Eras of Police Reform Leading to Change

During the first 15 to 20 years of the twentieth century, there were attempts to reform the police, although these attempts were not very successful. But at the same time, the use of technology by police departments—the use of bicycles, cars, and radios, for instance— enabled the police to respond more quickly to emergencies.

Throughout the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, there was increasing professionalism of the police. However, the 1960s and 1970s were times of great tension and change, creating a very turbulent time for police departments in the United States. Civil rights disturbances, antiwar demonstrations, campus disorders, and urban riots all taxed police departments across America. But by the 1980s and 1990s, the turbulence of those two decades gave way to a more peaceful era. Although the police were grappling with new issues, such as terrorism, school shootings, and bombings, it was a time that ushered in several positive developments.

Among the new developments of the 1990s was the introduction of the computer revolution in policing, involving new ways of looking at and dealing with communications, record keeping, fingerprinting, and criminal investigations. Other positive developments that began during the 1990s were a sudden reduction in crime and the birth of two new major concepts in police work: community policing and problem-oriented policing. Although no one can say for sure, it may be that all of these new developments had an impact on what Franklin Zimring called the “great American crime decline” (Zimring, 2008).

New York City has shown some of the most dramatic reductions in crime of all major cities in the United States. One explanation for the crime decline in New York City that is often cited by city officials and police administrators there is aggressive police tactics like those introduced by the city’s former commissioner William J. Bratton (Dempsey and Forst, 2010). Bratton completely reengineered the NYPD to make reducing crime its primary objective (Silverman, 1996). The primary idea behind Bratton’s reengineering was a process known as CompStat.

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