In order for us to determine the current culture of American Law Enforcement in today’s societal changes in the country, we first have to look at how American Law Enforcement was started and changed throughout the years. Policing started in Colonial America dating back to 1636 in the City of Boston. The use of what were called “watchmen” was designed to keep tabs on prostitution and gambling, however it was later deemed a place people were sent as a sign of punishment. Although supervised by constables, most watchmen drank and slept on the job. As the nation grew, the need for a different type of policing was deemed necessary, and by 1838, the first publically funded police force was formed in Boston. In the southern region of the United States, the military was mainly used to police society focusing on preserving the slavery system during the Civil War.
Let’s jump forward in time to 1829, when the Metropolitan Police Act was passed in London influencing policing in the United States by structuring the departments based on the military. Over time, laws were passed to regulate social behavior. During the time of prohibition, policing was challenged with its biggest societal change, largely due to corruption and a growth in gangs and crime. As time went on, more steps were put in place to eliminate corruption. A formal education was required and the military structure was back in place providing a more disciplined way to police, which in turn, restored the public’s opinion about policing.
As time went on, policing continued to grow, making it a standard to patrol in cars, and the utilization of radios for better response time. Along with the technological changes in policing, technology changed as a whole. Welcome to the new world of social media!
It all started with MySpace, a digital platform for people around the world to communicate and post their feelings and opinions. This advance in social media gave life to platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and SnapChat to name a few. As these platforms grew, so did the societal changes in American Law Enforcement. Cell phones became “eyewitnesses”, social media became a place where those who do not like Law Enforcement to post their stories, encounters, likes and of course dislikes. The one thing that changed the most was the spawning of a new distrust of the police similar to the prohibition era. Society used editing tools to show good encounters with Law Enforcement, look bad and social media allowed those groups to spread their opinion worldwide.
Not all Law Enforcement is bad, but there are bad people in every walk of society. As a Law Enforcement officer in the current culture, it is important we understand, there is a light shining on everything we do. For those who always do the right thing, this is not an issue, however for those who do not always do the right thing, there is always someone there to witness and record it. No matter what the situation is, the societal changes in American Law Enforcement has made the job harder and more dangerous. Not because we are worried about being seen, but the dangerous situations we face daily are now being more scrutinized, delaying Officer reaction time and decision making. These changes are costly and in some cases deadly.