Police are agents or agencies, usually of the executive, empowered to enforce the law and to effect public and social order through the legitimatized use of force. The term is most commonly associated with police departments of a state that are authorized to exercise the police power of that state within a defined legal or territorial area of responsibility. The word comes via French from the Latin politia (“civil administration”), which itself derives from the Ancient Greek πόλις, for polis ("city").
The first police force comparable to present-day police was established in 1667 under King Louis XIV in France, although modern police usually trace their origins to the 1800 establishment of the Marine Police in London, the Glasgow Police, and the Napoleonic police of Paris. The first modern police force is also commonly said to be the London Metropolitan Police, established in 1829, which promoted the preventive role of police as a deterrent to urban crime and disorder.
Law enforcement however constitutes only part of policing activity. Policing has included an array of activities in different situations, but the predominant ones are concerned with the preservation of order. In some societies, in the late 18th century and early 19th century, these developed within the context of maintaining a layered societal structure and the protection of property.
Alternative names for police force include constabulary, gendarmerie, police department, police service, crime prevention, protective services, law enforcement agency or Garda Síochána, and members can be police officers, troopers, sheriffs, constables, rangers, peace officers or Garda. Russian police and police of the Soviet-era Eastern Europe are (or were) called militsiya.
In Ancient China, prefects were government officials appointed by local magistrates, who in turn were appointed by the head of state, usually the emperor of the dynasty. The prefects oversaw the civil administration of their "prefecture," or jurisdiction. Prefects usually reported to the local magistrate, just as modern police report to judges. Under each prefect were "subprefects" who helped collectively with law enforcement of the area. Some prefects were responsible for handling investigations, much like modern police detectives.
Eventually the concept of the "prefecture system" would spread to other cultures such as Korea and Japan. Some examples of ancient Chinese prefects include: Chong Fu - prefect of the Ying District in the East Han Dynasty and Ching Chow - prefect of the modern Shang-tung Province. Recent portrayals of prefects in modern popular culture include Jet Li's portrayal of the nameless prefect in the movie Hero.
Before its decline, the Roman Empire had a relatively effective law enforcement system. When under the reign of Augustus the capital had grown to almost one million inhabitants, he created 14 wards, which were protected by seven squads of 1,000 men called "Vigiles," who guarded against fires and served as nightwatchmen. If necessary, they might have called the Praetorian Guard for assistance. Beginning in the 5th century, policing became a function of clan chiefs and heads of state.
The Anglo-Saxon system of maintaining public order was a private system of tithings, since the Norman conquest led by a constable, which was based on a social obligation for the good conduct of the others; more common was that local lords and nobles were responsible to maintain order in their lands, and often appointed a constable, sometimes unpaid, to enforce the law.
As one of their first acts after the war of succession, Ferdinand and Isabella established the centrally organized and efficient Holy Hermandad (Santa Hermandad) with themselves at the head. They adapted an existing hermandad to the purpose of a general police acting under officials appointed by themselves, and endowed with large powers of summary jurisdiction even in capital cases. The original hermandades continued to serve as modest local police units until their final suppression in 1835.
In Western culture, the contemporary concept of a police paid by the government was developed by French legal scholars and practitioners in the 17th and early 18th centuries, notably with Nicolas Delamare's Traité de la Police ("Treatise on the Police"), first published in 1705. The German Polizeiwissenschaft (Science of Police) was also an important theoretical formulation of police.
The first police force in the modern sense was created by the government of King Louis XIV in 1667 to police the city of Paris, then the largest city in Europe. The royal edict, registered by the Parlement of Paris on March 15, 1667 created the office of lieutenant général de police ("lieutenant general of police"), who was to be the head of the new Paris police force, and defined the task of the police as "ensuring the peace and quiet of the public and of private individuals, purging the city of what may cause disturbances, procuring abundance, and having each and everyone live according to their station and their duties". This office was first held by Gabriel Nicolas de la Reynie, who had 44 commissaires de police (police commissioners) under his authority. In 1709, these commissioners were assisted by inspecteurs de police (police inspectors). The city of Paris was divided into 16 districts policed by the commissaires, each assigned to a particular district and assisted by a growing bureaucracy. The scheme of the Paris police force was extended to the rest of France by a royal edict of October 1699, resulting in the creation of lieutenants general of police in all large French cities and towns.
