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History and Development of Law Enforcement in the UK and the U.S.

The process of policing has a long and varied history, which can trace its roots are far back as the Roman Empire. The roman empire is one of the first examples of well structured law enforcement, and when the Roman empire controlled England, the country was subject to Roman law enforcement. There was no official police force within the Roman Empire however, and instead, the chiefs of various important clans, and nobles had the responsibility of providing order to the people they had dominion over, including their colonies which included the UK (Wikipedia, 2005).

By the downfall of the Roman Empire, it was down to the Kings, and the people of money and power to take law enforcement and policing into their own hands, with the work of voluntary "constables", which is a term still used to define police officers of certain rank within the united kingdom. The word itself derives from the Roman Empire – the Latin comes stabuli (meaning "court of the stable") which transformed into the Anglo Saxon constable. The modern term is hence a contraction of a much earlier definition, and if we project to the present day, the American term cop takes its meaning from the acronym of Constable On Patrol.

In the history of England, constables were mentioned as far back as the 9th Century, but it would take a further 800 years for a formal police force to present itself in London. Before then, constables would not only uphold the law, but also collect taxes. The first official patrolling uniformed officers began duty in 1663, which were hired to patrol at night. This paid force was the body which made the original constables redundant. The first official police force in Scotland did not form until 1800, which took the stance of crime prevention, not simply catching criminals in the midst of illegal acts. The London Metropolitan police was established in 1829, which is known to be the first ever modern police force, far different from any systems that came before it.

Originally being a colony of England, the US police force followed the established enforcement guidelines of England. As the population of the US exploded, with immigrants from all over the world coming to settle in the new land, the American constable system became inundated by huge slums which became hotbeds of criminal activity. This made a complete overhaul of the American policing system necessary.

New York offers a prime example of early American policing, and the city created the first force when the Mayor at the time, Mayor Willian Havemeyer, managed to secure a new bill (William Andrews, n.d). At the start of this new policing system, the force was heavily influenced by the politics of the time and the general zeitgeist, and as such, many changes and modifications were made, by the power struggles of the Democrats and Republicans. At this time, police officers worked with a one to two year appointment, and were also responsible for the supervision of elections (Andrews). Two dominant police forces came into competition, and eventually merged to form a local police force in 1870.

Since the early days, the police force has developed dramatically. There is now a system of Federal, State, County and local police forces, with each working under the lead of an officer or sheriff. Modern law enforcement is sophisticated, using uni-lateral, multi level police systems, with special branches including the CIA and FBI.


Andrews, William. "The Early Years: The Challenge of Public Order, 1845 to 1870", Spring 3100 Magazine, NYPD. n.d., 16 November 2006

"Police", Wikipedia 2006, 11 November 2006

Vann, Bob. "The Constable", Midland County Sheriffs Office. 2001 – 2005, 1 December 2006