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History of the American police officer (courtesy

TTAG reader Chip in South Florida writes:

I just had a job cross my desk that I found interesting and thought you, too, would get a kick out of it. The Chief of Police of my fine town asked me to print this poster for a display he is assembling. It’s a neat picture showing the general progression of Police from the late 1700’s to now. It starts on the left with the Rattle Watch from the 1700’s, then Officer, Marshall, et cetera up to the 50’s with the motorcycle cop and then on up to a SWAT team of today. It is a rather neat piece of artwork, well done overall. Now go back and look at the graphic again but pay attention to the stance of each presentation. From the left . . .

The Rattle Watch with his rattle raised in hue and cry, pistol at the ready if needed. Ever watchful, ever ready! The Marshal has his rifle but his stance is casual, easy going. He has a nice mustache. The Patrolman of the 20’s is alert but still generally friendly looking with his dog. Here is where it gets really interesting . . .

The Detective of the 60’s! Look at that action forward stance and the Sgt Friday face! Shield out front, handgun at the ready to take down the bad guys! I suspect the author of this particular piece of artwork is a Detective, or maybe married to one. Or they just have a really deep love of the television show Dragnet.

Still going left to right and past the action of the Just the Facts 60’s Detective we are next presented with a State Trooper from the 70’s. Calm, cool, collected, don’t mess with the hat. Notice the para-military look of the uniform and the military at-ease stance? Is this the beginning of the militarization of the Police? I mean overtly with the uniform and military posturing.

Lets go one more, a presentation of City Police and the tag indicates 90’s. Yea diversity because we have a woman! But not so fast, she has her hand on her service weapon. She isn’t taking nothing from nobody and she has a gun and knows how to use it!

And then the last presentation…. SWAT from the 00’s. Helmet, ‘assault’ riffle, plate armor, tactical thigh holster with a handgun, knee pads. I’m sure there is a no-knock warrant somewhere in one of the tactical pouches stuck to all that Velcro.

To be fair to the presentation of the artist, this is something done by Police for Police. It will mean something completely different to those on the other side of the Thin Blue Line. But it does raise some questions.

Like if the overall crime rate is going down, why is the militarization of the Police going up? Have the criminals changed so much from the 60’s to now that the Police need so much more armor? Didn’t the bank robbers on the 70’s run in with some guns, grab all the cash and then run out? Don’t the bank robbers of today still do that?

Sure in the movies it takes entire the ENTIRE Police Force to surround the Nakitomi Plaza while the bad guys armed with anti-tank ordinance and near unlimited ammunition clear-out the impenetrable safe on the 37th floor. That is a movie.

Here in the real world, the bank robbers are long gone by the time the first officer arrives and then needs to look at the camera’s to figure out who to go look for. Hardly something worthy of firing up the Mobile Command Center and SWAT Team.

Meh. What do I know? I guess if I had a Mobile Command Center I would want to play with it any chance I got. Those things DO have a PA system so I could even play my own theme song as I arrive! Enjoy the linked graphic. I know I did. Now, for me, back to the printer to finish this project.

Chip in South Florida
I live where everyone else vacations.


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    • The American people, of course. They’re the only thing standing between the government thugs and a tyranny worse than Orwell’s worst nightmare.

    • The only thing standing between civilians and freedom is government. The more people are wanting freedom (which is happening big-time now) the more aggro the government and their iron-fist enforcers (the police) get.

    • You want to see militarized police. Check out the Nevada Highway Patrol in Reno. Totally Blacked out SUV’s and cars. I don’t know who the H they’re trying to intimidate but it’s probably Californians.

    • Most of those uniforms look just as military as the state trooper.

      “Like if the overall crime rate is going down, why is the militarization of the Police going up?”

      If we’re going to ask that question, we should keep in mind that it could be easily (if perhaps incorrectly) answered by claiming that the crime rate is going down BECAUSE the police went militaristic.

  1. Interesting–what is the 1870’s Marshal doing with a flintlock?? Interesting #2–Home School Legal Defense Ass’n?

    • It was probably dirt cheap and he had to buy his rifle himself. He also probably had to be a better shot than NYC cops because he couldn’t mag dump into a bunch of bystanders while totally missing the target like they get to.

    • HSLDA provides just that…legal defense for member homeschool families.

