This post will provide a brief overview of policing as found in England and the USA. There will also be a link to juvenile justice.
Early forms of Policing
Policing has changed a great deal over time in England. Some of the earliest forms of policing was the pledge system which took place before the Norman conquest. In the pledge system, neighbors would work together to protect each other’s property from thieves and other criminal threats. In addition, the pledge system was also supposed to deal with problems among neighbors which implies that people were expected to police themselves.
Naturally, the pledge system has its limitations. Its strength was dependent on the strength of the community which may not have been enough to deal with serious threats. In addition, the pledge system could be politically messy as self-polic9ing would be based on who had power and or charisma rather than right and wrong. However, the pledge system did allow for a great deal of autonomy for those involved.
The next system of policing that moved through England was the watch system. The watch system was designed for urban and densely populated areas. Men were organized in their parish to patrol their communities at night. Eventually, England turned away from citizen-led policing to professionals. The professionalization of law enforcement led to the development of such positions as the constable for policing and the justice of the peace for judicial matters.
With the continued development of the Industrial Revolution further development of law enforcement was also needed. The need for better policing led to the creation of the bobbies. However, this next step in crime fighting was not successful in stopping crime and was often influenced by money and politics.
In the US the sheriff was the equivalent of a constable or bobby. But in the mid-19th century, police departments were already being established. During this time juvenile offenders were treated just like adults if they were accused of committing a crime. With time reforms ended this practice but law enforcement professionals continued to share concerns about the lack of treatment of young people.
In many departments today, the police will have either a juvenile officer or a unit that focuses on dealing with youths. There is also an emphasis in some jurisdictions on community policing which involves reducing people’s fear of law enforcement through decentralization of decision-making and community involvement.
When dealing with juveniles there is a great deal of discretion in how to handle each child’s situation. The focus is always on treatment rather than punishment in many places. What this means is that the police officer can choose or not choose to “arrest” a juvenile in many different situations. The same idea applies to the probation officer and prosecutor who determine whether or not to pursue the arrest for punishment or disposition and this extends to the judge as well. The flexibility of discretion has led to accusations of unfairness and even racism.
Another problem with discretion is the inconsistencies in how police approach youth. There have been court cases over such matters as search and seizure, Miranda rights, habeas corpus, and other technical legal matters because law enforcement did not carefully consider the constitutional rights of children because it has often been assumed that children do not have these rights.
Policing has seen a great deal of growth and development over the years. Despite the flaws in the system law enforcement is still dedicated to helping keep people safe. Evidence for this can be seen in the reforms that have been made to maintain the trust of the communities in which they serve.