included setting up police departments that were proportional to the populations of various urban units. Over time, he became a proponent of preventive policing, anticipating by three decades some of the principles of British statesman Robert Peel (1788–1850).


By the end of the eighteenth century, policing in London was for the most part still the domain of the parish constables, watchmen, and other amateurs. Most visitors to Europe would consider London more disorderly and less safe than Paris, or even Munich, which one historian described as "well policed" as early as the late 1780s. Despite the relative effectiveness of police in Paris and Munich, most English residents would favor the rampant disorder of London and other English environs rather than give up their cherished freedoms and make the transition to a more oppressive regime.

In the eighteenth century, English reformers visualized a police system that would be more preventive in nature. Much of the early groundwork for the London Metropolitan Police was laid by the Fielding brothers. Henry Fielding (1707–1754), best-known for his picaresque novel Tom Jones (1749), left the literary world because of censorship restrictions and began work as a magistrate in 1748. During his six-year tenure at this post, he implemented several policies that led to increased safety on the streets of London. He introduced the Bow Street Runners (initially "Mr. Fielding's People"), a specially formed group of six to eighty constables who ran to the aid of crime victims and pursued malefactors (in order to earn rewards for their capture). Fielding demonstrated remarkable foresight in police matters in his 1751 essay, An Enquiry into the Causes of the Late Increase of Robbers, which called for a professional, full-time police force. One of his first goals as police magistrate was to stem the corruption emanating from the Bow Street office. Fielding funded the publication of The Covent-Garden Journal, a precursor to the Scotland Yard Police Gazette, which was dedicated to educating the public about the rising crime problem. But he still faced reluctance on the part of the public to welcome a professional police force.

Following the death of Henry Fielding in 1754, his campaign for professional policing was taken up by his half-brother John Fielding (1721–1780). Blinded at age 19, John succeeded Henry as magistrate and head of the Bow Street Runners in 1754. His 1755 pamphlet, Plan for Preventing Robberies within Twenty Miles of London, explained his strategy for breaking up organized gangs of criminals, which had plagued the periphery of London for decades. Three years later, he oversaw the publication of a similar pamphlet, An Account of the Origin and Effects of a Police Set on Foot by the Duke of Newcastle on a Plan Suggested by the Late Henry Fielding. An astonishing detective despite his visual impairment, Fielding, sometimes referred to as the "Blind Beak," reportedly could identify hundreds of criminals by voice alone. During his tenure with Bow Street, he made this office the official police headquarters with two officers always posted at the ready to pursue highwaymen. Despite the entreaties of the Fielding brothers, their vision for policing was ahead of its time by almost a half century.

In 1792 English justice of the peace Patrick Colquhoun (1745–1820) became interested in police reform through the work of the Fielding brothers and after detailed conversations with English philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832). Colquhoun's investigations led him to write a Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis, published in 1797. Among the more important police concepts laid out in the book was the idea of crime prevention, a radical departure for the traditionally reactive police establishment of Europe. Colquhoun was perhaps one of the greatest influences on Sir Robert Peel, credited with creating the first modern police force in 1829. Colquhoun was also credited with the creation of the Thames River Police in 1789. In 1800 his Treatise on the Commerce and Police of the River Thames saw publication. His writings led to improved police professionalism and the first systematic examination of crime costs and origins. An advocate of paid professional policing and of recruitment and management under a central authority free of political interference, he spurred police reform and introduced new solutions to maintaining public order in an era of urbanization and industrialization.


Although Robert Peel has received most of the credit for developing modern policing, some scholars subscribe to the belief that he deserves credit more for introducing the bill that inaugurated the London Metropolitan Police experiment and for his selection of Sir Charles Rowan (1783–1852) and Sir Richard Mayne (d. 1868), who actually organized and planned the new police force following Parliament's passage of the Metropolitan Police Act of 1829. Regardless of who deserves the credit, the establishment of the London Metropolitan Police replaced the age-old system of the night watch with regularly paid, full-time officers. Under the direction of Rowan and Mayne, the force overcame the trepidation of the public about a strong police force by improving community relations and reinforcing its image as a civilian police force.


