The Advent of American Professionalism

Length: 1316 words

“American policing underwent a dramatic change in the Twentieth century. The two principle forces for change were an organized movement for police professionalism, and the introduction of modern technology… ”(Walker, S, & Katz, C. M. (2008). The police in america . New York City, NY: McGraw-Hill , pg 34). The Professionalism Era began in the early 1900’s and during this time the justice system was in need of reform.

August Vollmer,a man considered to be responsible for ushering in the American Police professionalism movement as well as the formation of defining the reform agenda that continues to influence our justice system today. Vollmer was also an enthusiast for high education for officers and had constructed the first college level policing curriculum setting the bar for police standards much higher and introducing professionalism as a job requirement.

This was more commonly known as progressivism from 1900- 1917 and the participants of this reformation sought to end child labor , improve social welfare services, rehabilitate their local government and manage big businesses (Walker, & Katz, 2008 pg 34). With every movement for reformation is an underlying issue that has furnished the motivation to do so and has gained notice by a majority of people who

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see a means of making the system or organization more efficient.

In this case, the Political era, in itself and my opinion, was the leading factor that demanded the movement to begin. During this time period policing was highly inefficient, and extremely understaffed. With the vast areas that needed to be covered supervision was not only weak but in some cases completely absent, and with the use of primitive communication or lack there of, police/citizen relationships did not exist and during and emergency, a citizen would be forced to go out and find an officer in the streets.

To add to this already dysfunctional frame work of the justice system, corruption and alcohol consumption while on duty were also becoming prevalent. This unrest created a hostile environment between citizens and officers. With the constant instability and escalating violence and ethnic tensions from the ever changing neighborhoods due to heavy immigration comparisons had started to be made to the London Metro Police, who were quite successful and professional while American police were the exact opposite.

The difference between the two, the London Police commissioners were free from political influence and with their success, developed a favorable rapport the community. The lack of supervision amongst officers and the toleration of police misconduct was the reasoning behind the public disrespect. Police corruption was an epidemic in this period with officers accepting bribes for looking the other way when illegal activities presented itself, as well as paying bribes to gain promotions within the precinct.

This soon became a major focus for reformers and although their efforts were generally unsuccessful, (basically due to the fact that the method of reformation that they were attempting was based on bias, or replacing the bad,or political opponents, with the good political supporters . ) they paved the way for a new set of reformers who sought to rehabilitate the system that was designed to combat crime and social unrest, rather than allow it to continue to contribute to the problems. As the Professionalism movement set in a reform agenda was established.

This agenda formed a set of guidelines to approach the recent years of inefficiency and corruption. It first and fore most sought to distinguish policing as a profession rather than a service and to prevent political persuasion from the decision making process of the precinct. In addition, the agenda called for the need for higher education and more qualified personnel, thus raising the standards expected from those appointed. The extent of the reformation also included the introduction of new technologies and specialized units and brand new approaches to administration (Walker, & Katz, 2008 pg 35).

Although progress was slow to show much improvement and had several failures, as many new implementations experience, few departments embraced the change and served as exemplars for others to follow and succeeded in making professionalism the main goal for all officers to follow. Organizationally, the benefits of the movement were quite powerful. The establishment of the state police and the Bureau of investigations paving the way for other states to follow in the footsteps of reform.

The Pennsylvania State Constabulary founded in 1905 was the first State Police agency, implementing militaristic policing styles and maintaining a highly centralized organization. Soon after other states proceeded in creating their own agencies, like the creation of highway patrols and criminal investigations. In 1908 the Bureau of Investigations was formed by the executive order of President Theodore Roosevelt (Walker, & Katz, 2008 pg 37). However with all the commotion of new procedures and standards came many new issues that initiated conflict.

Officers were under constant scrutiny by business officials that felt that the new organizations did little to prevent the unrest amongst officers and the organized strikes, and were unreliable in aiding during them. The unionized labor in many states stood as a barrier to control the extent of power they could possess or prevent their creation altogether. This new power that was given to agencies that did become successfully established fell prey to yet more corruption, as officials of the Bureau of investigations were found to be participating in scandals.

Internal investigations were done through the 1920’s and uncovered massive violations of due process and a multitude of political radicals. Individually the movement did little for officers. The new authoritarian style of policing brought about a new subculture that ushered in a feeling of inequality and disrespect. This caused alienation and isolation amongst the officers that ultimately would hinder the development of reform. The formation of policing as a career became quite prevalent with freshly started administrations and unions were formed.

This lead to the officers feeling they needed to voice their opinions about their job expectations and monetary compensation when the cost of living was far higher than the value of their income. With this came one of the most famous events in police history, the Boston police strike of 1919, and like the snowball effect this lead to a magnitude of violence and disorder. With word of the strike being spread, national consensus was against the use of police unions and quickly became eliminated, however the rank and file problems continued.

Major race riots and conflict between the police and the African American community was found. This was due to discrimination of the African American community by the police prior to the riots. This lead the formation of the Chicago Riot Commission to attempt to improve community relations but little was done to reform this issue until the late 1960’s (Walker, & Katz, 2008 pg 39). From the communities perspective the whole emergence of the Professionalism reformation left the burden of dysfunction on their laps.

The residents of the community were the ones to experience the disorder first hand, with the lack of the stability in the agencies and the constant back and forth banter between officers and officials on how things ought to be left the community members to fend for themselves and take matters into their own discretion. As time went on technology progressed proving to be a large aid in the management of the new procedures being introduced. With the invention of the police car, the two way radio and the telephone, police and citizen communications were revolutionized.

This allowed for swift contact between residents and police and made the almost impossible task of patrolling their beats not only possible but efficient. This lead to more effective ways of combating and deterring crime and reinforced police-citizen contact. The reformation continues to go on, and probably always will. There will always be issues and criticisms in the Criminal Justice system and room for improvement. With the constant emergence of new technology there will be just as many opportunities to apply it to the justice system to make it more efficient.

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