It is significant to study the evolution of police patrol in the United States in order to realize how it has developed and modified over time. Times are changing and the globalization has made serious alterations to the world and especially people, who inhabit it. The evolution of policing depends on the changing of people’s way of living, and political and economic situation, as the main function of the police is to maintain order and prevent crime. Changes of the aims, duties, and forms of American police agencies give this profession a chance to evolve from inefficient watch groups to police agencies that embody progressive technologies and problem-solving strategies into every day operations. The thesis of this paper is the examination the process of formation, progress and evolution of police patrol based on its political and economic backgrounds. The paper can be roughly divided into two sections. The first section traces the origins of policing and birth of first patrols. The second one examines the evolution of police patrols in terms of historical, political and economic backgrounds.

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Overall, the history of American Policing can be roughly divided into four eras, which include political era (1840-1930), era of reforms (1930-1970), community era (1970-2001) and modern era (2001 until now). All four periods will be briefly discussed in this paper. Before starting the research on the evolution of police patrol, it is important to define this notion and its main purpose and functions. Patrol is a police technique, which involves moving around an area with an aim to observe, examine and ensure safety. Since it is grounded on the assignation of officers in spatial areas, it is also a way of police resources organization and police officers management. Patrol by police officers may be accomplished on foot, on a bicycle or horseback or in a vehicle. The police officers may wear uniform or be dressed in plain clothes. Police officers may undertake patrol alone or in pairs. The patrol function is considered the oldest and most basic in terms of law enforcement. Walker and Katz noted in their book: “Patrol is the backbone of policing; the central aspect of police operations…Patrol is the center of police activity…”. An essential aim of a patrol is to guard and protect human lives and property in communities. There are also three special functions of patrol: to discourage crime, to make servicing accessible to officers and to increase the public safety. Besides, the function of providing public safety, patrol officers depreciate disorder and crimes by providing a constant visible presence. A special connection and trust are formed between publicity and patrol officers because of such accessibility.

Police patrol is recognized as the backbone because they are first people, who have observed and experienced the publicity problems in terms of understanding, which elements of the community are more inclined to crime. Accordingly, patrol officers are able to announce the community’s problems and the issues that the community faces where criminals are accepted to organizations and institutions.

The history of policing can be traced back to Babylonian times. There are ancient tablets that describe an officer, who arrests a man and takes away his property. The development during the Middle Age has resulted in the emergence of in the European cities. The local government use these watchmen to ensure order. These men carry a bladed staff as a mark of power and light in order to be able to see in the night, and a bell or horn to call for assistance if necessary.

As mentioned above, constables, night watches and port patrols were established in early 1600s all across the colonies. The earliest colonies had two forms of policing: communal and informal, which were considered as watch or private in terms of policing. The watch policing service consisted of community volunteers. Their main responsibility was to warn the approaching danger. Such night watches, which are similar to modern foot patrol, were established in Boston in 1636, New York in 1658 and Philadelphia in 1700. Unfortunately, such foot patrol practices of night watches were not a very efficient device for crime control because watchmen were often drunk or simply slept while on duty. Despite the fact that these night patrols were supposed to be voluntary, many watchmen were simply trying to avoid military service or perform watch responsibilities as a form of punishment.

Taking into consideration the fact that America was populated mostly by European colonists, the earliest policing forces were created in London by Sir Robert Peel, whose police was known as Metropolitan Police. That is why in order to understand the process of US police patrol origin and evolution it is necessary to examine the early police origins in England. Many scientists consider Metropolitan Police force, which has been established in London, to be the foundation for modern policing as it was rather disciplined; they carried uniforms and billy clubs. However, during the medieval period in England there were the peace keepers that were knights assigned to guard the king. These watchmen were authorized to make arrests and investigate crimes. Eventually, this system evolved into the frankpledge system. In the twelfth century, when kings assigned individuals to work as a chief pledge to make sure that the new service operates properly; it later became more formalized. The frankpledge system was formed of tithings, consisting of ten households, where each adult male member was responsible for the control of the others. Ten tithings were called parish, while a number of several parishes were combined into a shire. The size of former shires is similar to modern country size. The term sheriff got its origin from English shire reeve that stands for the keeper of shire. Sheriffs were considered authoritative and significant officials, but unfortunately, this position soon became too politically oriented that caused conflicts and first glimpse of corruption.

The industrial revolution resulted in the growth of factories, marketplaces, vehicles and tenements. The industrial breakthrough caused a breakdown in social control; it gave rise to riots, crimes, and disorder. Frequent food rebellions, poor sewage control, vandals, salary protests and burglars posed many problems to city inhabitants. Both middle and upper class were looking forward to stricter preventive measures and defense. The watch system could not properly deal with day problems. Consequently, it was decided to change the policing system.

