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Elements of Police Science

As an avid reader, a student of history, and a police officer, I find myself interested in reading the history of policing. Part of my police memorabilia collection, I acquired a book called Elements of Police Science, by Rollin Perkins. It’s from 1942. That’s 75 years ago! In the coming weeks, I’d like to cover different topics addressed in the book and counter it with some modern perspective. Maybe we can learn a thing or two. Maybe we’ll uncover a long lost secret of law enforcement. Either way, stick with me and hopefully we can all come out a little better than we are today.
I’ll start with a summary of the preface:

The author, Rollin Perkins, describes policing as “the regulation and control of a community especially with reference to the maintenance of public order, safety, health, and morals.” 75 years later, I think it’s safe to say our primary goal is still regulating public order and safety. Health and morals have somewhat moved out of our realm. Morals have become uncontrollable and nobody wants to hear about health from a cop. The author iterates that no other profession is of more vital importance to a community.
While most of us today would groan when we walk in anywhere and hear someone loudly say, “Here comes THE LAW,” or even worse, “They’re here for YOU, Bob!” it was thought of as an expression of confidence in the police by those who supported law and order.
Perkins, in 1942, refers to an “old notion” of police as bullies using loud voices and force to keep people in their place. In his time, he describes the friendly picture of cops helping old ladies across streets, giving motorists directions, or as youth coaches. The badge and uniform were “an emblem of honor.” It begs the questions: has the world changed or have we changed? Both? Will we see a return to this simpler time?
Perkins addresses cops who have tarnished the badge. Comparing them to members of clergy who have disgraced the profession, he uses an interesting phrase. He states they “forgot themselves.” How many officers have had their careers destroyed by them “forgetting themselves,” and making horrible decisions? Apparently in 1942, much like today, one bad officer was capable of destroying the reputation of many. He ends with “The officer and the law-abiding citizen must be firm allies in the war on crime if there is to be real efficiency in the enforcement of law.”
Perkins continues by addressing education in law enforcement. It’s apparent this book was written prior to extensive training and education for cops. Individual departments were setting up their own schools and state wide special courses were beginning to make an appearance. He states “Experience has shown, let it be added, that the officer is peculiarly eager to obtain the information needed for the most effective performance of his duties.” I think this is still the case and educational and training opportunities should be the crave of every officer. Perkins details the key expectations for officers of the period.
Criminal Law
First aid
Scientific crime detection, at a basic level enough to know which expert to call
Firearms proficiency
Proper courtroom testimony
POLICE COURTESY
—-I have to expound on this. “The work of the modern police officer requires many contacts with persons not of the criminal class; and the impressions he makes as a result of these contacts may determine to a large degree whether or not the average citizen is to have due respect for the law itself.” Although last on his list, I think it deserves more attention. I’ve always thought that every police contact provides an officer the opportunity to build a friendship, and alliance, or at the very least, chip away at some level of bad blood. Being a jerk, or rude, can provide the exact opposite reaction.
Perkins predicts the growth of police academies and the licensing of police officers. He felt police of the future would require education and training on par with doctors and lawyers. He really missed the mark on that one. There was concern in ’42 that the old cops would be replaced by the new guys with their new training. He assured the readers then they’d be safe, and that only NEW officers would be required to have these new levels of training.
In 1942, educational materials on police matters were few and far between. It was taken less seriously, because being a cop was not considered a profession. People would work as a cop to make money and then move on to another job. The author encourages communities and officers alike to hold law enforcement in higher esteem. Once viewed as a profession, Perkins predicted a boom in books and materials. Although he saw a need for officers to specialize, he still saw the importance in education in police basics.
“Let it be admitted quite frankly that no one book will fill this need.”
Hopefully this preface summary has you interested in learning about policing in the 1940’s. I truly hope we can all learn something.

Please comment or message any lessons you learned from old-timers. Any opinions on this summary? I love discussion. What major changes are you expecting to see in the last 75 years? Think I should cram the book where the sun don’t shine and focus on the future of law enforcement and not the past? Share it!

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