Policing plays a crucial role in the harmonious development of any modern society. The reason is that policing may guarantee the respect of people’s rights and their proper realization. This paper examines the historical development of policing in the United States in the context of the current relationship between police and various ethnic groups and social classes. It is evident that the current problems and achievements are affected substantially by the previous historical development.
In the beginning, the development of policing in the United States reflected the same principles and patterns that were present in England. Early colonists relied on policing in two major forms. They included communal policing (the “Watch”) and private policing (“The Big Stick”) (Wadman, & Allison, 2003). The former method consisted of the volunteers who warned of potential danger or threats. However, this type of policing was mostly ineffective as volunteers were not motivated properly, and their level of professionalism was low. Private policing was developed better and offered the higher level of protection.
The Southern states were characterized by different patterns of development. The “Slave Patrols” were widespread, and performed the functions of controlling the general situation and providing responses to various crimes. After the Civil War, all forms of policing that relied on slaves were abolished. In the 19th century, the terms of social and crime control were often viewed as identical (Wadman, & Allison, 2003). As a result, some social classes were considered as being “dangerous”. It created the basis for the large-scale social discrimination and prejudice. Moreover, different implications were made from the emergence of “dangerous classes”. On the one hand, all people demonstrating socially disapproved behavior were considered as the members of such classes (Andersen, 2014). It is probable that the term “underclass” emerged at that period as a description of these people. On the other hand, racial and ethnic factors were also considered as being the direct determinants of the likelihood of committing crimes. For this reason, African Americans and many ethnic minorities were considered as being socially dangerous.
In general, people were targeted not on the basis of their actions or behavior but due to their belonging to a particular social or ethnic class. It is evident that such practices violated the basic individual rights and led to the disproportional punishments for some categories of people. Moreover, African Americans and other minorities experienced the constant social pressure and enjoyed fewer opportunities in comparison with the dominant classes (Fisher, Oddsson, & Wada, 2013). This kind of discrimination also created favorable conditions for White American criminals with high income as they were considered as the members of the privileged class. The social investigation of their actions was minimal, and they enjoyed almost the complete freedom in all their initiatives.
In the 20th century, substantial changes in the sphere of philosophy of policing occurred. It became clear that the previous responsive strategies (when police responded only to the actual crimes) were ineffective. The new system was based on prevention and surveillance. However, the first stages of this system’s implementation were based on the previous perception of “dangerous classes”. The largest fraction of preventive measures was oriented to the members of the underclass and ethnic minorities (Andersen, 2014). All their actions were examined closely to prevent the potential crimes. These practices have their strengths and weaknesses. On the one hand, they were comparatively effective and allowed reducing the overall crime rates. On the other hand, they were based on the incorrect and discriminatory perception of the social members. Thus, the prevention stressed that the members of some groups and classes were considered as being more dangerous in comparison with others.
It seems that the current relationships between police and different ethnic groups and social classes also demonstrate the impact of the historical processes. It is evident that a substantial progress is present as the major discriminatory practices are abolished. The rights of all individuals are recognized and protected regardless of their race, ethnicity, or social status. At the same time, the recent statistics show that incarceration rates are distributed highly unequal among different racial and ethnic groups. African American males are still the most targeted group (Andersen, 2014). Although it cannot be considered as a sufficient evidence for the presence of discrimination or any racial bias, it shows that substantial problems in organizing the police system exist (Fisher, Oddsson, & Wada, 2013). Different social and ethnic groups are still comparatively isolated from one another. Moreover, economic factors are also significant in this context. The members of the groups experiencing substantial economic difficulties have higher incentives for committing crimes in comparison with the average level.
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It may be concluded that the general pattern of historical development of policing in the United States demonstrates the gradual improvement. The dominant practices tend to become more objective and less discriminatory. The majority of attention is paid not only to responding to crimes but also to preventing the major crimes. In this way, the level of social harm imposed by criminals tends to decrease rapidly. However, the incarceration rates demonstrate that African Americans and other minority groups are still in the disadvantaged position. Therefore, further reforms in this sphere are needed to create equal social and economic opportunities for all social members. It will lead to approximately equal incentives for all social members. The corresponding crime rates may decline substantially. In general, the historical development is a serious factor explaining the current achievements and threats.