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Police 2: The early history

June 3, 2020 pm30 10:35 pm

Bodycams are not mentioned in the Constitution, because the technology did not exist, and police did not exist.

What? No police in 1776? Nope. (and not in 1789 when the Constitution was ratified.

So where did the police come from? And when?

The when is easier. Philadelphia – 1828. NYC – 1845. Baltimore – 1853. Boston – 1854. Chicago – 1855. Newark – 1857. Pittsburgh – 1857. Cincinnati – 1859. New Haven – 1861. Washington DC – 1861. Cleveland – 1866.

New Orleans stands apart – as it had a series of organizations, some of which may have constituted actual police departments, some which may not, on and off from the early to the late 19th century. The earliest, from French colonial times, were more of night watches than police forces. I would date the modern force to 1877, when a futuristic, integrated force was attacked by an all white force.

Before police?  many cities had “night watch” systems which variously guarded property (especially in warehouses and shipping centers) or protected public morals (anti-saloon and anti-prostitution). They were often rotating volunteers, often overseen by constables.  Police departments in the north did not grow out of the night watch system, but replaced it.

There were also private security guards. Shipping companies cleverly were paying for guards. They campaigned for a modern, professional police department so that they could offload the cost of security onto the public. And they succeeded. Now police patrols guarded the companies’ goods, and they did not have to pay guards.

And in the south?  Slave catchers?

A few years ago Time Magazine printed a fascinating article on the origins of police departments.

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