Political Era | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction / Policing

The Political Era was a period during the Nineteenth Century when policing in America’s large urban centers was defined by political patronage, and graft and corruption were rampant.

The Political Era of policing in America was characterized by political patronage and rampant corruption. It began in the mid-19th century and lasted until the early 20th century. During this time, police departments were typically small and poorly organized. The role of the police was often seen as enforcing the will of the political bosses rather than protecting and serving the community.

In the Political Era, police officers were often appointed based on political connections rather than merit or qualifications. This led to a lack of professionalism and accountability within police departments. Corruption was also widespread, with officers accepting bribes and engaging in other criminal activities.

One of the reasons for the prevalence of corruption during the Political Era was the lack of adequate funding for police departments. Police officers were often paid poorly and had to rely on bribes and other illegal means to make ends meet. The low salaries also meant that many officers were susceptible to outside influence and pressure from political bosses.

Another factor contributing to the corruption during this time was the absence of effective oversight mechanisms. Police departments were largely unregulated and had little external oversight. This lack of accountability made it easier for officers to engage in corrupt practices without fear of punishment.

The Decline of the Political Era

The Political Era began to decline in the early 20th century as a result of several factors. One of the key developments was the creation of civil service systems, which replaced political patronage with a merit-based system of hiring and promotion. This led to the professionalization of police departments and the development of a more skilled and dedicated police force.

Another important development was the establishment of external oversight mechanisms such as police commissions and review boards. These bodies were designed to provide independent oversight of police departments and to investigate complaints of misconduct or corruption.

Shifts in Public Attitudes

In addition to these institutional changes, there was also a shift in public attitudes toward policing. The public began to demand a more professional and accountable police force that was focused on protecting and serving the community. This shift in public opinion led to the adoption of community policing models and other reforms designed to strengthen the relationship between the police and the communities they serve.

Despite the decline of the Political Era, its legacy can still be seen in some aspects of modern policing. For example, the influence of political power and corruption can still be a problem in some police departments, particularly in areas where there is limited oversight and accountability. However, the overall trend in policing has been towards greater professionalism, accountability, and community engagement, as the police have sought to improve their effectiveness and legitimacy in the eyes of the public.

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Last Modified: 04/10/2023


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