As conceptualized by the Polizeiwissenschaft, the police had an economic and social duty ("procuring abundance"). It was in charge of demographics concerns and of empowering the population, which, according to mercantilist theory, was to be the main strength of the state. Thus, its functions largely overreached simple law enforcement activities and included public health concerns, urban planning (which was important because of the miasma theory of disease; thus, cemeteries were moved out of town, etc.), and surveillance of prices..
Development of modern police was contemporary to the formation of the state, later defined by sociologist Max Weber as achieving a "monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force" and which was primarily exercised by the police and the military. Marxist theory situates the development of the modern state as part of the rise of capitalism, in which the police are one component of the bourgeoisie's repressive apparatus for subjugating the working class.
In the United Kingdom, the development of police forces was much slower than in the rest of Europe. In that country, the police function was historically performed by private watchmen (existing from 1500 on), thief takers, and so on. The former were funded by private individuals and organizations and the latter by privately-funded rewards for catching criminals, who would then be compelled to return stolen property or pay restitution. In 1737, George II began paying some London and Middlesex watchmen with tax moneys, beginning the shift to government control. In 1750, Henry Fielding began organizing a force of quasi-professional constables. The Macdaniel affair added further impetus for a publicly-salaried police force that did not depend on rewards. Nonetheless, In 1828, there were privately financed police units in no fewer than 45 parishes within a 10-mile radius of London.
The word "police" was borrowed from French into the English language in the 18th century, but for a long time it applied only to French and continental European police forces. The word, and the concept of police itself, was "disliked as a symbol of foreign oppression" (according to Britannica 1911). Prior to the 19th century, the only official use of the word "police" recorded in the United Kingdom was the appointment of Commissioners of Police for Scotland in 1714 and the creation of the Marine Police in 1798 (set up to protect merchandise at the Port of London). Even today, many British police forces are suffixed with "Constabulary" rather than "Police".
On June 30, 1800, the authorities of Glasgow, Scotland successfully petitioned the government to pass the Glasgow Police Act establishing the City of Glasgow Police. This was the first professional police service in the country and differed from previous law enforcement in that it was a preventive police force. Other Scottish towns soon followed suit and set up their own police forces through acts of parliament.
The first organized police force in Ireland came about through the Peace Preservation Act of 1814, but the Irish Constabulary Act of 1822 marked the true beginning of the Royal Irish Constabulary. Among its first duties was the forcible seizure of tithes during the "Tithe War" on behalf of the Anglican clergy from the mainly Catholic population as well as the Presbyterian minority. The Act established a force in each barony with chief constables and inspectors general under the control of the civil administration at Dublin Castle. By 1841 this force numbered over 8,600 men. The force had been rationalized and reorganized in an 1836 act and the first constabulary code of regulations was published in 1837. The discipline was tough and the pay poor. The police also faced unrest among the Irish rural poor, manifested in organizations like the Ribbonmen, which attacked landlords and their property.
In London, night watchmen were the first paid law enforcement body in the country, augmenting the force of unpaid constables. They guarded the streets since 1663. On September 29, 1829, the Metropolitan Police Act was passed by Parliament, allowing Sir Robert Peel, the then home secretary, to found the London Metropolitan Police. These police are often referred to as ´Bobbies´ or 'Peelers' after Sir Robert (Bobby) Peel, who introduced the Police Act. They became a model for the police forces in most countries, such as the United States, and most of the British Empire. Bobbies can still be found in many parts of the Commonwealth of Nations. The primary role of the police in Britain was keeping the Queen's Peace, which continues into the present day.
In the United States, the first organized police service was established in Boston in 1838, New York in 1844, and Philadelphia in 1854. However, in the Founding Era, and even well into the 20th century in some parts of the country, law enforcement was done by private citizens acting as militia.
