You might be tempted to think that I'm anti-police by the headings, but I'm not.
The police serve a purpose in our society, and are needed in every area of the United States. However, the police started as a professional vigilante group (vigilante only means Night Watch), and while they served that purpose they were wonderful. The police started to replace the community vigilante groups around our nation, beginning in the 1800's and professional policing didn't start until around the 1930's. Until then, the only policing was federal marshals, and town sheriffs.
The Marshals service started in 1798, and is part of the Executive Branch of the US government. The head of the US Marshals is the Department of Justice, and the purpose was law enforcement in the entire United States. "And be it further enacted, That a marshal shall be appointed in and for each district for a term of four years, but shall be removable from office at pleasure, whose duty it shall be to attend the district and circuit courts when sitting therein, and also the Supreme Court in the district in which that court shall sit.(b) And to execute throughout the district, all lawful precepts directed to him, and issued under the authority of the United States, and he shall have the power to command all necessary assistance in the execution of his duty, and to appoint as shall be occasion, one or more deputies." Think Marshall Mat Dillon. He WAS the law.
George Washington wrote, "Impressed with a conviction that the due administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good Government, I have considered the first arrangement of the Judicial department as essential to the happiness of our Country, and to the stability of its political system; hence the selection of the fittest characters to expound the law, and dispense justice, has been an invariable object of my anxious concern." Even Washington knew that we needed law enforcement in order to have a stable society.
Private law enforcement agencies were in effect almost from the beginning of the United States. New York started their Night Watch in 1610, and they were a combination of police officer, and fire warden. The job was to walk the streets and check on houses. They carried wooden rattles, lanterns and weapons. The rattles made a distinctive sound and were used to rouse people from bed if there was a fire or some other emergency. They were called the Rattle Watch, instead of Vigilante. Baltimore started their first policing force in 1851, and Boston 1653. Most police forces did not get a start until the early/mid 1800's and all of them were appointed by Mayors (occasionally a governor would appoint them, especially in the early days), and often the Chief of Police was a cousin, brother, or some other contributor to the Governor's or Mayor's campaign. As you can imagine, the departments were hotbeds of corruption and brutality. Even modern policing textbooks note that early policing in our nation was one of brutality and corruption - one even notes that young officers should steer clear of Corruption at least to a point - but all textbooks acknowledge that corruption is rampant even in todays police departments.
The first professional policing in the USA was in the early 1900's in New York, with the first police cars in 1932. Police were still rife with corruption and often immune to the law. In 1951, as many as fifty mostly drunk police officers beat six prisoners for an hour and a half, in public, with over a hundred witnesses. In 1952 only five of the officers involved were convicted, and none of them spent a year in jail - most far less than that.
In 1993, the Troop C Scandal police officers lifted fingerprints from items the arrestee had touched while being questioned, then police lied and said the prints came from the scene of the crime. The innocent man was given 50 years in prison. The case came about when Trooper David Harding applied for a job at the CIA and was asked if he would break the law for his country. He answered yes, then started to tell of all the people he, "Knew were guilty," and how he and others would fabricate evidence to make sure they were convicted.
Jerry Miller was looking for work and was stopped by police for a routine question and answer. His answers led him to be convicted of rape, robbery, and kidnapping and he was given 25 years in prison. How it happened was that an officer did a quick Q and A of Mr. Miller a few days before, and when the rape was reported, the police officer said that he saw someone that looked like that in the area. At the time that Miller spoke to police no crime had been committed, yet, his arrest stemmed from that conversation. He is only one of 85 people released on DNA proof that they were not the person who committed the crime in Illinois - and that is just one state. In 81 of the 85 cases misconduct or correctable error was behind the convictions. To make matters worse, the cases are not generally pulled to find the real criminal - because if they DO find the true criminal, then there is a chance that the evidence will prove misconduct and open the departments to lawsuits.
Alton Logan was released after 26 years in prison, convicted of killing a security guard, after police decided that he did it, and made sure that he was convicted. He was awarded 40,000 for his years in prison, or about 30.00 a week.
Police may be the most outstanding and wonderful people you will ever meet. They MAY be. They may be frustrated, under pressure to convict someone, and willing to lie to make sure that you get convicted - especially if you irritate them or are new to the area and cannot offer an alibi. As one story says, you never know who you are dealing with, and you cannot take that chance, your life is on the line when you talk to police.
If you are approached by the police, remember these phrases.
Am I being Detained?
Am I free to go?
I wish to exercise my right to be silent.
Officer, I do not consent to any searches.
Just remember, the police are there to do a job, and that job is to find people to attach to crimes that have been committed. Don't foolishly attach yourself to a crime by trying to be nice.