The Metropolitan Police Act suggested the creation of full-time police, wearing special uniform, whose main purpose was to patrol the city. Sir Robert Peel is known to be the founder of modern police system. He combined the ideas of Fielding, Colquhoun, and Bentham into law. Peel convinced Parliament of the necessity for police patrolling and conducted the early elaboration of it. Besides the carrying out of its essential function, which is crime prevention, the police had to gain authority and legitimacy in the eyes of community in order to enforce the laws and exert its authority.

Peel and his assistants realized that publicity would fire the police officers if they did not act in a certain manner. In order to gain acceptance in the eyes of the publicity, Peel with his assistants have created a certain selective system. They have chosen men with even temper and restrained character, including appropriate discipline and manners. They prefer an unassuming navy blue color of uniform to military red and forbid officers to carry guns. In general, the new London police force pointed out its legitimacy as based on institutional authority. They stated that their power was declared by the Constitution and that their behavior was defined by regulations of law.

The first mentioned police service in the USA that was properly organized was established in Philadelphia in 1833, which was modeled in a British way. Thus, the formal modern police service was created in New York in 1844. By the time of the Civil War, such law-enforcement agencies were established almost in all largest cities of the United States. In the largest cities, such as Philadelphia, Boston and New York, the range of local foot patrol officers was expanded. They warned about fires, ensured proper work of the streetlights, and detained suspicious individuals.

The unique features of the evolution of American police patrol depend on the history of the country. Thus, in the South of America during the colonial period, there emerged slave patrols. It is a unique unit of police, which is rather significant considering its basic purposes and functions. In South America, slave patrols embodied a vulgar model of policing. Slave patrols were established in the 18th century to catch runaway slaves and secure that slaves did not take up in the rebellions against their masters. Slave patrols emerged to conduct and observe the behaviors of minorities. These patrols in most cases were recognized a private activity implemented by citizen volunteers, which led to the lack of control of the slave patrols’ actions. When the runaway slaves were caught, the notion of justice was often gained by violence. Slave patrols often randomly entered private houses in order to seek out those who fled from the bondage. The patrols were mostly an indication of fear on the part of prosperous white landowners that slaves were a hazardous group in need of careful inspection and control. The end of the Civil War was characterized by the decline of the slave patrols. Thus, these patrols stimulated the emergence of a terrorist organization Ku Klux Klan.


American society experienced the same problems caused by revolution and riots in England. Scientists agreed to call this period of policing history the political era. It was characterized by close interconnection between the political officials and police; the police forces were organized in the paramilitary manner; much emphasis was put on serving politically powerful figures. The police officers were appointed strictly by the political officials, while the elaboration of a new police system was caused by the necessity to ensure social order and security in a dynamically changing society.

The huge rate of cities’ growth and frequent disorders swept the nation, crime was perceived to be increasing. It was impossible for the watchmen to patrol the densely populated cities. The population of New York, for instance, grew from thirty thousand people in 1790 to one hundred and fifty thousand in 1830. This population growth was caused by the huge number of foreign immigrants, mostly from Germany and Ireland. Native American workers saw the danger and social threat in foreign immigrants considering the issue of employment and improvement of lifestyle conditions. It was one of the reasons of disorder and led to the increase of criminal activity on the streets. There were also other issues. In particular, race discrimination was one of the most significant of them in the North and South. Numerous conflicts have also occurred because of moral questions, ethnic and economic failures, and during elections of officials. The election of mayor and anti-abolitionist sentiment were basic reasons for disorders and increase of crime rates. It proves that the police should evolve and improve itself in correlation and close connection with the society events and changes. For instance, the famous Broad Street Riot of 1837 happened because the volunteer firefighters, who were Native Americans returning from a fire, could not get by an Irish funeral procession. The night watchmen and constables became inefficient in solving these disturbances and there increased the necessity of local law enforcement officers to suppress the violence and protect citizens.

The rapid growth of robberies, gambling, prostitution, homicides and vagrancy on the streets of the largest US cities led to a sense of a loss of social control. The politicians in large industrial cities precluded the instant adoption of a London-style police model. The officials of the city, governors, mayors and councils disputed for a long time over the issue of the appropriate police model. For instance, the disorder and growth of crimes in New York began in 1834, while the preventive police department was established only in 1845.

While the first American police departments had been created in a similar way to London Metropolitan Police, but still they had distinct features. They borrowed selectively rather than exactly. There are two distinctive features of American early policing that are different from London Model. First of all, unlike the police in England, American police system was heavily involved in the politics. The police officer job mainly depended on the maintaining of good relationship with political officials, who govern the country. Second, American police officers, unlike their London colleagues, were more disposed to use force. These two characteristics of the American police system have very little in common with the today’s means of policing.

