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Research & Thoughts

History Lesson #2: NIGHT WATCH to MODERN POLICE: History of the Beat

The first to police the colonies were called "night watch."  There were also private for-hire men called "The Big Stick." The Watchers were volunteers, sometimes people who'd been caught at a crime, and were often drunk or asleep. The wealthiest also hired men for protection, maybe not aware the these were often unscrupulous people. What we think of as our modern police force didn't get its start until the early 1900s. Also confirmed was that the first forms of policing in the South was "patroling," going after slaves. Here's an excerpt from "Civil War & Bloody Peace:"


Regulators, Loyal League activists, and Ku Klux (KK) klansmen, some of whom Democratic officials allied with, carried out lynch law in Kentucky before 1871. "Patrolers" had been in existence since long before the war and were considered one of the 'evils' of the slavery system. They were organized by law and protected by public sentiment; they could whip any Negro caught away from home, or for committing any supposed offense. They also tarred and feathered white men thought to be abolitionists. When they became "Ku Klux" after the war, they donned calico masks to avoid detection, especially after the federal government began to allow prosecution.


Kentucky bootleg whiskey (moonshining) was protected by the KK; an underground business, it emerged because of excise tax on liquor after the Civil War, even after many wartime levies had been repealed. Grains that made whiskey were Kentucky's main crop and most of the liquor industry was in the South. The KK protected moonshiners, and by extension, grain farmers; and certain leading Democrats protected the KK.  


There seems to be an inadvertent link to policing and liquor; connect this with the "night watch" in the first paragraph. Another source noted:


The first form of policing in the South was known as slave patrol, which began in the colonies of Carolina in 1704. The patrol was usually made up of three to six men riding horseback and carrying whips, ropes, and even guns.

On January 16th, 1871, a group of Blacks went to the capitol at Frankfort to complain. The two houses of the state general assembly announced that they would devise a plan to suppress the KK, even if it cost the state a million per year. But a month later the testimony bill, which would allow "persons charged with crimes and Negroes" to testify, was postponed.  


Back to CWBP:

Congress passed the Ku Klux Bill, also known as the 'Civil Rights Act.' This was meant to enforce the Fifteenth Amendment's right to vote regardless of race or former servitude. When Congress enacted this bill on April 20th, certain crimes were punishable under federal law: "Conspiracies to deprive citizens of the right to vote, hold office, serve on juries, and enjoy the equal protection of the laws, could now, if states failed to act effectively against them, be prosecuted by federal district attorneys, and even lead to military intervention and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus."


With this second bill President Grant could, according to one newspaper, "call out the militia, proclaim martial law, close up the courts, stifle the press, and exercise arbitrary and unbounded power at his discretion."


Between this act and the end of the century, then, we can imagine the military was often used to suppress this kind of policing activity, when it was suppressed at all. But Jim Crow laws were also put into place, giving this kind of policing more teeth.


In the North a more official police force was coming into fashion. Clashes between incoming immigrant groups were getting out of a control. Boston was first to implement a police force in 1838, following by New York City.

These "modern police" organizations shared similar characteristics: (1) they were publicly supported and bureaucratic in form; (2) police officers were full-time employees, not community volunteers or case-by-case fee retainers; (3) departments had permanent and fixed rules and procedures, and employment as a police officers was continuous; (4) police departments were accountable to a central governmental authority.


By the 1880s, almost every major city had a police force, all independently run and controlled, based on that city's needs. With their reporting to political heads, corruption came in the form of paying them off to not report some illegal activity.


August Vollmar was the creator of the modern police force. "He stressed the importance of sociology, social work, psychology, and management in police work. In this system, officers patrolled the neighborhoods they lived in on foot. Vollmer also made sure policemen went to college and even created a separate system for juveniles to be tried and punished instead of trying them as adults." His idealism was short lived, however. Prohibition required police to patrol in cars, and Hoover wanted them to be an active fighting force.


Defining social control as crime control was accomplished by raising the specter of the "dangerous classes." The suggestion was that public drunkenness, crime, hooliganism, political protests and worker "riots" were the products of a biologically inferior, morally intemperate, unskilled and uneducated underclass. The consumption of alcohol was widely seen as the major cause of crime and public disorder. The irony, of course, is that public drunkenness didn't exist until mercantile and commercial interests created venues for and encouraged the commercial sale of alcohol in public places.


This led to the change of the police preventing crime, rather than just responding to it. To give cops more to do, they once again (as in the south's patrolers) began to patrol, looking for trouble, as a means of keeping the population safe. Dr. Gary Potter in his article at PLsonline.com emphasized how easy these early police forces could be corrupted. They became part of a corrupt political partnership, and ran rampant during Prohibition.


During the 1960s, the black communities began to question the way they were treated and had been suppressed under Jim Crow laws. Under Jim Crow in the south, segregation became acceptable and black people were harassed and denied equal rights. Most presidents feared taking on any states that imposed Jim Crow laws; the Republicans didn't care and the Democrats feared their own voting base. John Kennedy finally actively went for Civil Rights, but was killed before passage. Lyndon Johnson picked up the mantle but was hard to say "there goes the deep south." You can see more on this in "From Lincoln to Trump."


In 1915, the midst of this corruption in many places, the Fraternal Order of Police was founded by two police offers in Pittsburgh, as a means of airing their grievances. They went national in 1917, becoming the largest police organization in the country. Both Bobby Kennedy and Barrack Obama tried to take them on, with changes needed to police training.


"President Obama initiated the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which developed a set of recommendations to improve procedural justice in police-citizen interactions and enhance the perceived legitimacy of the police." But when Trump was elected, the FOP requested that he de-prioritize what Obama's initiative had implemented; Trump excelled at reversing much of Obama's work.


And we all know what happened to Bobby Kennedy. In "From Lincoln to Trump," you'll find out that the police there doctored the murder scene.


I wish I was the type to infiltrate. But the Fraternal Order of Police, which considers itself along the lines of Freemasons, needs to take responsibility for those police still acting like White Supremacists and accuse and kill black people without due process. Because one of the things we've noticed in our current police force is their brotherhood, and not turning on one who's doing something that's obviously not under the motto of "to protect and to serve."

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