In Australia with the passing of the Police Regulation Act, 1862, the New South Wales Police Force was established and essentially tightly regulated and centralised all of the police forces operating throughout the Colony of New South Wales.
Detectives, in contrast to uniform police, typically wear 'business attire' in bureaucratic and investigative functions where a uniformed presence would be either a distraction or intimidating, but a need to establish police authority still exists. "Plainclothes" officers dress in attire consistent with that worn by the general public for purposes of blending in. In some cases, police are assigned to work "undercover", where they conceal their police identity to investigate crimes, such as organized crime or narcotics crime, that are unsolvable by other means. In some cases this type of policing shares aspects with espionage.
Despite popular conceptions promoted by movies and television, many US police departments prefer not to maintain officers in non-patrol bureaus and divisions beyond a certain period of time, such as in the detective bureau, and instead maintain policies that limit service in such divisions to a specified period of time, after which officers must transfer out or return to patrol duties. This is done in part based upon the perception that the most important and essential police work is accomplished on patrol in which officers become acquainted with their beats, prevent crime by their presence, respond to crimes in progress, manage crises, and practice their skills. Detectives, by contrast, usually investigate crimes after they have occurred and after patrol officers have responded first to a situation. Investigations often take weeks or months to complete, during which time detectives spend much of their time away from the streets, in interviews and courtrooms, for example. Rotating officers also promotes cross-training in a wider variety of skills, and serves to prevent "cliques" that can contribute to corruption or other unethical behavior.
Police forces are usually organized and funded by some level of government. The level of government responsible for policing varies from place to place, and may be at the national, regional or local level. In some places there may be multiple police forces operating in the same area, with different ones having jurisdiction according to the type of crime or other circumstances. For example in the UK policing is primarily the responsibility of a regional police force; however specialist units exist at the national level. In the US policing there is typically a state police force, but a municipality may have its own police force. National police agencies also have jurisdiction over serious crimes or those with an interstate component.
In addition to conventional urban or regional police forces, there are other police forces with specialized functions or jurisdiction.In the United States, the federal government has a number of police forces with their own specialized jurisdictions. Some example are the Federal Protective Service, which patrols and protects government buildings; the postal police, which protect postal buildings, vehicles and items; the Park Police, which protect national parks, or Amtrak Police which patrol Amtrak stations and trains..
There are also some government agencies which perform police functions in addition to other duties. The U.S. Coast Guard carries out many police functions for boaters.
In major cities, there may be a separate police agency for public transit systems, such as the New York City Port Authority Police or the MTA police, or for major government functions, such as sanitation, or environmental functions.
Police often have specialist units for handling armed offenders, and similar dangerous situations, and can (depending on local laws), in some extreme circumstances, call on the military (since Military Aid to the Civil Power is a role of many armed forces). Perhaps the most high-profile example of this was, in 1980 the Metropolitan Police handing control of the Iranian Embassy Siege to the Special Air Service. They can also be equipped with non-lethal (more accurately known as "less than lethal" or "less-lethal") weaponry, particularly for riot control. Non-lethal weapons include batons, riot control agents, rubber bullets and electroshock weapons. The use of firearms or deadly force is typically a last resort only to be used when necessary to save human life, although some jurisdictions (such as Brazil) allow its use against fleeing felons and escaped convicts. Police officers often carry handcuffs to restrain suspects.
Modern police forces make extensive use of radio communications equipment, carried both on the person and installed in vehicles, to co-ordinate their work, share information, and get help quickly. In recent years, vehicle-installed computers have enhanced the ability of police communications, enabling easier dispatching of calls, criminal background checks on persons of interest to be completed in a matter of seconds, and updating the officer's daily activity log and other required reports on a real-time basis. Other common pieces of police equipment include flashlights/torches, whistles, and police notebooks and "ticketbooks" or citations.
Police vehicles are used for detaining, patrolling and transporting. The common Police patrol vehicle is an improved four door sedan (saloon in British English). Police vehicles are usually marked with appropriate logos and are equipped with sirens and lightbars to aid in making others aware of police presence. Unmarked vehicles are used primarily for sting operations or apprehending criminals without alerting them to their presence. Some cities and counties have started using unmarked cars, or cars with minimal markings for traffic law enforcement, since drivers slow down at the sight of marked police vehicles and unmarked vehicles make it easier for officers to catch speeders and traffic violators.
