II Law Enforcement—Then and Now

Chapter 4

Th e Police and Law Enforcement

The Police and Law Enforcement: It’s Come a Long Way


  • 1 The police—the beginnings
  • 2 Development of law enforcement in the United States
  • 3 State and federal law enforcement
  • 4 The history of 911
  • 5 Role of police officers
  • 6. Patrol function
  • 7 Eras of police reform and change
  • 8 New developments in policing
  • 9 CompStat
  • 10 Policing in the 2000s

Learning Objectives for Chapter 4

  • 1 Become familiar with the history of policing in America
  • 2 Understand the development of the dual policing system in the United States
  • 3 Gain a better understanding of the functions of patrol officers
  • 4 Develop insight into the transitions in policing during the latter half of the twentieth century
  • 5 Become more familiar with CompStat and the first computer innovations in policing

American policing is a product of its English heritage. The British colonialists brought with them the criminal justice system of their country. This included English common law, the high value placed on individual rights, the court system, forms of punishment, and law enforcement institutions. ... The English heritage contributed three enduring features to American policing. The first is a tradition of limited police authority. The American legal tradition seeks to protect individual liberty by limiting government authority. Continental European countries, by contrast, give their law enforcement agencies much broader powers. ... The second feature inherited from England is a tradition of local control of law enforcement agencies. European countries, by contrast, have centralized, national police forces. Local control contributes to the third feature, a highly decentralized and fragmented system of law enforcement. The United States is unique in having an estimated 15,000 separate law enforcement agencies, subject only to minimal coordination and very little national control or regulation.

(Walker and Katz, 2008, p. 24)

We want to illustrate how unbelievably basic, how absolutely fundamental, how inextricably intertwined with human development that the origin of crime analysis is. Civilization exists to promote the general welfare of its citizens, starting with ensuring their safety from each other. A society’s police must carry out this most basic function, and its crime analysts are the cerebrum of this effort.

(A history of crime analysis, 2015, para. 4)


The thin blue line, as used in the colloquial sense by those in law enforcement, represents the fragile boundary that rests between those who serve in law enforcement and those who do not. It also can be viewed, by some, as a shaded veil intended to protect the world of those who are sworn to uphold the law from their many detractors.

What is significant here is that terms such as these, and the inferences that go along with their meanings, illustrate the simple fact that there is much to be learned from the law enforcement profession and, more importantly, the individuals who swear an oath to serve and protect the constitution of the United States.

From the long-ago days of 1285, when the Statute of Winchester was proposed by King Edward I of England and passed into law by royal assent, formally establishing the constable watch system of protection that provided for one man from each parish to be selected peacekeeper, to the present-day police officer, the evolution of the structure of law enforcement continues to define, and redefine, what we know about this noble, and dangerous, profession.

When most people think of the criminal justice system, they think first of the police. Law enforcement is—at least to many citizens—the face of the criminal justice system. It is the one part of the justice system most people have contact with, and it’s the agency that most people expect will deal with crime. In fact, very few people have dealings with prosecuting attorneys, judges, or any aspect of the correctional system. But everyone has had an encounter with a police officer—either through requesting help from an officer or by being stopped for a traffic violation.

But it is the police that Americans expect will respond to crime, and it is anticipated that the police will do their job by investigating a crime and ultimately solving that crime.

Law Enforcement Response to Crimes

In the simplest form of explanation, a crime occurs, a person is victimized, and the police are called to investigate. While it is not quite that simple, particularly as it relates to the investigative process, what is accepted in a matter-of-fact manner these days is that the police respond to reported crime.

Think of recent well-known criminal events. For instance, there was the shooting of movie theater patrons by James Holmes in Aurora, Colorado, on July 20, 2012. Twelve people were killed and 70 people injured in the shooting. Although the shooting occurred around midnight in the crowded movie theater, police officers responded to the scene within a few short minutes and began sending victims to the hospital before emergency medical services arrived. Other officers arrested James Holmes, who was standing next to his car near the theater, within minutes of the incident.

Then, there are the financial crimes of Bernard Madoff. When a government agency—the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)—was alerted to possible irregularities related to Bernard Madoffs investment company, it began an investigation. When the SEC found evidence of possible criminal wrongdoing, it notified the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The FBI then conducted its own investigation into Madoff and his company’s financial transactions.

When the FBI’s investigation was concluded, charges were brought before the Department of Justice, federal prosecutors levied charges, and Bernard Madoff was arrested in December 2008 and later indicted. Plea bargaining then began between the federal government and Madoff and his attorneys. Eventually, a plea deal was reached and Madoff accepted a guilty plea in 2009.

Then, there is the case of New York assembly speaker Sheldon Silver, who for more than 20 years was one of New York’s most powerful and canny politicians. He was arrested in January 2015 on charges of taking nearly $4 million in payoffs and kickbacks. The 70-year-old Democratic assemblyman was taken into custody by the FBI on federal conspiracy and bribery charges and was convicted in late 2015. After an Appeals Court ordered a retrial, he was convicted again in 2018 and is now serving a prison term of six and a half years.

As we can see in all three cases, when a crime has been committed, or at least is alleged to have been committed, law enforcement responds. The law enforcement response will depend on the crime—whether it is a federal crime or a state crime—and where the crime occurred.

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