Early in Humankind’s history, societies formed “Codes” of Law to govern the people. The earliest collections of laws–known as “Codes”–were originally suggested by the discovery and diffusion of the art of writing in Africa, c77,000 BC. These were a mingling of religious, civil, and merely moral ordinances—all based upon Ma’at (Spiritual Elements in action)—the influence of right and righteousness, justice and harmony, balance, respect, and human dignity. Throughout African history there was rarely any component of retributive justice because of the belief that nothing in earth or heaven is without spirit. Thus, religious ideas were applied equally to all sectors of African society—with no difference between the rich and poor; aristocrats or commoners. Since Ancient Africans never had a police force or jails, perhaps the oldest known well-formed Police Codes were those of Hammurabi (1792-1750 BC). Along with his military and political achievements, he instituted forms of policing in Babylon (Mesopotamia). In early Rome, the Patron and client bonded relationship was similar to that of feudal lord and his man as well as to today’s police and their suspects. Like the patron and lord, the police were supposed to stay within the agreed upon societal concepts that embraced Integrity, Honesty, Decency, and Virtue. The 1066 Norman Conquest of England by William, The Conqueror, brought in a number of French systems, including the word “Police” and its military flavor. Much of the Magna Carta (1215) established guidelines for the police—the sheriff and the village constable. Police killing was rampant.

Subsequently, other early systems—either in military or semi-military style–consisted of citizens banding together for mutual protection. To promote acceptable police conduct, police departments developed “Codifications”—i.e. orderly and authoritative statements of the leading rules of law on a given subject. Policies and patterns differed but discretion was essential. In theory and ideally there have been four dimensions crucial to achieve the level of police integrity: (a) the quality of official rules and the manner in which they are made, communicated, and understood within a police agency; (b) the quality of the detection, investigation, and disciplinary actions taken by that agency; (c) the willingness of officers to report another officer’s misconduct; and (d) the influence of the agency’s environment on its level of police integrity.  In C19, to cope with London crime and violence, there was created a ruthless force of secret police and in 1829, Scotland Yard’s police activity. Meanwhile, the colonies transported these systems to the Americas as a means of controlling Enslaved Africans. In the early 1800s the USA became more urban and patterns of ethnic diversity began to erode the social and political influence of the original English and Dutch settlers. Besides rioting, crime, and disorder flourishing, the life-styles of new Germans and Irish immigrants offended the moral and social sensitivities of the original settlers.

Immigrant and urban behaviors were perceived as a threat to the social, economic, and political fabric of American life. Then police were set-up in military organizational style–from the Federal level down through state, county, city, and private levels. This meant police power included all powers of internal government embracing the settlement of disputes; the levy and collection of taxes; the enactment and enforcement of criminal law; police and military action to maintain order and prevent disaster; the regulation of agriculture, industry, religion, and education; and the operation of the post office, roads, warehouses, dams, and other instruments of communication, transportation, and public welfare. After 1847, freedom of the individual was presumed (except for the Enslaved) and the rule that urgent public necessity or interest must be demonstrated to justify government action. However, the “Dark Ages” of the police extended to 1900, with departments under the direction of politicians, with ill-equipped and poorly paid policemen + widespread corruption and brutality of Black People, particularly as part of ‘crime prevention’s’ Deterrence and arrest aspects. A prominent feature was that throughout this history, as a rule of thumb, the more eager a policeman was/is to perform his duty by arresting criminals, the more tempted he was/is to ignore, and even violate the suspect’s constitutional rights. jabaileymd.com; Blackvoicenews.com


Joseph A. Bailey II, MD, FACS