Police History In the beginning, there was kin policing, with its penchant for blood feuding and traditions of tribal justice. Many pre-civilized villages or communities are believed to have had a rudimentary form of law enforcement (morals enforcement) derived from the power and authority of kinship systems, rule by elders, or perhaps some form of totemism or naturism. Under kin policing, the family of the offended individual was expected to assume responsibility for justice by capturing, branding,
or mutilating the offender. To be sure, there were also theocratic institutions (religious temples, magic rituals, grand viziers), but these were probably used as a system of appeals (sanctuary, refuge) and for purposes not associated with justice. Since war has existed, the police function has been
somewhat inseparable from the military function as ancient rulers almost always kept elite, select units (bodyguards) close at hand to protect them from threats and assassination attempts, and although it was more theocratic than militaristic, the argument could be made that the first known civilization (Egypt) was a police state.
In Mesopotamia, the rise of cities like Uruk, Umma, Eridu, Lagash, and Ur is widely regarded as the "birth of civilization". However, these cities were in a state of constant warfare, and in terms of looking at which residents bore the closest resemblance to police officers, the argument could be made that captured Nubian slaves were the first police force. This group was often put to work as marketplace guards, Praetorian guards, or in other mercenary-like positions. As a police force, their different color, stature, and manner of dress made them quite visible among the Mesopotamians. The idea of visibility could then be regarded as the first principle of crime control.
With the rise of the city-states came forms of criminal justice that could be considered as king's policing. It's conventional to note that things like the Code of Hammurabi marked the first known system of criminal law as well as the start of other practices. The Hebrews developed the Mosaic Law and a rudimentary adversverdana system. The Greeks experimented with highway patrol and jury trials (Athens) as well as secret police and mercenary systems (Sparta). Across Africa, trials were being conducted while sitting down (three-legged stools of justice). Violators were brought before thrones of justice in the name of the crown, and to keep the peace meant, for the most part, keeping the king's peace of mind. Greek philosophy (Aristotle, Plato) was largely responsible for popularizing the majesty of justice by associating good law and order with virtue.
It's widely recognized that the first organized police force were the Roman vigiles, the first group of nonmilitary and nonmercenary police. They were created by Gaius Octavius, the grand nephew of Julius Caesar, around 27 B.C. After his uncle was assassinated, little Octavius swore revenge and rose to power with a desire to reform Roman society. Once he became ruler, he took the name Augustus Caesar, or more simply Augustus, the first emperor of Rome. Let's take a close look at the steps involved in establishment of the world's first organized police force:
the first thing Augustus did was create a special unit, called the Praetorian Guard, to protect him from assassination. 9000 men were selected and divided into 9 cohorts of 1000 each. 3 of these cohorts operated as undercover operatives housed among the civilian residents. The Praetorian Guard eventually became involved in assassination plots themselves, and were disbanded or reabsorbed by the military.
the second thing Augustus did was create a daytime city fire brigade of 600 slaves and spread them among 14 separate precincts. The slaves proved inadequate and were disbanded, but the prefect (precinct) system proved workable.
the slave fire brigade was replaced by urban cohorts, headed by a prefect of the urban cohorts. These were a less select military unit of men who weren't good enough to get into the Praetorian Guard. They were several thousand of them. They were primarily responsible for fire safety during daytime hours, and they were fairly inadequate at it.
the urban cohorts were supplemented by nighttime cohorts, and there were several thousand of them, recruited and selected from among freedmen only. They were known as the vigiles (watchmen) of Rome, and were empowered not only to fight fires but to arrest law breakers. The prefect of the vigiles eventually became a powerful man, passing judgment on most lawbreakers, except for serious lawbreakers who had to be turned over to the prefect of the urban cohorts. The vigiles were armed with clubs as well as short swords. They eventually took over the duties of the urban cohorts.
MIDDLE AGES (400 A.D. - 1600 A.D.)
The middle ages either had no system of law enforcement or one of two systems, depending upon what part of the world you were in. Where law enforcement existed, it was most likely a variety of the watch system -- a system premised on the importance of voluntarily patrolling the streets and guarding cities from sunset to sunrise ("2 A.M. and all's well"). The predominant function of policing became class control (keeping watch on vagrants, vagabonds, immigrants, gypsies, tramps, thieves, and outsiders in general). Despite some innovations during this time period (the Magna Carta of 1215 being a notable example), most of this era was characterized by lawlessness and corruption. By the 1500s, there was no country in the world with more robbers, thieves, and prostitutes than England. Other countries, too, experienced lawlessness to such a degree that citizen groups, known as vigilantes, sprang up to combat crime.