Law Enforcement

Posted: September 4th, 2013

Law Enforcement






The historical development of police agencies

Within North America, local law enforcement agencies have a core function of enforcement of laws. The history of police agencies dates back to the earlier Roman civilizations that were created solely for protecting the rulers from assassination and other threats. Much later in the Middle Ages around 1600 .D., the watch system that was applied in most communities where volunteers patrolled the streets and guarded cities from sunrise to sunset(Berg, 1998). The watch system consisted of close voluntary supervision of the streets and cities by the residents themselves. At the time, there were vigilante groups that took up watch at their premises to combat crime.

The increasing level of lawlessness caused administrators such as Alfred the Great to come up with strategies like the pledge system in which all citizens were pledging to participate in any kind of community police work. The pledge system was an amended version of the frankpledge that was a system of tithing. Tithing involved collecting all able-bodied men into a group for behavior regulation purposes. If a tithe failed to apprehend an assailant, the whole group was responsible for compensating the injured party. Consequently, the alarm raised by the chief tithing-man that was popularly called the “hue and cry”. The frankpledge system aggregated ten tithings into a “hundred” who were under one constable. The duty of the constable was to mobilize the group of a hundred men and raise their forces.

Such ten “hundreds” made up a “shire” that was supervised by a shire-reeve. Any exemption to this policy had to be ratified by the shire-reeve, the designated appointee to maintain peace. During the Industrial revolution, many race and class riots took place in Europe and America that challenged the workability of the night watch security. Day watchers were also overwhelmed. At some point, well-off individuals created a section of law enforcers called thief-takers. These were individuals who ere contracted to capture criminals. However, realizing their strategic positions, most thief-takers exploited their contracts to get rich.

In return, they would protect the same criminals they were supposed to eliminate. All these failed attempts pitted England, New York and all other urban centers into corruption and lawlessness. Much later around 1750, more institutions that were effective were slowly edging out the watch system. Personal detectives like the famous Bow Street Runners and the Bobbies were well known for their prowess in tracking down criminals. Individuals like Sir Robert Peel introduced professionalism in the maintenance of law and order. These Peelian principles went on to form the foundation by which many police forces and agencies standardize their officers.

Sir Robert proposed standards like discipline, appearance, and fair recruitment of police officers. (Beattie, 2012) This prompted administrators in New York City to start a full-time, independent and salaried police force in 1845. These new police officers had uniforms that distinguished them from the rest of the civilians. Apart from their uniforms, these police officers worked all day and night to regulate normal business disruptions in the city. They were armed with weapons and given the mandate to apprehend law-breakers. It is also during this time when state and federal police agencies began to emerge. The Secret Service and the IRS are the best examples in this period.


Police agencies and their jurisdiction

Jurisdiction can be defined as the area in which a local enforcement agency is restricted to in terms of exercise of power and operations. Typically, jurisdiction covers a specific geographical area that is restricted to a particular agency. Some agencies apply their powers at the country level for example Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, within a country or province or across a collection of many states for example Interpol. At this higher level involving many countries, such agencies mainly offer advisory and coordinative services to other domestic agencies. Law enforcement agencies that operate within a division in a country are referred to as local police.

Law enforcement agencies have their jurisdictions divided according to geographical locations for administrative purposes. At the country level, the two agencies operating in the United States are either federal or national. Federal law enforcement agencies have different responsibilities. They are responsible for regulating immigration and border traffic, the protection of national infrastructure, national security and protection of important country officials like the head of state. Federal police agencies also have the regular police responsibilities for example maintenance of law and order alongside general safety. They however do not exercise their authority at the lower levels i.e. divisions. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I) is the prominent example of a federal agency in USA.

State enforcement agencies operate within their specific states. Their main functions include investigations into criminal activities and regular patrols on the state’s borders. State police are part of the Department of Public Safety and work closely with the Bureau of Investigation found in the Attorney General’s office within the same state. Within these states, other enforcement divisions are not state police for instance campus police or departments of correction. These other agencies work hand in hand with the state police. The Alabama, North Dakota and Texas Highway patrols are some examples of state police.
The lowest category of law enforcers is the county police. Their jurisdictions cover the different counties found within states. For smaller and less developed areas, the Sherriff’s office provides the security services for the people in a certain county. The Sherriff acts as both the county police and the sheriff in most situations. In some counties, municipal police operate under the sheriffs within the various counties. Many towns and cities have their own municipal agencies. The functions of this agency are quite similar to the federal agencies. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police is one example.(Cunningham, Taylor & Hallcrest Systems, 1985).
The role of police agencies in contemporary society
Police agencies have three main roles that stand out in the contemporary society. First, the maintenance of law and order in the society is the most important role played by the police. This mandate requires police to maintain peaceful environment by preventing behavior that may lead to any disturbance of tranquility. Under this function, police are also responsible for the detection and prevention of crime without which there would be chaos in the society (Cole & Smith, 2004). The police also play a major role in law enforcement .The police exercise these powers whenever a law is violated. In such instances, the police have to identify the suspect and apprehend them for further investigation.
The Department of Justice and other similar branches in other governments rely heavily on the efficiency of the police to facilitate justice as well as safety. Lastly, police agencies provide different types of services to the public. These may include tourist guidance, civil education and providing disaster relief support. In more developed countries, police officers assist in roadside auto problems, finding lost property and residential security. At the national level, the federal police assist in maintaining national security. This includes deterring threats of terrorist attacks that have been a major issue for the United States.

Beattie, J. M. (2012). The first English detectives: The Bow Street Runners and the policing of London, 1750-1840. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Berg, B. L. (1991). Law enforcement: An introduction to police in society. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Cole, G. F., & Smith, C. E. (2004). The American system of criminal justice. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth.

Cunningham, W. C., Taylor, T. H., & Hallcrest Systems, Inc. (1985). The Hallcrest report: Private security and police in America. Portland, or: Chancellor Press.

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