      The attack on Parent’s Rights is just as strong as the attack on 2A rights. You might be very surprised at how often their services are needed by member families…everything from local schools boards and state officials acting ‘beyond the law’ to SCOTUS appearances.

      They write a LOT of letters to local and state bureaucrats on “Lawyer Letterhead” on behalf of their members.

      Now, if rather than ‘what IS HSLDA’ your question is/was “Why are THEY selling that poster,” I’m sure I don’t know. Perhaps it was one of their members that made it? Beyond that kind of simple guess…I have no clue.

    • Good eye! That rifle far predates the 1870s… the officer would most likely have had a revolver of some variety.

      • And a lever-action rifle, and would probably be in mufti, as they say. Dressy civilian clothes or out-on-the-trail clothes.

    • Glad i’m not the only one who caught that flintlock. US marshals were well equipped, but they were created almost 100 years before indicated in the poster, so a flintlock was advanced in 1789.

  2. I don’t think their uniforms are any more militaristic then any others.

    Compare the Rattlewatch of the 1700’s to the Minute man uniforms. Quite similar.

    Or your Marshal’s Uniform vs a Civil War uniform.

    Motorcycle cop’s vs World War 2 uniform.

    • I think you’re mostly right. Another interesting thing–first time I’ve seen an ‘Old West” US Marshal in anything resembling a uniform–and that includes photographs of marshals from the period.

  3. There is a fascinating, if sad and disturbing, juxtaposition of the legal compulsion upon law-abiding citizens when the Rattle Watch raised the hue and cry, and the near-complete legal immunity of the SWAT member when violating the constitutional rights of today’s law-abiding citizens.

  4. I’m presently reading Radley Balko’s “Rise of the Warrior Cop.”

    One tidbit I just got to that seems relevant: the original London police force wore uniforms blue in color to help emphasize to the local citizenry – as well as to themselves – that they weren’t military (aka Redcoats).

    On that picture, anyway, the US seems to have followed the British tradition, right up until we get to the last image on the right.

    Self-image matters.

    And for that matter, so does training. The original London force were explicitly trained and required to be polite and respectful in their dealings with the public, regardless of rank, station or circumstance of those they were dealing with.

  5. “There’s a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.”

    – Cdr. William Adama, BS-75 Galactica

  6. That’s funny, because I’ve been working 6 years and more than 90% of all the cops I see are dressed like #7,8 or 9.

    How about we get a poster of how the military has changed?

    • I guess that makes you #10, ready to execute any dogs or children who happen to be around when you feel like playing with your taxpayer-provided toys?

    • I was in a minor motorcycle accident recently and the cop who filed the report looked exactly like the last one minus the helmet. He even had a molle plate carrier with an AR mag in a fast mag and a thigh holster…. for a fender bender.

      • Not being sarcastic. Where were you when you had the fender bender. I live in west Texas. we don’t see the full on mil-tech officer her very much I believe the area will make a difference.

        • Mesa, AZ. Granted there were two other officers there who looked like #9 but the guy that actually signed his name and asked the questions was #10

        • Dude was wearing a plate carrier in Mesa? Maybe he was being hazed or something, because it’s hard to believe you would wear that shit voluntarily. If he was, he deserves to suffer though. Probably drinks a case of Gatorade per shift.

  7. If you took the picture of the SWAT guy, removed the word “police” and showed it to a bunch of people, I wonder how many would think it is a cop and how many would think it is a member of the military.

  8. The 1960s are the domain of plainclothes detectives who would like a word with me and might shoot me.

    The 1990s are the domain of distrustful women who might have to shoot me if I don’t get in touch with my inner child.

    The 2000s are the domain of badass operators who probably can’t be bothered to shoot me because I’m not a black man and haven’t yet adopted the requisite “hands up don’t shoot” pose (on the other hand, I am one of those insurrectionists who supports the Second Amendment, so a SWATting might be in order).

    Did I get it right?

    • Except that the entire “hands up, don’t shoot” narrative was in fact on out-right fabrication from the very beginning.

      Better to examine the deaths of Eric Garner, Walter Sott, Tamir Rice, and John Crawford instead.

  9. If the ’20s patrolman is posing with a live dog, the no-knock SWAT jackalope should be posing with a dead one.

    • I looked up ‘rattle watch’ on Wikipedia and I found this under the ‘History of Firefighting’ page;

      ‘In 1648, the New Amsterdam governor Peter Stuyvesant appointed four men to act as fire wardens.[3] They were empowered to inspect all chimneys and to fine any violators of the rules. The city burghers later appointed eight prominent citizens to the “Rattle Watch” – these men volunteered to patrol the streets at night carrying large wooden rattles.[3] If a fire was seen, the men spun the rattles, then directed the responding citizens to form bucket brigades.’

