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Most people, even the law abiding, have ambiguous feelings toward the police. Police are a salvation when it comes to protecting life, limb, and property, but their efforts are possibly less welcome when we are stopped for a traffic violation or for alleged suspicious activity while walking down the street. Few would argue, however, that modern societies could comfortably exist without police.

The principal functions of the police are law enforcement, maintenance of order, and community service (Dempsey and Forst, 2016). Like other components of the American legal system, the origins of the American police can be traced to early English history (Novak, 1989). In the ninth century, Alfred the Great started paying private citizens for arresting offenders. The population was broken down into units of ten families or “tithings,” and each person was responsible for watching over the others. Subsequently, the unit was expanded tenfold to the “hundred,” and one person, designated as the constable, was in charge of maintaining order. In time, the hundred was increased to include the countrywide “shire,” under the control of an appointed “shire-reeve,” who later on became known as the “sheriff.” Sir Robert Peel created the first citywide police force in London in 1829. Officers in this new police force were uniformed, organized along military lines, and called “Bobbies” after their founder. The American colonists adopted the English system of law enforcement, and the first metropolitan police force was created in Philadelphia in 1833 (Loh, 1984). In 2013, local police departments, sheriff’s offices, and state law enforcement employed almost 725,000 full-time sworn officers and 321,000 civilians, and another 84,000 part-time sworn officers and civilians. Adding up these numbers, the total number of all these individuals exceeded one million (Reaves, 2015).

In the United States, there is no unified system of law enforcement. As Thomas F. Adams (2007:69) observes,

A police system—if one were to exist in the United States—would be a rank ordering of all the local police agencies in sequence, according to their relative importance; then higher up the scale would be placed the many state agencies, and finally a rank ordering up through all of the federal agencies to a single head or committee. Such a system does not exist in the United States.

In addition to local police, sheriff’s offices, and state law enforcement, law enforcement is found in other aspects of our society. Some federal agencies also have law enforcement powers, such as the FBI, United States Secret Service, Drug Enforcement Administration, United States Postal Inspection Service, IRS, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau of the U.S. Department of Treasury. In addition, the federal government maintains the U.S. Marshals Service as a law enforcement agency. Marshals serve a 4-year term, and their duties are to preserve order in the courtrooms, handle subpoenas and summonses, seize goods, transport prisoners, and serve as a disbursing officer (Souryal, 1995).

Private-sector security and investigation personnel also may be considered part of the nation’s overall law enforcement (Nemeth, 2010; Steden, 2008). Certain private sectors of U.S. business require the services of private police patrols and investigation agencies. Businesses, industries, residential complexes, and other sectors hire their own employees for this purpose and/or use private agencies, such as Pinkerton’s Incorporated. These personnel perform several tasks depending on the need for their employer: They may guard property, apprehend thieves, investigate offenses, and/or detect fraud and embezzlement.

Finally, and as many readers already know, most colleges and universities have a campus police department or security force that, depending on the size of the campus, may employ dozens of officers. Many of these officers are armed. For all intents and purposes, they are the equivalent of local police employed by municipalities. We now turn to municipal police, who comprise the bulk of the nation’s law enforcement personnel.

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