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Police Officers


People have historically sought some form of protection for their lives and property and to help preserve their welfare. The true origins of police work, however, are virtually unknown. In medieval times, feudal lords employed retainers who made sure taxes were paid. These employees may have attempted to maintain some kind of law and order among the people, but at the same time, they were employed by the lords and often merely enforced their employers' wishes.

Colonial America followed the British form of police organization. A sheriff, appointed by the governor of a colony, enforced laws, collected taxes, and maintained public property throughout the colony. Constables performed similar duties in the cities and towns. Night watchmen protected the cities from fires and crime. However, as cities grew rapidly during the 19th century, a larger, more organized police service was needed to control growing problems with crimes and public disturbances.

In 1829 in London, Sir Robert Peel established the first modern, nonmilitary police force. The British police became known as bobbies after Sir Robert's name. The police force in New York City was established in 1844. These new police forces wore uniforms, worked 24 hours a day, and often carried guns. They patrolled the streets and soon became a fixture in many cities. On the American frontier, however, laws were often enforced by volunteer police officers until regular police forces were established. Sheriffs and sheriff's deputies guarded many areas of the West. An early effort to create a statewide police force resulted in the creation of the Texas Rangers in 1835. In 1905, Pennsylvania formed the first official state police department. Soon, almost every state had a state police department as well as those police units that worked for individual cities or towns.

These early police efforts were often notoriously inadequate. Many police departments were seats of corruption and abuse of authority. Police officers were generally untrained and were often appointed as agents serving the political machine of their city, rather than the people. Efforts to clean up the police departments began in the early decades of the 20th century. Police were expected to be professionals. Higher selection standards and special training programs were instituted, and efforts were made to eliminate the influence of politics on the police department. Command of the police department soon became more centralized, with a chief of police supervising the operations of the entire department. Other ranks were created, such as sergeant and detective. At the same time, scientists working with the police were developing scientific advances in crime detection and prevention, such as fingerprinting.

Today every state has uniformed police. State police operations are customarily confined to unincorporated areas as a matter of policy, although a few states restrict them by statute. In addition, police operate at the federal level in such agencies as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the Drug Enforcement Agency. While the many types of police forces operate independently, they often cooperate to provide more effective law enforcement.