While it is almost impossible to find a comprehensive translation for the term police in Chinese, there are at least two different translations. Public security organs, or gong'an jiguan, is the formal term for all police organizations from the high ministerial to the lowest local level, while jingcha refers to the substantive duties of vigilance and investigation. Chinese police traditions predate Robert Peel's model by more than two thousand years, originating in the Shang era (1700–1100 b.c.e.), a millennium before China became a single state. During this preimperial period, clans formed the most important social structure, and, like the Anglo-Saxon tithing system, clansmen maintained order and security through self-policing. The Chinese system of mutual responsibility can be traced back to legalist reformer Shang Yang (d. 338 b.c.e.). His advice was taken to heart when the people of the rapidly expanding Qin kingdom (third century b.c.e.) were organized into groups of fives and tens mutually to control one another and share one another's punishments. By mandating this system of mutual trust the seeds were sown for the mutual mistrust of neighbors and associates that became a hallmark of China's twentieth-century police state.

In the thirteenth century, rising crime led to a demand for more social control. Much in the way that modern peace officers claim that more police means less crime, the Chinese also believed this unproven axiom. But, from a medieval perspective, Chinese prescience is striking, particularly when increased emphasis was placed on employing a better quality of officer. China historian Brian McKnight noted the high esteem of the Italian traveler Marco Polo (1254–ca. 1324) for Chinese order when he visited there in the thirteenth century. Polo noted that Beijing "was so safe that the doors of houses and shops and stores full with expensive merchandise, remained unlocked day and night, and yet nothing was missed. One could freely travel throughout the empire by day and night and never be harassed" (McKnight 1992).

In the 1600s, a northeastern tribe known as the Manchu invaded China with the support of a formidable number of civil servants who had been disenfranchised during the previous Ming dynasty (1368–1644). The Manzu have been credited with reforming and strengthening the peasant civilian police system—and for the first time in Chinese history, the country had a nationwide police system complemented by a network of plainclothes policemen who kept tabs on the lives of Chinese citizens. By the early eighteenth century, this system was used in a number of capacities, including such official tasks as census reporting, surveillance, and registration activities. Like czarist Russia, public places such as hotels, temples, and shrines were expected to keep tabs on guests. As the century wore on, rapid mobility and population growth pushed this system into obsolescence.

In 1901 a proclamation was issued ordering the establishment of police brigades in every province. At the same time, Chinese police reformers concluded that the creation of a modern police force based on Western and Japanese models could go a long way toward counterbalancing the power of elites and local gentry. In 1902 a 500-man police force was established southwest of Beijing and provided with its own training academy.

Japanese and Western policing would exert tremendous influence on the development of Chinese policing. The Japanese were so influential that the Chinese word for police—jingcha—originated from the Japanese keisatsu. The Japanese influence indirectly brought European traditions into China in the early 1900s as well.

In 1871, following the Meiji Restoration in Japan, Tokyo made the transition from a system of constables to a metropolitan police force. The following year, Toshiyoshi Kawaji was sent to Europe to study contemporary police systems. He returned in 1873 with a program of reorganization based on German and French police systems. What he learned strongly influenced the Tokyo Police Academy, and during its first six years more than one thousand sergeants and inspectors matriculated through the program. The Japanese police system would serve as a model for the Chinese until the late 1920s, after which German police advisers would play an increasingly important role. But the first efforts at police modernization in China at the turn of twentieth century were quite different from advances that would be made under the Nationalist regime two decades later.

The 1930s saw the new Nationalist government set up its own police corps. President Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kaishek, 1887–1975) was reportedly an admirer of Prussian and Austrian policing. In fact, the Chinese word for public security, gong'an, is rooted in the German translation öffentliche Sicherheit. The Nationalist Penal Code described the duties and powers of the police. Harking back to medieval Chinese self-policing, police control under Jiang Jieshi was exercised at the neighborhood level through a network of small-scale precinct stations.

Influenced by centralized police activities in Japan and Europe, efforts were soon in place to standardize Chinese practices, increase the number of officers and police budgets, and introduce a uniform fingerprinting system. There is a bit of historical irony here, in that a system of fingerprint identification had been used in China centuries earlier as a way for illiterate individuals to sign contracts. So while the Chinese had been acquainted with the types of patterns in fingerprints for hundreds of years, they did not take the lead in developing a system of classification.

As Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) consolidated his power in Germany in the 1930s, Jiang cultivated contacts with German advisers and in 1933 sent a delegation to Berlin to study German military organization. At the same time, Jiang allowed Prussian police experts who had fallen out of Hitler's favor to teach at military and police academies in China. Over the next five years, a number of Nationalist police officers were sent to Berlin and Vienna to study German policing. However, most of these students were barred from courses outside basic instruction on crime detection and precinct duty. Chafing at these restrictions, Jiang intervened to allow three of his subordinates to train with Heinrich Himmler's (1900–1945) security squads (Schutzstaffel, or SS) and the secret police in 1936. As recently as the 1970s, some of these former trainees, then living in Taiwan, looked back wistfully to this period, exalting German "efficiency and lawfulness."

Despite the influence of Japanese and German advisers, the Chinese regarded the Americans as the authority when it came to professional organization and training. Apparently, there was mutual admiration being traded between the two cultures, since according to one of the biographers of Berkeley, California, police reformer August Vollmer (1876–1955), Vollmer was inspired in his quest for better-educated "college cops" by the writings of Confucius (ca. 551–479 b.c.e.). Accorded the sobriquet of "father of police professionalism," Vollmer placed great faith in the Confucian adage: "The successful administration of any government depends entirely on the selection of proper men." In the early 1930s, one Vollmer protégé even served a stint as adviser to the Nanking Ministry of Interior.

Prior to the overthrow of Jiang's Nationalist government in 1949, the police force, including officers in Taiwan (Formosa) and mainland China, numbered almost one million. Little is known as to how many Nationalist police made the transition to Communist rule. Many officers took a wait-and-see approach. By most accounts, the remnants of the Nationalist Public Safety Bureau were successful in making the leap. There is enough evidence to suggest that the Communist police made impressive strides in clearing the streets of peddlers, restoring traffic control, suppressing robbery and prostitution, and ending opium addiction. In the end, it would take the transfer of power to the Communists to achieve most of the goals promised by the Nationalists. It can only be assumed that similar developments took place in other countries that made the transition to Communist rule in the twentieth century. Secret policing became the hallmark of policing in totalitarian and autocratic countries during the twentieth century.


With close to twenty thousand different police forces, the United States exemplifies decentralization in policing, in stark contrast to the centralized model that dominates most of the world's forces. British, French, Spanish, and Dutch colonies left their imprints on the American criminal justice system, but none was more influential in determining the course of policing as the British.

Like its precursors in Europe, early American law enforcement was the bailiwick of unskilled amateurs. There was little innovation in the early colonies, with most preferring what they were familiar with: some incarnation of the English constable and the county sheriff. Between 1608 and the end of the American Revolution, most American sheriffs and constables were appointed by colonial governors and performed the same tasks as their English counterparts.

Law enforcement figured little in the discussions of the Founding Fathers. The only mention of law enforcement in the U.S. Constitution is the power of the president during times of national emergencies. Historian David R. Johnson suggested that "there was no debate … as to whether the new nation should have a national police force, because such an idea did not occur to them" (Johnson 1981). This had important ramifications for future developments in American policing, which became increasingly decentralized over the next two centuries. As the nation struggled with the forces of urbanization and industrialization during the early nineteenth century, communities created civil police forces, making the transition from amateur unpaid watchmen to more formal arrangements. In the first years of the new century, Boston became the first city to require by statute a permanent night watch.

In 1844 New York City's traditional night watch was legislated out of existence and replaced with a new system comprised of separate day and night police forces, making New York the first city to merge its day and night forces into a uniformed police department along the lines of the Peel model. Between 1870 and 1900, most large American cities established professional police forces.

During the first half of the nineteenth century, federal policing was mainly the domain of the U.S. Marshal's Service. In 1865 this organization was joined by the U.S. Secret Service at the federal level to fight a growing counterfeiting problem. Throughout most of the nineteenth century, there was little support for state policing. Americans favored decentralization of policing in an era that placed considerable value on a republican ideology that espoused local control of policing—hence, the development of municipal, county, and state law enforcement entities.

At the turn of the twentieth century, urban governments increasingly came to grips with the partisan manipulation of police agencies. An effort to replace partisan police boards with professional police chiefs was an important step toward police professionalism during the first decades of the twentieth century. Police chiefs such as Berkeley's August Vollmer and Cleveland, Ohio's Fred Kohler (1869–1933) rose to prominence after introducing a number of progressive reforms. Vollmer is considered the originator of the modern American police organization. Among his achievements was establishing a departmental code of ethics, introducing requirements that police officers attend college, and instituting the use of lie detectors and motorcycle and automobile patrols.