Motorcycles are also commonly used, particularly in locations that a car may not be able to access, to control potential public order situations involving meetings of motorcyclists and often in escort duties where the motorcycle policeman can quickly clear a path for the escorted vehicle. Bicycle patrols are used in some areas because they allow for more open interaction with the public. In addition, their quieter operation can facilitate approaching suspects unawares and can help in pursuing them attempting to escape on foot.
Police departments utilize an array of specialty vehicles such as helicopters, watercraft, command post, vans, trucks, all terrain vehicles, motorcycles, and SWAT armored vehicles.
The Kansas City Preventive Patrol study in the 1970s found this approach to policing to be ineffective. Patrol officers in cars were disconnected from the community, and had insufficient contact and interaction with the community. In the 1980s and 1990s, many law enforcement agencies began to adopt community policing strategies, and others adopted problem-oriented policing. Broken windows policing was another, related approach introduced in the 1980s by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling, who suggested that police should pay greater attention to minor "quality of life" offenses and disorderly conduct. This method was first introduced and made popular by New York City Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, in the early 1990s. The concept behind this method is simple: broken windows, graffiti, and other physical destruction or degradation of property, greatly increases the chances of more criminal activities and destruction of property. When criminals see the abandoned vehicles, trash, and deplorable property, they assume that authorities do not care and do not take active approaches to correct problems in these areas. Therefore, correcting the small problems prevents more serious criminal activity. Building upon these earlier models, intelligence-led policing has emerged as the dominant philosophy guiding police strategy. Intelligence-led policing and problem-oriented policing are complementary strategies, both which involve systematic use of information. Although it still lacks a universally accepted definition, the crux of intelligence-led policing is an emphasis on the collection and analysis of information to guide police operations, rather than the reverse.
In many nations, criminal procedure law has been developed to regulate officers' discretion, so that they do not arbitrarily or unjustly exercise their powers of arrest, search and seizure, and use of force. In the United States, Miranda v. Arizona led to the widespread use of Miranda warnings or constitutional warnings. Police in the United States are also prohibited from holding criminal suspects for more than a reasonable amount of time (usually 72 hours) before arraignment, using torture to extract confessions, using excessive force to effect an arrest, and searching suspects' bodies or their homes without a warrant obtained upon a showing of probable cause. Using deception for confessions is permitted, but not coercion. There are exceptions or exigent circumstances such as an articulated need to disarm a suspect or searching a suspect who has already been arrested (Search Incident to an Arrest). The Posse Comitatus Act severely restricts the use of the military for police activity, giving added importance to police SWAT units.
British police officers are governed by similar rules, particularly those introduced under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE), but generally have greater powers. They may, for example, legally search any suspect who has been arrested, or their vehicles, home or business premises, without a warrant, and may seize anything they find in a search as evidence. All police officers in the United Kingdom, whatever their actual rank, are 'constables' in terms of their legal position. This means that a newly appointed constable has the same arrest powers as a Chief Constable or Commissioner. However, certain higher ranks have additional powers to authorize certain aspects of police operations, such as a power to authorize a search of a suspect's house (section 18 PACE) by an officer of the rank of Inspector, or the power to authorize a suspect's detention beyond 24 hours by a Superintendent.
In revolutionary socialist and anarchist theory and analysis, the police are seen as the main force responsible for defending the interests of the bourgeoisie and maintaining the status quo, primarily by protecting private property and capital from the "dispossessed" proletariat classes. Socialists and anarchists argue that although police may have in at least some cases the responsibility for maintaining the safety of citizens and even carry out such a responsibility, most crimes originate from class inequality or the psychological effects of this combined with hierarchy, and therefore that these crimes would not exist in a classless and non-hierarchical society, where goods are evenly distributed and hierarchy has been removed.
