The Beginning of Law Enforcement, Rollin Perkins

Perkins begins by talking about how one day motion pictures with sound effects would become an important part of documenting history. Little did he know just how important video would be to law enforcement in the future. With no video of the beginnings of law enforcement, we have to rely on our minds and imagination to visualize the early days of our profession. He details the “hue and cry” as where it all began. If someone were to discover they were a victim of a theft, they couldn’t phone the police, because of two main problems: they didn’t have phones, and the police didn’t exist. Instead, the victim would alert the village by blowing a horn and shouting “Out! Out!” His neighbors would come from their homes, already armed, to come to his aid even without knowing the circumstances. In the example, a cow has been stolen. A young witness advises he saw a man taking the cow from the village. With this information, the newly formed mob begins a march in the direction the suspect was last seen. They shout. They blow horns. They clang their weapons. Upon reaching a new village, those villagers also come out, armed, ready to assist. The suspects direction is surmised and the now larger group marches on.
—-The authors image presents a few key points. This willingness of neighbors to assist, even before they know the issue is something we have lost over time. People can witness crimes and turn a blind eye. The murder of Kitty Genovese in 1964 New York is a prime example. Stabbed and killed outside of her apartment, 35+ people reportedly saw or heard the attack and failed to call the police. It became known as the “bystander effect” or the “Genovese attack.” Although those facts have been disputed over the years, and perhaps people DID report it, many of us in law enforcement have seen time and again people refusing to get involved. This lack of community responsibility has placed more of a burden on the police profession. Another issue raised is the physical fitness of the mob. Once they leave the second village, those less physically fit turn around, leaving the new crew and the more fit of the original crew to continue. I’m not the most physically fit cop around. That being said, a basic level of fitness and a willingness to continue the mission are important not only in the pursuit of justice, but also of utmost importance in not creating more work for our co-workers.
Back to the book:
Perkins addresses the capture of the suspected thief. Spotted in the distance, walking the missing cow, the suspect hears the cries and shouts of the “hue and cry” mob. As they begin to rush him, he flees. The fittest and fastest catch him. There is no “laws delay” in these days. Justice is swift. Appeals are non-existent. For too long, the suspects were presumed to be willing to say anything, to lie because they were obviously protecting their own interests. Refused the right to defend themselves, they had to sit and listen as anyone who had anything to contribute was allowed to build the case against them. In the end, our suspect is hung from the tree. Compared to the all too modern Lynch mobs, the hue and cry was criticized for its focus on justice and inattention to possible innocence. It was ineffective in solving crimes and when they were solved, the question of guilt remained. Was our suspect the actual thief? Was he unwittingly drawn into by the original suspect selling or dumping his ill-gotten goods? Without a process of effective trial, the hue and cry eventually fell from favor.
Centuries later, the “Grand Jury” came to be in the Assize of Clarendon in 1166. An “appeal” in this time was different than we view it today. It was an accusation of a felony. An appeal could be viewed today as charging. Although entitled to a trial, the accused was often only offered trial by combat. Although discarded for centuries, it was not formally abolished until 1819!
—–The Assize of Clarendon. Established by Henry II in the midst of the crusades it attempted to solve many problems. No records were officially maintained as to who owned which properties and disputes were increasing as squatters began to claim supposedly already claimed land. Two warring factions in the kingdom created many property disputes as each faction claimed and dispersed with property they each felt they had a right too. Of extreme importance was the King’s efforts to create a court with authority over the church. The church had been holding court outside of the kingdoms reach. Biased in their rulings, judgements often ran contrary to the kingdoms interests. All of this built the framework for trial systems in common law.
Back to the book:
Perkins described people caught “in seisin of his crime.” Caught red handed, people in the past were denied trials. Ancient tribes, when faced with a tribesman committing evil deeds, were faced with the fear that their god or gods would associate the tribe with the evildoer. To disassociate, they stripped the evil tribesman naked, forced them into exile, and destroyed his home and belongings. Removing all connections, they hoped to avoid any punishment from the gods.
—These outcasts were referred to as “wolf.” They were demonized and could be killed by anyone without repercussion. I found it interesting that even centuries or millennia ago, they referred to their societies worst members as “wolves.” Dave Grossman’s sheep/sheepdog/wolf analogy may be rooted more in history than analogy than I previously thought.
Back to the book:
Perkins describes a process of “exacting.” Rather than the arduous process of arrest, a suspect was accused and indicted in 4 successive county courts. He was expected to appear at one of the courts to face the accusation and defend himself. If at the 5th hearing, the accused failed to show, he was stripped of property and lands, and if later captured, his guilt was presumed and his trip to the gallows was expedited. The main drawback was that one might be facing indictment and miss all 5 court dates without ever hearing of his indictment. If sentenced in absence, and never found, he was essentially “dead” in the courts eyes and could never own property again.
Prior to many of these advancements in law enforcement, sheriffs, bailiffs, and constables were tasked with leading the hue and cry mobs. They evolved with the times into more of what we recognize today. Arrest and detention has become an official responsibility. Not until 1829 did Sir Robert Peel form his “Bobbies.” The London Police had been formed.
Moving to America
Massachusetts 1699 saw the formation of a “watch” to keep the area safe from 9pm until sunrise. The “ward” was responsible for the daytime hours. Able bodied men, 16 years and older, rotated the responsibility without compensation. Eventually paid men took the duties. Not until 1884 did New York authorize the consolidation of watch and ward to form the first modern police force.

Is there a time in history you wish you could be a cop? Are you thankful for the advancements we’ve made? Should the hue and cry come back? Like, comment, share, message. I’d love a discussion.


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My name is Kevin and I’ve been in law enforcement for almost 10 years. I’m also a bit of a nerd. Nerd: I read and collect comic books, particularly books outside of the big two publishers. I collect and display toys, mainly action figures and vehicles. Cop: I’ve been a cop for almost 10 years. Certified Taser Instructor Certified Crash Reconstructionist Certified in FBI Statement Analysis Certified Hostage Negotiator Former Emergency Response Team Member My intent is to review police equipment, comic books, non-fiction books, toys, documentaries, and anything else that interests me. Views expressed and pictures posted in no way imply any endorsement from any Agency.

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