What Are the Four Periods of History of American Policing?

The history of American policing can be divided into four distinct periods, each with its own unique characteristics and challenges. Understanding these periods is essential to gaining a comprehensive understanding of the evolution of policing in America.

First Period: The Political Era (1840-1930)

During the first period of American policing, known as the political era, law enforcement was highly influenced by politics. Police departments were often controlled by politicians, and officers were hired based on their political connections rather than their qualifications.


  • Corruption was widespread
  • Police officers had little training
  • Police departments were often used as tools for political bosses
  • The focus of policing was on maintaining order rather than preventing crime

Second Period: The Reform Era (1930-1970)

The second period of American policing, known as the reform era, began in the 1930s and lasted until the 1970s. This period was characterized by efforts to professionalize law enforcement and remove politics from police work.


  • Civil service systems were introduced to remove political influence from hiring decisions
  • Police officers received more training and education
  • The focus of policing shifted towards preventing crime rather than maintaining order
  • New technologies such as radios and patrol cars were introduced to improve police efficiency

Third Period: The Community Policing Era (1970-2001)

The third period of American policing, known as the community policing era, began in the 1970s and lasted until the early 2000s. This period was characterized by efforts to build stronger relationships between police departments and the communities they served.


  • Police departments worked to build trust with the communities they served
  • Officers were trained to work collaboratively with community members and organizations
  • The focus of policing was on problem-solving and community engagement
  • New technologies such as crime mapping were introduced to help police departments better understand the needs of their communities

Fourth Period: The Homeland Security Era (2001-Present)

The fourth and current period of American policing, known as the homeland security era, began in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001. This period has been characterized by a renewed focus on national security and counterterrorism efforts.


  • Police departments have increased their cooperation with federal agencies such as the FBI and Department of Homeland Security
  • New technologies such as facial recognition software and surveillance cameras have been introduced to improve public safety
  • The focus of policing has shifted towards preventing terrorist attacks and responding to natural disasters
  • There are concerns about civil liberties and privacy violations due to increased surveillance and intelligence-gathering efforts

In conclusion, understanding the history of American policing is essential to understanding how law enforcement functions today. By examining each period in detail, we can gain a better appreciation for how far we have come and where we need to go in order to build stronger relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve.