The Role of Police in American Society: A Documentary History

The Role of Police in American Society: A Documentary History

The Role of Police in American Society: A Documentary History

The Role of Police in American Society: A Documentary History


From the night watchmen of the 17th century to the highly publicized Rodney King hearings, the history and development of police policy and the role of police in American society are traced through this collection of 95 primary documents. Students, teachers, and interested readers can use this valuable resource to examine the development and role of the police in the United States through the words of the people who were involved in the struggle to enforce laws, uphold the Constitution, maintain safe and stable communities, and create efficient and effective police forces. An explanatory introduction precedes each document to aid the user in understanding the economic, political, social, and legislative forces that helped shape the role of the police in our society.


How we define the role of police is much more than an interesting problem in government. Rather, it is a direct reflection of society's heart. Using primary source documents to trace the evolution of the role of police in American society from colonial times to the present gives us firsthand accounts of watchmen and constables, rangers and marshals, Pinkertons and G-men, as well as the officers, deputies, troopers, and patrolmen who handle contemporary police problems in the United States. But it also chronicles the attempts of political leaders, reformers, scholars, and police executives to deal with a range of social problems such as immigration, population growth, urbanization, racism, poverty, gender bias, and technological change as well as crime.

Policing addresses one of the most fundamental problems of social living -- how to deal with those who violate group customs, norms, rules, and laws that enable cooperation. Cooperating together in large groups enables us to take advantage of one another's strengths and to compensate for individual weaknesses. The resulting sum can be much greater than the parts and, all else being equal, the largethe social group, the larger the potential benefit. But social living also provides opportunities for people to cheat. Instead of cooperating to produce a shared benefit, people can use force, fraud, or stealth to obtain valued resources. Once again, generally speaking, the larger the social group, the greater the opportunities for cheating. Cheaters weaken the cooperative bonds that enable productive social living and, like parasites in an animal, too many cheaters can kill or cripple a society.


The history of humanity is dominated by our struggle to maximize the benefits of social living and to control its liabilities. A great deal of . . .

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