How The U.S. Police Service Was Founded As A Slave Hunting Organization

By Jacob Shelton
(Getty Images)

It may seem like police have been around since the first caveman stole a rock from another, but they've actually only been patrolling since just before the Civil War. At the time, the police weren’t "the police" but a loose configuration of white men who worked as slave hunters for wealthy land owners. It took major reforms in the 19th century to turn these ragged groups of semi-vigilantes into the police force that we know today.

Criminal Cops

Colonial-era communities had a variety of methods for policing themselves. In many instances, private groups were paid to act as a kind of protective force, but in other towns, unpaid volunteers stood sentry during the evening. These volunteers weren’t ace crime-stoppers by any means: They were known for falling asleep on their shifts, drinking on the job, or just ignoring their duties altogether. Many "volunteers" were put on the job because they were in trouble with the law and avoiding jail time.