State policing gained increased support due to the ineffectiveness of county law enforcement and the rise in labor conflicts between 1910 and 1915. Between 1915 and 1923, twenty-seven states created some type of state police force. Although some created highway patrols in response to the growing popularity of the automobile by citizens and criminals, others adhered to the Pennsylvania paramilitary model of policing. The onset of the Great Depression stimulated the state police movement, leading to the creation of fifteen state police units between 1929 and 1941. Of these, twelve followed the highway patrol model. A new pattern also developed in which earlier state police forces were reorganized into larger forces. Managing to stay above the political fray and maintaining good relations with the public was important; according to police historian David R. Johnson, "until the 1940s, at least, the state police were America's elite lawmen" (Johnson 1981).

Perhaps the greatest development in policing in the 1920s and 1930s was the growing involvement of the federal government in law enforcement, as witnessed by the expansion of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service, the Customs Service, and the precursor agencies of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.

The 1940s and 1950s saw police departments across the nation continue the trend toward professionalization. Police reformers such as William H. Parker (1902–1966) in Los Angeles and Orlando W. Wilson (1900–1972) in Chicago personified the model of professional, impartial law enforcement. By 2001 most major police departments had adopted the "community-based" policing philosophy, demonstrating a dramatic shift from traditional reactive policing to a more proactive approach. No police strategy was more influential than the "broken windows" thesis espoused by the criminal justice and public policy experts James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling. But, despite a movement from reactive to proactive policing, there is little evidence that the new policy was responsible for the drop in crime in the 1990s. In addition, civil libertarians and police critics cite the emergence of paramilitary SWAT teams in police departments across the nation as an alarming departure from the community policing model.


One of the oldest police traditions still in use is the horse-mounted police patrol. Despite the introduction of police automobiles and motorcycles, mounted police still thrive. But, unlike earlier years when they were required to patrol hundreds of miles of sparsely populated terrain, they have found new life in urban areas of the greatest population density. While it is unknown when the first horse was used in a police action, most historians trace the utilization of mounted forces in law enforcement to the Articles of War of King Charles I (1600–1649) of England, published in 1629, which ordered that the provost be allowed a horse, "for he must be riding from one garrison to another correcting many, lest the soldiers scathe the country and frighten the people" (Carfield 1995). Although Australia and Texas established mounted patrol units in the 1820s, credit should probably be given to London's 1805 Horse Patrol as the earliest formal mounted police force.

Beginning in 1758, the London Bow Street police established the Mounted Branch of the Metropolitan Police in Great Britain with the introduction of "two Persuit [sic] horses and proper Persuers." Over the next few years, John Fielding implemented his Plan for Preventing Robberies within Twenty Miles of London, which included a regular force of mounted men charged with crime prevention and criminal apprehension along the turnpikes leading into London proper.

By 1805 the Bow Street Horse Patrol consisted of fifty-two men and animals charged with patrolling main roads up to twenty miles outside London. Like most twentieth-century incarnations of the mounted police, officers came from the military, typically the cavalry (until 1939). They were housed in cottages near the patrol routes. Each man was equipped with a saber, pistol, handcuffs, and a truncheon, and with their scarlet waistcoats, white leather coats, and steel-spurred Wellingtons, they were a sight to behold and were not surprisingly referred to with the monikers "Redbreasts" and "Robin Red Breasts." But the Bow Street Horse Patrol diverged from its modern counterparts in one important area: It was not initially involved in dealing with crowds and riots, but was employed mainly in patrolling roads.

By the 1820s, the Bow Street Horse Patrol proved such a success that its numbers were increased and in 1836 it was incorporated into Robert Peel's new disciplined unarmed police force. Before the end of the decade, the Horse Patrol had become an integral cog of the Metropolitan Police.

As rioting and civil disorder increased during the nineteenth century, the mounted police played a crucial role in crowd control. The mounted branch was frequently involved in policing the militant suffragette movement beginning in 1903. By the next decade their duties included controlling other horsemen, holding down strikebreaking violence, patrolling common lands, and escorting members of the monarchy.

