“To protect and to serve”. The first time I remember seeing these words was on a 1960s TV show called Adam 12. A show that followed two police officers that were dedicated to protecting law abiding citizens and who had the respect of those that they served.
We have had recent occurrences where police forces have been demonized and blamed for actions that grand juries found not worthy for trial. Unfortunately several members of leadership within our country has taken a position that has portrayed our police in a less than an admirable appearance.
The first police forces began in China several thousand years ago. As civilization grew so did the need for policing and Greece used publically owned slaves to provide policing in Athens. When Italy became the dominant empire in Europe the military was used for police actions. As Rome grew to over a million inhabitants a series of wards was built and several thousand “vigils” performed both policing and firefighting duties. During the mid-ages the policing was performed by groups within towns and would be similar to an organized vigilante force. Pilgrims to the Holy Land had protection provided by the Knights Templar.
The first modern styled police force appeared in Paris in the mid-1600s. The charter of the French police was “”ensuring the peace and quiet of the public and of private individuals, purging the city of what may cause disturbances, procuring abundance, and having each and every one live according to their station and their duties”. In the 1700s London funded their police force.
The United States began its’ policing activities before it was a sovereign nation. The New York Sheriff’s office was founded in 1845 while the Federal United States Marshalls office was formed in 1898, soon after the Unites States became independent. The American West was less formal than the Eastern Cities and had to rely on under-resourced sheriffs and posies to enforce territorial justice. Private organizations such as the Pinkerton Detective Agencies were hired by private businesses to provide additional protection for their businesses.
Today the police is a body composed of individuals that are empowered to enforce the laws of a state and protect the inhabitants of the state and limit civil disorder. The Federal police forces are chartered to insure that the Federal laws based on the Constitution of the United States are not broken.
The police agencies in the United States have not all ways been the shining beacons of right that we hope it to be. However, under strong leadership with a sense of right these agencies became pillars of what good policing should be.
In 1895 the New York City police was identified as one of the most corrupt forces in America. In that year a new police commissioner was elected in New York. He was characterized as being “”an iron-willed leader of unimpeachable honesty, (who) brought a reforming zeal to the New York City Police Commission.” It was said that he would go out in the middle of the night and early morning hours to insure that police were at their assigned posts. He fought for justice and took on strong individuals that were prominent and were in a position to promote the young commissioner if he would work with them. His integrity would not allow it. Eventually many of these favor seekers who learned that the commissioner was not be bought would live to respect the man that turned the direction of the New York Police Department into what is considered today to be the best police force in the world. The man that threw out police corruption in New York later became Under Secretary of the Navy, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and the Congressional Medal of Honor. He was later sworn in as President of the United States. Theodore Roosevelt provided the leadership that New York needed.
In the late 1920s prohibition produced a black market for illegal alcohol. Chicago was a major crime-infested city that was run by the famous mafia family headed by Al Capone. His influence reached deep into Chicago police force. A federal agent was dispatched to bring down Capone and by so doing began breaking the link between organized crime and the Chicago police department. The agent moved into Chicago and eventually with only eleven fearless and un-corruptible policemen he accomplished his mission. So honest were these men that they were named The Untouchables and Elliot Ness became a house hold name.


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