      No mention of fighting crime.

      • Thanks. It seems the police want a pedigree that they don’t really deserve.

        I wish we could return to the days when we didn’t have police. Sounds radical but it’s been the way for more centuries than it wasn’t.

        • I can’t help but wonder if we’ve just overcomplicated things, and with that a lot of excess kruft has grown around the real core PURPOSE of “Justice.”

        • ‘I wish we could return to the days when we didn’t have police.’

          Unfortunately those were the days of the ‘Crown’ and the civilian police work was performed by the actual military and not the militarized civilian police. It was a good idea to create a less confrontational force to police the civilians, but it seems we are going around full circle.

          Unless the criminal code is simplified and diminished there will never be a return to the good old days of CIVILIAN police. The good news is that there is a rising tide of public opinion against the war on drugs, which has been one of the two primary excuses to militarize the police (the other being terrorism).

        • @JR_in_NC: The whole notion of peace officer has gone off mission. There needs to be a return to serving writs & warrants, apprehending fugitives from justice, and generally assisting with keeping the peace. What we have now is unnecessary and extremely dangerous to Liberty. On the flip side, the People must understand that their police officers cannot stop crimes, cannot apprehend every fugitive, and cannot be responsible for everyone’s safety. Peace officers are supposed to be an augmentation to the People in performance of their individual duty to their own safety and security; not a replacement for that individual responsibility.

          IMHO, too many Americans have neglected their personal responsibilities and expect law enforcement to be responsible for them. In other words, they wanted a nanny and that’s what they are getting.

        • John in Ohio:

          Well said. Your last paragraph sums it up nicely: the abrogation of responsibility lies at the heart of many of the issues we see.

          That is, people had/have to willingly GIVE their Rights AND Responsibilities away; doing so just makes it that much easier for Statists that swoop in and take advantage of that willingness to consolidate control.

        • The biggest abrogation of responsibility the people are guilty of has been in the voting booth. The bureaucrats have no interest in the people taking care of themselves, they wish the people to be dependent on them. It’s in the interest of their own self preservation.

      • Police as an organized government-backed force actively enforcing laws on the streets is a relatively recent invention. For the most part, those duties were carried out by the citizens themselves (who often formed private companies dedicated to that purpose, with training etc, but not having any special rights or privileges). If I remember correctly, the first government police force in Europe was established in France at the height of absolutism (and shortly before the Revolution).

  10. Yea diversity because we have a woman! But not so fast, she has her hand on her service weapon. She isn’t taking nothing from nobody and she has a gun and knows how to use it!.

    She knows how to use it because it is her 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and last method to solve a physical confrontation. Because the Rules Of Engagement could not be different (for PC reasons) for men and women police that meant the mens response to a confrontation was also re-prioritized to pull their gun with every scenario of danger.

    Therefore the increase in police thugish behavior tracks with the new ROE implemented as women came into the force.

    Just another failed social experiment performed on the American people by the Left.

  11. Let’s put things in a bit of perspective:
    “Tough John Slaughter, Sheriff of Cochise County, Ariz., in the late ‘80’s put a reporter from a New York newspaper straight on the matter in short order. Somehow the dude scribe got up the nerve to ask Slaughter why he carried a shotgun along with a Winchester 44-40 and a Colt 44 revolver on his manhunts.
    John’s hard black eyes narrowed in contempt. “To kill men with, you damned fool!” he snapped.”

    New York City Detective Johnny Broderick. Bad guys literally killed themselves when Broderick announced that he was on site. Legendary NYPD cop.

    Now tell me how cops were so much kinder and gentler back when….LOL

    • Truthfully, a lot of the “lawmen” of the Old West were alternately on both sides of the law. The biggest rustler in One Horse County, Az might just turn up a couple of years later as the sheriff of Burro Bones County, NM.

    • Hey at least cops back then didn’t lie like they do today.

      “Citizen, everything we do is for your safety. Including when we steal your property to buy gear for ourselves, shoot your dog, burn your toddler with a flashbang and beat you to a pulp then charge you for replacement uniforms.”