The American policing adopted the notion of a preventive patrol idea. The main idea was that the presence of police patrol should change the behavior of individuals inclined to crimes. Patrol officers would maintain order efficiently and protect citizens. The foot patrol has played the significant role in the evolution of police patrol in the USA. Walker and Katz emphasize the characteristics of foot patrol: “Officers within a department who make neighborhood rounds on foot. Being extremely expensive and covering only a limited territory, foot patrol encourages the formation of enhanced police-community relations”.

The foot patrols were changed to squad cars, which is the major modification in the American policing. It has affected the police identity and role of police. The term squad car originated from early times, when officers carried the squad by the wagon. However, motor vehicles have been adapted to modern life, the majority of police agencies still count on foot patrols to decrease crime and improve relations with society. Despite this fact, the police officers that had been responsible for foot patrolling were later employed by many departments. Foot patrol allows police officers to have a more accessible and desirable presence within communities. The foot patrols were used to increase the presence of authority representatives, to improve the issue of police – community connection and community policing. It is stated that motorized patrols are able to increase efficiency within the covered area, economize time and facilitate several undesirable consequences. In case the patrol officers were taken away from the streets the informal contacts of citizens and community would be diminished. Moreover, foot patrol is often capable to make better rapport with community members to look less threatening than its mobile unit counterparts are. In addition, considering the area and current events, from time to time foot patrol officers can react more quickly to a crime than other officers that may be patrolling using vehicles. The patrol office is located in a certain area that increases the foot patrol cost. Thus, such limitation can be compensated by the gains in community relations.

By the late 1800’s, besides foot patrol or horseback, police officers began to use horse drawn wagons. This way of transportation makes the police officer servicing more comfortable because they have the possibility to carry more equipment. It has also made the process of prisoners’ transportation safer and more secure. In 1899, there was created the first known police vehicle. It was a wagon run by electricity in Akron. This vehicle was equipped with a stretcher, a bell, and electric lights. Its weight was approximately 2½ tons with a seating capacity for twelve prisoners. Its first originate act was to take into custody drunken and disorderly people.

It was an era of total reformation and it lasted from 1930 until 1970. This era of reformation was caused by citizens’ desire to exclude the political component from policing. Since the 1930, the police officers gained the feeling of pride for their profession, because at the earlier periods many disturbances, such as low status or low salaries interfered with it. At this era of policing revolution, the police officers were concentrated mainly on the traditional crime fighting and investigation of crimes.

Between the 1920s and the 1950s, the majority of police departments modified the way of movement from foot patrol to car patrol. It was done due to the proved efficiency of vehicles patrols. Because of such alterations the connections between the police officer and community was lost and society began to perceive police officers as an occupying army. Due to this problem, during 1960s many police departments began to restore foot patrols within neighborhoods. Since the 1980s, it has become clear that the increase of foot patrols would not reduce crimes and provide safety on the streets. The motor car patrols are able to capture greater areas and get to the place of crime much sooner than foot patrol. The period since 1970 until 2001 was considered the era of community in the history of policing in the USA. It appeared as a result of an apprehension that efficient community partnerships can help prevent and solve criminal issues. Police departments began to operate in order to identify and meet the requirements of the community. The partnership and interconnection between the police office and citizens were emphasized.

The modern era of police history began in 2001 and lasts until modern days. It was caused by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and current hazards to the safety and security of American nation. Policing is aimed at ensuring homeland safety; the significant emphasis is put on the prevention of terrorism through intelligence-led policing. Nowadays, new equipment and technologies give new possibilities to the policing strategies against criminals. The automobile and radio communications assists police officers and patrol powers to spread and elaborate new tactics. Science has modernized criminal identification with DNA tests, and computer technologies now help to predict crimes and ensure safety of the citizens.

The origin and evolution of the American police patrol can be traced to a multitude of political-economic, historical and legal circumstances. Throughout the thorough examination of police forces foundation in the USA, one may conclude that the evolution of the police patrol is a long and sophisticated process, which is completely dependent on the country’s historical background, the changes of political or economic situation and the people’s views and attitudes. The functioning of patrols either foot, motorized or aircraft is undisputedly significant for the American society as the patrol officers have gained the authority and trust due to their long history. Its evolution and modernization proves and ensures the safety on streets and close interdependence of police officers and community. Thus, since the very origination of police patrol, despite its methods or used techniques, its main purpose remains the same. that is to protect citizens, secure order and prevent crimes.

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