History of American Law Enforcement

During the first era of American policing, constitutional standards of criminal procedure including formal policies of arrest, interrogation, evidence procurement, and the treatment of prisoners was substantially subject to local authorities and varied tremendously from jurisdiction to jurisdiction (Conlon, 2004; Scmalleger, 2008). So-called “street justice” was routinely administered by police officers either in conjunction with arrest or (more commonly) in lieu of formal arrest, mainly because it was more convenient for officers and considered more effective at motivating lawful compliance among career criminals (Conlon, 2004).

Contemporary American Policing

In terms of organizational structure, the modern era of American policing had already evolved by the early 20th century, but the industry would still have to endure the limitations of widespread political corruption and cronyism left over from the scandals such as the infamous Tammany Hall dynamics in 19th century New York City politics. Subsequently, the consequences of the Prohibition era would severely handicap the integrity and effectiveness of policing in the largest U.S. cities.

By the latter part of the century, constitutional standards of police and criminal procedure had developed sufficiently to allow for uniform standards on a national level, but isolated instances of large-scale institutional corruption erupted periodically, such as that disclosed by the Knapp Commission in New York in the early 1970s (Conlon, 2004).

While federal and local law enforcement authorities developed elements of mutual antagonism in many respects, the aftermath of 9/11 inspired substantial change in that regard and has resulted in considerable cooperation at every level, particularly but not exclusively in the counterterrorism capacity (Johnson, 2007; Spiller, 2006).

Today, American policing has evolved into a highly regulated field in which sophisticated methods are used to select and train the best qualified candidates (Schmalleger, 2008). At the local and state level, the quality and range of police resources is largely dependent on the economic variables in the communities that fund police agencies. For that reason, initial employment qualifications and salaries vary substantially with local officers earning a starting salary anywhere from $20,000 annually at the low end to as much as $70,000 at the high end in communities such as the Silicon Valley in California and Suffolk County in New York (Schmalleger, 2008).At the federal level, employment qualifications and salaries are more uniform because they are based on federal hiring standards and salary tables.


Conlon, E. (2004). Blue Blood. New York: Riverhead.

Johnson, B. “A Look at Fusion Centers: Working Together to Protect America.” FBI

Law Enforcement Bulletin; Vol. 76, No.12 (2007).

Schmalleger, F. (2008). Criminal Justice Today: An Introductory Text for.

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