In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Police History

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Before the “Modern Police”
  • United States
  • Canada
  • Latin America
  • Africa
  • Australia and New Zealand
  • China, Japan, and India

Criminology Police History
Peter Neyroud, Antonio Vera
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0145


“Police history” predates the evolution of the “police” as a permanent occupational group within a bureaucratic institution, providing the primary state response to crime and disorder. That was primarily a development of the 19th century and a reaction to the rapid social change of the industrial revolution and rapid urbanization. Prior to 1800, governments maintained order by a variety of means, local and national. One of the key historical debates concerns the effectiveness of these approaches and the degree of continuity between the premodern and modern police models. 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. This state civilian model became the basis for all UK forces on the mainland and the principal influence on the development of East Coast US policing in the 1840s. As the three models have developed and evolved in different political systems over the years since 1800, they have both diverged and converged in various ways. There has been significant convergence in the basic disciplines of policing. However, the governance of the police, the use of force, and the management of public disorder have, in many cases, remained quite distinct in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. This bibliography has been organized by national histories. This is, in some ways, the easiest way to organize the material, but it also presents some difficulties in showing some of the crosscutting issues and challenges.

General Overviews

This set of references provides a good overall introduction to the history of the police. Emsley 2011, in particular, provides an overview of the history of policing from premodern times to the 20th century, with extensive bibliographic resources for further research. Uchida 2011 provides a good overview of US police history. Wakefield and Fleming 2009 provides a set of succinct summaries of the police history from across the globe. However, these general introductions identify a significant gap in the literature, in that there is no credible, single-volume history of the police which has attempted to summarize the similarities and differences in the development of the police across the modern developing world. There are some more recent attempts to provide comparative analyses of late-20th-century policing, but so far policing has tended to be treated as an aspect of national history rather than a subject of more general application. This has always been a problematic approach because of the relative fragility of national states and has become progressively more problematic since World War II with the influence of transnational institutions such as Interpol, the United Nations, and the European Union and the growth of transnational policing. Mawby 2008, an article in the Handbook of Policing, addresses some of the difficulties of the comparative approach. However, it does identify some general themes about the relationship between types of policing and industrial development, colonialism and communism, which run across national and regional boundaries. Emsley 2011 provides a very wide-ranging set of articles on policing history generally, and Emsley and Shpayer-Makov 2006 provides the best coverage of the history of the detective.

  • Emsley, C., ed. 2011. The history of policing. 4 vols. Farnham, UK: Ashgate.

    This four-volume collection on police history is supported by first-class introductory essays and bibliographies in each volume. The collection is somewhat Anglo-Saxon in its overall focus, and the articles and papers in the collection are all in English. However, the collection provides a very comprehensive treatment of English-speaking policing and a substantial treatment of European and Commonwealth countries.

  • Emsley, Clive, and Haia Shpayer-Makov, eds. 2006. Police detectives in history, 1750–1950. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.

    A collection of essays about the role of detectives ranging from the Bow Street Runners through to modern times and covering the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, and the wider British Empire.

  • Mawby, R. I. 2008. Models of policing. In Handbook of policing. 2d ed. Edited by T. Newburn, 17–46. Cullompton, UK: Willan.

    Mawby’s introductory article to the Handbook’s section on police history provides a region-by-region analysis of the different police systems across the world. The article identifies the difficulties of comparative approaches because of the considerable differences between national contexts and stages of societal development. Mawby includes a short bibliography at the conclusion.

  • Uchida, C. 2011. The development of the American police: An historical overview. In Critical issues in policing: Contemporary readings. 6th ed. Edited by R. G. Dunham and G. P. Alpert, 14–30. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland.

    Uchida provides the most succinct review of US police history starting with colonial police systems before the American Revolution and leading up to modern times. Uchida emphasizes the continuity of key issues from very early roots in premodern England and the recurring nature of problems such as corruption, riots, and reforms through the 19th and 20th centuries.

  • Wakefield, A., and J. Fleming. 2009. The SAGE dictionary of policing. London: SAGE.

    DOI: 10.4135/9781446269053

    The SAGE Dictionary has an eleven-page section devoted to police history, with entries on police history in the United Kingdom, United States, Africa, Australia, China, France, Germany, Japan, Latin America, and Russia, each supported by further reading suggestions.

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