In addition to the London mounted police, numerous other communities in England used this type of unit as well. For instance, Newcastle upon Tyne began using horse police in 1836 and, despite the preponderance of cars, still employs a mounted branch of six. They are used primarily for patrolling the parks and woodlands that surround the city. Liverpool employs twenty-seven horses, while Edinburgh still maintains six. While the tendency has been for the mounted forces to decline in numbers since the introduction of motor vehicles, the city of Bristol has actually increased the size of its mounted unit.

The British brought their methods of policing to the far-flung edges of the British Empire as it expanded to the various corners of the world. Australia's New South Wales Mounted Police Division claims to be the oldest continuous mounted police unit in the world. In 1825 the governor of the colony created the unit to suppress the growing bushranging threat and to apprehend runaway convicts in the rural districts. Like most mounted forces, it followed a military model, as well as Robert Peel's London model. Most of the subsequent Australian colonies adopted the mounted patrol model because it was so well adapted to the terrain. Frontier conditions clearly influenced the development of law enforcement in the land down under. Conflict with the indigenous population required the creation of specialized and highly mobile police. The most specialized response to the "Aboriginal problem" in Australia was the formation of the Native Police Forces, which were staffed by native troopers and European officers, a common arrangement in the British Empire. This innovation was initially proposed by penal reformer Alexander Maconochie (1787–1860) in 1837 and combined the advantages of European firepower and horses with aboriginal bush and tracking skills.

Less known were the formidable Native American mounted forces in America's Indian Territory. Each of the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole) referred to its "Lighthorse" units in their tribal law books. Lighthorsemen were authorized to not only enforce court decisions, but also to use their own discretion in upholding the law. The most prominent of the Lighthorse units included the Cherokee Lighthorse, Choctaw Lighthorse, Creek Lighthorse, and Seminole Lighthorse.

As early as 1808, the Cherokee nation passed a resolution creating a mounted regulator force to suppress horse stealing, robbery, and other criminal activities. A precursor to the Lighthorse units of the Indian Territory, the Cherokee Lighthorse was first authorized in November 1844. Composed of a captain, lieutenant, and twenty-four mounted officers, the force was charged with pursuing lawbreakers. However, it had little impact until after the American Civil War (1861–1865) because, in the years leading up to the conflict, law enforcement was typically handled by federal sheriffs and their deputies. The other tribes of the Indian Territory would eventually use the Cherokee Lighthorse as a model for creating their own units. The Indian mounted forces were often at odds with U.S. law enforcement agencies because of jurisdictional conflicts during the nineteenth century.

Like most colonial forces of the British Empire, in the rural areas of the British African colonies the Cape Mounted Police, Cape Mounted Riflemen, Natal Mounted Police, and the Zululand Mounted Police were inspired by the early Royal Irish Constabulary model, based on military discipline and command structure. Divorced from the local population and staffed by British officers, these rural-based forces were paramilitary in nature, allowing them to be easily transformed into military units in time of war, something that occurred often during nineteenth-century colonial expansion. The policeman-soldier tradition can be readily discerned in both the British and Afrikaner models of policing.

Formed in 1822, the Cape Mounted Police were the earliest example of the mounted police tradition in South Africa. At their zenith, they numbered eight hundred, two-thirds of whom were Hottentots; they were equipped with smooth-bore double-barreled shotguns, easily loaded on horseback. In 1857 they were disbanded and reconstituted as the frontier Armed and Mounted Police before returning to their original name in 1878.

Following the British victory in the Anglo-Boer War (1899–1902), Major General Robert Baden-Powell (1857–1941) recruited ten thousand men to police South Africa in order to guard against the same social tensions and disintegration that accompanied the Union victory in the American Civil War. Initially, their main task was to gain the confidence of their former adversaries. Police were encouraged to learn the Boer language, Afrikaans. The South African Constabulary was organized into three divisions, and after the succession of hostilities in South Africa was the largest mounted police force in the world with 10,500 members.

Jordan implemented a very different rendition of the mounted police force. Its creation can be traced to the Arab army that emerged victorious from the dominance of the Turks during World War I (1914–1918). Initial attempts were unsuccessful in creating a force that policed the lawless Bedouin people as well as the provincial towns. By the 1930s, several British officers arrived to help bring law and order to the Transjordan region. Chief among them was Lieutenant General Sir John Glubb (1897–1986), who would organize the original Desert Patrol. Unlike other mounted forces that rely on the horse, this one used camels, patrolling the borders for smugglers, opium dealers, and terrorists attempting to gain illegal passage into Jordan. The Camel Corps were scattered in outposts at intervals through the desert. Each patrol was composed of four men and camels. They were typically equipped with crossed bandoliers, a Colt revolver, a rifle, and a curved dagger. In addition to the Camel Corps, there were also gendarmie posts in the countryside that relied on horses. During range patrols they took census of livestock and handled public security.

In the wide expanses of frontier Texas, the ranging tradition of policing in the United States developed in the form of the Texas Rangers. New Mexico and Arizona took similar steps in the early 1900s. In the tradition of the rangers and other frontier mounted police, Mexican president Benito Juárez (1806–1872) founded the Mexican Rural Police Force, or Rurales, in 1861. The Americas were also the home of the world's best-known mounted police—the North-West Mounted Police, founded in 1873 by the Canadian government to police vast areas of western Canada. Renamed the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 1920, this force consisted of more than sixteen thousand peace officers and functioned as the municipal police in about two hundred towns and cities by the beginning of the twenty-first century. Although the Arizona Rangers and the New Mexico Mounted were short-lived units, the Texas Rangers moved into the modern era with less autonomy as part of the reorganized Texas Department of Public Safety in 1935.


The colonial empires of Europe played an influential role in shaping police practices around the world. Beginning in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, nations as diverse as Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, and Spain expanded their spheres of influence beyond continental Europe, and in the process introduced a number of police practices to the far corners of the globe. It would be natural then that yesterday's colonies made the transition to today's nations with police forces that reflect the historical process in each country. Likewise, many powerful nations influenced their neighboring countries as well—witness the carabinieri in Italy, Spain, and France, or the state mounted police forces in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico in the early twentieth century.

Some of the earliest efforts at international police cooperation emanated from Europe. Largely the brainchild of Vienna, Austria, police chief Johann Schober (1874–1932), the International Criminal Police Organization, or Interpol, was envisioned as a panacea for the international crime problem in the aftermath of World War I. Schober believed that if the world's police forces cooperated with each other, they would be more effective in deterring crime within their respective borders and apprehending offenders as the crimes occurred. In 1923 Schober sponsored a world conference of law enforcement officers in Vienna. Initially headquartered in Vienna, the ascendance of Nazi Germany in the 1930s led to an early disbandment of Interpol. But following World War II (1939–1945), Interpol was resurrected and in the following years relocated its central offices to Paris and Lyons, France. Demonstrating the transnational complexion of modern police cooperation, between 1984 and 1989 John Simpson, an American and chief of the U.S. Secret Service, presided as Interpol president.

In many respects, Interpol's efforts at international police cooperation were a harbinger to the Schengen Agreement of the 1980s in which Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands agreed to ensure cooperation in the ever-widening war against transnational crime and terrorism. Among the most important issues addressed by this agreement were the jurisdictional matters related to policing, particularly the sharing of information and how far police could pursue criminals across borders.

Technological advances are poised to take police weaponry into the twenty-first century. Law enforcement has recently emerged as one of the fastest-growing markets for high-tech gadgetry, particularly in the realm of less-than-lethal weapons and tools. The equipment on the drawing board for the twenty-first century includes the snare net, the smart gun, strobe goggles, rear-seat air bags to control arrestees, millimeter wave cameras to detect concealed weapons, and backscatter x-ray scanners for detecting drug shipments. However, what the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States have taught law enforcement is that no matter what weapons are developed, policing is still the purview of police officers and police systems. No matter what technological innovations materialize in the twenty-first century, policing remains adamantly reliant on many of the time-tested traditions of the past. Witness the return of mounted police patrols. Almost forced out of existence by the automobile, since the 1980s mounted units have become a familiar presence in many cities around the world and are considered advantageous for riot control and community relations, as well as for their high visibility. Also demonstrating the cyclical nature of law enforcement innovation is the reinvigorated emphasis on community-oriented policing, which has taken officers from behind the wheel of an automobile and placed them once more on foot in the communities they serve.


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                                              Mitchel P. Roth

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