Under socialist theories of law, the law, and the state itself, are established to serve as a tool of the dominant class or classes of a society. In a Communist society, this has meant that law is intended to serve as a tool of the Communist party in promoting and protecting the revolution and overseeing the restructuring of society. In practice, this meant that police in Communist countries have had a role as secret police against political opponents and dissidents against the Party. This has presented a challenge for post-Communist societies trying to establish effective police institutions and the rule of law, as the vacuum following Party dominance and the memories of the activities of predecessors such as the NKVD, KGB, Stasi and Securitate left many post-Communist states without police forces widely considered legitimate or respectable.
Police services commonly include units for investigating crimes committed by the police themselves. These units are typically called Inspectorate-General, or in the USA, "internal affairs". In some countries separate organizations outside the police exist for such purposes, such as the British Independent Police Complaints Commission. Likewise, some state and local jurisdictions, for example, Springfield, Illinois have similar outside review organizations. The Police Service of Northern Ireland is investigated by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, an external agency set up as a result of the Patten report into policing the province. In the Republic of Ireland the Garda Síochána is investigated by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, an independent force that replaced the Garda Complaints Board in May 2007.
The Special Investigations Unit of Ontario, Canada, is one of only a few civilian agencies around the world responsible for investigating circumstances involving police and civilians that have resulted in a death, serious injury, or allegations of sexual assault.
In the United States since the 1960s, concern over such issues has increasingly weighed upon law enforcement agencies, courts and legislatures at every level of government. Incidents such as the 1965 Watts Riots, the videotaped 1991 beating by Los Angeles Police officers of Rodney King, and the riot following their acquittal have been seen as evidence that U.S. police are dangerously lacking in appropriate controls. The fact that this trend has occurred contemporaneously with the rise of the US civil rights movement, the "War on Drugs," and a precipitous rise in violent crime from the 1960s to the 1990s has made questions surrounding the role, administration and scope of police authority increasingly complicated.
Police departments and the local governments that oversee them in some jurisdictions have attempted to mitigate some of these issues through community outreach programs and community policing to make the police more accessible to the concerns of local communities, by working to increase hiring diversity, by updating training of police in their responsibilities to the community and under the law, and by increased oversight within the department or by civilian commissions. In cases in which such measures have been lacking or absent, civil law suits have been brought by the United States Department of Justice against local law enforcement agencies, authorized under the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. This has compelled local departments to make organizational changes, enter into consent decree settlements to adopt such measures, and submit to oversight by the Justice Department.
In contrast, the police are entitled to protect private rights in some jurisdictions. To ensure that the police would not interfere into the regular competencies of the courts of law, some police acts require that the police may only interfere in such cases where protection from courts cannot be obtained in time, and where, without interference of the police, the realization of the private right would be impeded. This would, for example, allow police to establish a restaurant guest's identity and forward it to the inn-keeper in a case where the guest cannot pay the bill at nighttime because his wallet had just been stolen from the restaurant table.
In addition, there are Federal Law Enforcement agencies in the United States whose mission includes providing protection for executives such as the President and accompanying family members, visiting foreign dignitaries, and other high-ranking individuals. Such agencies include The United States Secret Service and the United States Park Police.
In many countries, particularly those with a federal system of government, there may be several police or police-like organizations, each serving different levels of government and enforcing different subsets of the applicable law. The United States has a highly decentralized and fragmented system of law enforcement, with over 17,000 state and local law enforcement agencies. Some countries, such as Chile, Israel, the Philippines, Austria and South Africa, use a centralized system of policing. Other countries have multiple police forces, but for the most part their jurisdictions do not overlap. In the United States however, several different law enforcement agencies may have authority in a particular jurisdiction at the same time, each with their own command. Other countries where jurisdiction of multiple police agencies overlap, include Guardia Civil and the Policía Nacional in Spain and the Polizia di Stato and Carabinieri in Italy.
Most countries are members of the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), established to detect and fight trans-national crime and provide for international co-operation and co-ordination of other police activities, such as notifying relatives of the death of foreign nationals. Interpol does not conduct investigations nor arrests by itself, but only serves as a central point for information on crime, suspects and criminals. Political crimes are excluded from its competencies.