police (n.) c. 1530, at first essentially the same word as policy (n.1); from Middle French police (late 15c.), from Latin politia “civil administration,” from Greek polis “city” (see polis).
Until mid-19c. used in England for “civil administration;” application to “administration of public order” (1716) is from French (late 17c.), and originally in English referred to France or other foreign nations. The first force so-named in England was the Marine Police, set up 1798 to protect merchandise at the Port of London. Police state “state regulated by means of national police” first recorded 1865, with reference to Austria. Police action in the international sense of “military intervention short of war, ostensibly to correct lawlessness” is from 1933. Police officer is attested from 1800. Police station is from 1817.
police [transitive verb]
1 archaic : govern
2 : to control, regulate, or keep in order by use of police
3 : to make clean and put in order
4a : to supervise the operation, execution, or administration of to prevent or detect and prosecute violations of rules and regulations
b : to exercise such supervision over the policies and activities of
The United States inherited England’s Anglo-Saxon common law and its system of social obligation, sheriffs, constables, watchmen, and stipendiary justice. As both societies became less rural and agrarian and more urban and industrialized, crime, riots, and other public disturbances became more common. Yet Americans, like the English, were wary of creating standing police forces. Among the first public police forces established in colonial North America were the watchmen organized in Boston in 1631 and in New Amsterdam (later New York City) in 1647.
The birth and development of the American police can be traced to a multitude of historical, legal and political-economic conditions. The institution of slavery and the control of minorities, however, were two of the more formidable historic features of American society shaping early policing. Slave patrols and Night Watches, which later became modern police departments, were both designed to control the behaviors of minorities. For example, New England settlers appointed Indian Constables to police Native Americans (National Constable Association, 1995), the St. Louis police were founded to protect residents from Native Americans in that frontier city, and many southern police departments began as slave patrols.
Around 1800 a small number of distinctively different types of police institution emerged. The French, under Napoleon, instituted the Gendarmerie, a state military police model. It evolved from the “Marechaussee,” which had had a dual military and civil function since the 16th century. The model was exported across Europe by Napoleon. The British developed two models. The first, set up to answer similar challenges to the Gendarmerie in France, was the Royal Irish Constabulary model. It was close to the state military model, but distinctively styled as part of the civil power of the state and subordinated to the Magistracy. The Irish model was subsequently exported to Britain’s colonies and became the basis of forces such as the Indian Police Service. The Metropolitan Police was consciously created as a local force with a uniform that was deliberately different from the military and a mission that focused on prevention of crime rather than the repression of disorder.