Local, County, and State Police Departments
Local policing in the United States is generally associated with attempts by a few large eastern cities, primarily Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, to establish departments modeled after the London Metropolitan Police, a force established in 1829 in England by Sir Robert Peel.
What we would today recognize as police departments began to develop in the mid-1830s, when industrialization, urbanization, and the arrival of immigrants led to previously unseen levels of civil disorder throughout much of the nation, in cities as well as small towns. These changes led the largest cities, including Philadelphia in 1833, Boston in1838, and New York in 1845, to combine their day and night watches into 24-hour paid police departments. Due to organizational issues, New York City's police department is often considered the first fully paid, professional 24-hour police department. Each, though, was an attempt to copy Peel's model and is recognized today as a forerunner of modern police departments, defined as those employing full-time officers who are primarily involved in patroling defined areas (generally termed beats) for the purpose of preventing crime.
By the 1880s, members of most police departments were armed, and in urban areas they were uniformed. Regulations for hiring and promotion brought some stability to police employment. Also around this time, departments placed more emphasis on officers patrolling in uniform so they would be visible to both citizens and supervisors. As small communities grew into towns and then into cities, they went from a small number of constables and town marshals to a 24-hour local police department, often augmented by the sheriff's office.
Just the Facts
This patchwork nature of policing is so woven into law enforcement that it is difficult even to cite the number of departments. The generally-agreed-to figure of about 18,000 policing agencies in the United States represents all agencies, including municipal, county, state, federal, campus, and other special jurisdiction departments. Of this total, about 13,000 are municipal (village, town, or city) or county police agencies; about 3,000 are sheriffs' offices, and 49 are state police agencies. In addition, there are about 1,500 special jurisdiction police agencies and about 500 constable jurisdictions.
County Police Departments
County police departments are different from county sheriffs' offices. They are closer in organization and development to local police. County police departments, beginning in 1925 in Nassau County, NY, developed primarily in counties surrounding large cities that saw population and traffic increases. These increases often overwhelmed the small, fragmented agencies that policed the small communities, leading to mergers and eventually to county police forces. County police departments still tend to be located around large metropolitan areas. Among the largest are the Nassau and Suffolk county departments east of New York City; the Prince Georges and Montgomery county departments in Maryland, and the Arlington and Fairfax county departments in Virginia.
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