I promise back will get back to the history of beer in November but EVERY time I try to watch a program on television or review an article on the internet, I seem to be bombarded by the orange orangutan’s advertisements claiming the world will be unsafe if we elect anyone who will reform policing practice in America.  Let’s take a quick look at the facts.

The “Defund the Police” movement claims that the money spent on policing in the United States is out of control and data from the Department of Justice — Bureau of Justice Statistics[1] support that claim.

While the relationship is not as strong (R2=64% for Crime Rate vs R2=94% for Spending) the “Law and Order” faction has some credibility when the claim that crime rate has gone down as a result of more aggressive policing[2].

Where the discussion gets interesting, however, is when we consider the money spent to achieve this result per incident reported.  This classic measure of efficiency or Cost/Benefit tells us whether what we are doing is effective.  In all other aspects of our lives, we hope to have the cost per unit drop as we introduce technology, enlightened management, other improvements.  Unfortunately, the exact opposite happened to policing.

To understand why we tolerate ineffective and wasteful behavior in policing you need to look at the development of the police in America.  In the 17th and early 18th Centuries, policing was generally a militia watch system was composed of community volunteers whose primary duty was to warn of impending danger. Boston created a night watch in 1636, New York in 1658 and Philadelphia in 1700. The night watch was not so much focused on crime control device as it was protecting the town from marauders and Indian invasions.   Since watchmen were volunteers, there was little to no discipline in their ranks and they often slept or drank on duty.   Augmenting the watch system was a system of constables whose primary role was serving warrants and collecting debts.  These constables were paid a percentage of the fees, fines, and debts they collected.

It was not until the 1838 that the idea of a centralized municipal police department first emerged in the United States. Boston established the professional police department in the United States, followed by New York City in 1845, Albany, NY and Chicago in 1851, New Orleans and Cincinnati in 1853, Philadelphia in 1855, and Newark, NJ and Baltimore in 1857. These police departments were funded from tax dollars (rather an a percentage of fines collected) and had permanent employees who were accountable to the city government.  Their job was to protect PROPERTY from theft and destruction.  In the Southern states, however, policing followed a slightly different path. Southern states, concerned by the recent successful slave rebellions in Haiti and the growing Abolition Movement, focused their policing on “Slave Patrols”. The role of the Slave patrol was to chase down, apprehend, and return runaway slaves to their owners; to provide a form of organized terror to deter slave revolts; and, to maintain a form of discipline for slave-workers.   Following the Civil War, these organizations began to look more like the northern professional police forces and were funded by tax dollars rather than bounties but retained the role of controlling now freed slaves and ensuring they continued to work in same capacities they did before emancipation. Police everywhere began enforcing “Jim Crow” segregation laws ensuring that the economic interests of the community were sustained even if maintaining those interests involved denying freed slaves equal rights and access to the political system.

More than crime, police in the United States are expected to eliminate “disorder” and what constitutes social and public order depends largely on who is in political power.  In the 16th and 17th Centuries, that power was vested in the religious institutions and crimes against the church were often met with severe punishments.  In the 19th Century, the mercantile interests demanded that policing be used to put down labor unions and, of course, the newly emancipated slaves.   As we entered more modern eras, big business and political parties sought to transfer the burden of managing the country’s institutions to the lower classes so the sought to enroll the police in their economic interests and social reengineering efforts.

NEVER, has the real focus been on eliminating crime. Just looking at the graphs above, you can see that eliminating crime undermines the need for increased funding.  Policing is now big business and like the robber barons of the 19th Century, they seek to maintain and grow their monopolies on power at any cost.  Why else would we see policemen ordered to take actions for which we would prosecute soldiers as war criminals.

As Benjamin Franklin once said: “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”  Its time to stand up and correct the mistakes of the past not apologize for the state of the union.


[1] Data beyond 2017 has been removed from the database by Executive Order. 

[2] Again, no data beyond 2017 is publicly available so this argument is valid for Pres. Clinton, Pres. Bush, and Pres. Obama.  We have no facts to support the tend under the current administration but are assuming the trend holds.

Published by Michael Carver

My goal is to bring history alive through interactive portrayal of ordinary American life in the late 18th Century (1750—1799) My persona are: Journeyman Brewer; Cordwainer (leather tradesman but not cobbler), Statesman and Orator; Chandler (candle and soap maker); Gentleman Scientist; and, Soldier in either the British Regular Army, the Centennial Army, or one of the various Militia. Let me help you experience history 1st hand!

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