  12. Interesting and sad…from town cryer to standing army. And if you are a minority(black ,brown,yellow,red.Jewish,Irish,etc,) it’s been f###ed up for much longer. Now we’re all in the same boat…

  13. I walked into a gas station in a nice suburb of Indianapolis recently. Two cops inside. One in a utility type uniform, which I get. The other has a Voodoo Tactical combat vest complete with chest mounted sidearm. I though to myself “You aren’t in Ramadi anymore son”.

  14. What exactly is incendiary about this picture. It is a sadly accurate representation to what has actually happened it our blue. Calling this incendiary is like showing the progress of the Mustang car and calling it incendiary.

  15. Like if the overall crime rate is going down, why is the militarization of the Police going up?

    Fox Butterfield, is that You? “More Inmates, Despite Drop In Crime”. There might be a correlation.

  16. neighbor, neighbor, neighbor, neighbor, neighbor with a dog, neighbor with a motorcycle, jerk, asshole, bitch, threat.

    • Of course, civilians’ rattles should be limited to 10 clicks per minute, as no regular civilian needs to make more noise than that…

  17. Cool print and an interesting line of thought.

    I feel compelled to point out, though, that the military-style uniforms in this image start all the way on the left with the blue coat of the rattle watch and continue (with the exception of the oh-so-dashing detective).

  18. “Notice the para-military look of the uniform and the military at-ease stance? Is this the beginning of the militarization of the Police? I mean overtly with the uniform and military posturing.”

    As others have pointed out, most, if not all, of these uniforms look similar to military uniforms during their respective eras.

    Additionally, there’s a bit of a bait-and-switch going on, in that most of the police pictured are regular patrolmen, and then suddenly a SWAT member is shown. SWAT are police with a very specific role, and are hardly representative of the entire force’s look. If you want to say that SWAT’s getting called in when it shouldn’t be, and is unnecessarily heavy-handed in unjustified situations, I won’t argue with you, but don’t claim that that’s the look of 2000s police force when most of them still look like #7-#9.

    Also, what department is that SWAT guy with that he’s not wearing black or grey or blue or something? Is Central Park so heavily forested that they need woodland camo in there?

    • Note that this is a poster that is made by police officers. I agree that displaying a SWAT officer prominently there is somewhat weird and out-of-line, but they felt that this is how they want to represent themselves with pride. Which is actually quite telling in and of itself.

  19. “needs to look at the camera’s”
    The camera’s what? Right up there with “keep your finger off the trigger” is this safety rule:

    • Sorry about that…. I have a box of punctuation that I keep on a shelf above my desk and I knocked it over the other day. Ever since, I have been picking extra comma’s (apostrophes are just comma’s with a superiority complex) out of everything. They’re almost as bad as glitter, just when you think you’ve got’ them all cleaned up you see that many more again.

  20. Chip, great pickup on the nuances of the illustrated postures and how we think it relates to how the police mentality has also evolved to match those more threatening postures.

  21. Police in America have ALWAYS been militarized. What the guy who wrote this does not comprehend is that the traditioanal police uniform is a MILITARY uniform. Police administration has always used military titles- chief, captain, sergeant, etc… and police have always used military weapons. The .38 revolver they carried for most of the last century was called the Military and Police model as it was developed for the US Navy during Teddy Roosevelt’s day. The pump action shotgun is based on the trench guns designed for the US Army in WWI. The problem is police culture has always been reactionary and opposed to CHANGE. So they held onto outdated uniforms and equipment after the military upgraded. Nobody even took officer survival seriously until the 1970s for crying out loud.

    • I had a longish post typed out with links and quotes but the system ate it.

      Here is the executive summary from memory:

      Police in America have ALWAYS been militarized.

      Police in America were not always militarized. The county sheriff predates municipal police forces (Peel’s bobbies). NYC established a metropolitan police force in 1845, replacing night watchmen that had been used in America since 1631 (Boston). Your statement would only be valid from perhaps the 1830s and that isn’t “always”.

  22. The militarization of police started with the WaR on drugs. Brainwashing young bloods into thinking their at war with the people and use of language like “colaterol damage” to explain away innocent lost if life when they seige the wrong house go to show how far removed from traditional policing we have become.

  23. Detective seems to be running with his finger in the trigger guard of that revolver. I’m not saying it’s not realistic…I’m suggesting that maybe this is why some officers are required to carry service pistols with 15 lb triggers.


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