Evolution of Police Responsibilities

Published 12 Jan 2017


The presence of police enforcers in a community or even in a state is almost a necessity. The whole idea of having police officers around makes the citizenry or the community in general safe and secure in their own homes. The time old dependency towards police officers as keeper of safety and security emanates from the principle that the responsibilities of these police officers support the core idea of society’s law and order. The police officers’ role in the community as the protector and the person charged for the enforcement of law developed over the years.

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Indeed, from being Praetorian Guard of the ancient Rome to the modern law enforcers of today, the responsibilities of these law enforcers have incredibly increased, expand or otherwise changed in its generic sense. But what brought about these changes? Is it the society which dictates the changes in the responsibilities of law enforcers? Or is it the society’s leader? Or is it the society’s law itself? Considering the great differences between the past and the present responsibilities of police officers have, this paper will discuss what have brought these changes.

How Have the Responsibilities of Police Officers Changed Overtime?

Law enforcement is as age old as the law which it tries to enforce. Thus, the changes and developments in the history of law may be considered as the direct link in the development of law enforcement. In discussing therefore how the changes in the responsibilities of law enforcers came about, this report will pide the era of law enforcement to the 1) Primitive and Ancient era; 2) City-State Era; 3) Progressive and Modern Day Era.

The Police in the Primitive Era

Enforcement of law and policing in the pre-civilized communities is guided by the Tribal System. In this system, the tribal chief is the repository of all executive, legislative and judicial power. This tribal chief has enormous power to give tasks to his tribal members including serving as his or his family’s body guard. Considering that the law enforced in this era is retaliatory, the aggrieved family members are the one who capture and give punishment to the accused.

In ancient Egypt, the Pharaoh is regarded as the leader of the community. Because war at such time is common, the pharaoh appoints a bodyguard to protect him and his family from assassinations. Other than this, the pharaoh also who appoints persons who are considered as public officers who performs police functions. Their weapon and symbol of authority is a staff topped by a metal knob engraved with the king’s name (Wrobleski and Hess, 2006, p.5). Historians believe that the police baton of the modern day police origin from this staff of the Egyptian thus, creating the common notion that the Egypt, being the first known civilization, was a police state.

Thus, from the foregoing, the responsibilities of persons regarded as the police officers of today was only basic guarding and protecting the lives of the chosen few or those that belongs to the upper class of the society. The person who serves as the police at that time therefore, has very limited and well-define as it does not concern the community at all but only certain number of powerful persons.

The Police in the City-State Era

The rise of the city-state brought with it the system of a clearer criminal justice system, though punishments indicated therein may still be considered inhuman and excessive in the present times. Group of person are commonly employed to bring violators before the throne of justice in the name of the king. Thus, mercenary system and secret police are later on employed.

It is only in Rome that the first official groups of law enforcers are created in the person of the Praetorian Guard. They are formed by the first emperor of Rome, Augustus Ceasar. Aside from guarding the life of the emperor, their job also consists of guarding the palace and to patrol the city. Later the Vigiles or the Watchmen of Rome were created. Initially, their function only consists of fire fighting but the same developed to include arresting of law breakers based ob their own judgment.

The Middle Ages introduced the class system where there is a definite pision between the rich and the poor. Thus, as this classification prevails, the watch system was introduced. It is a system where great importance was placed on patrolling the streets and guarding cities from sunset to sunrise. The primary function of policing became class control or keeping an eye on the vagrants, immigrants, thieves and outsiders in general.

It may be said that at that time what the society designates as a crime flows from an attempt on the part of the subordinate class to re-equalize distribution of assets either on a collective basis through rebellions, revolution or riots or on an inpidual bases. Hence, at such time, the police agency becomes necessary as one institution to aid maintaining equilibrium of inequality (Robinson, Scaglion and Olivero, 1994, p. 47).

It may be said therefore that during this era, the responsibilities of the enforcers of the law is beginning to widen as it does not only concern a specific family or person but it gave attention to the need of the society in general, the need of the society to harmonize the relationships of the different class and the need for the peace and order in the community.

The Police in the Progressive and Modern Day Era

The watch system was slowly left behind by the introduction of many forms policing. In England, for example, the first detectives were given birth by the name of the Bow Street Runners. This group of men first swept and clean Bow Street then later on, they were tasked to patrol the streets and combat highway robberies and other lawlessness. Then came the “Bobbies” of London which performs similar tasks.

However, it is only through Robert Peel that the idea of policing became quite clear. He introduced the 12- point guideline or the “Peelian Reform” which became the world standard in policing and included therein the code of discipline, appearance, recruitment and visibility of the police officers (Danztker,1998,p.28-29).

Today, responsibilities of police officers may be regarded as extensive as they adopt more on the needs of the society. Unlike the pre-modern era, their job does not only include the arrest of violators of the law but to the great extent, the maintenance of the order of the community (Walker, 1977, 143). The birth of modern technology widens the scope of police to include those that are committed not only in the community where they are in but also as to those committed in the cyberspace. Furthermore, the increasing numbers of crimes that are considered defiance against all state creates the InterPol.

Thus, in the modern times, the responsibilities of law enforcers include not only protecting life and property but also it involves enforcing the law, performing criminal investigation and a more interaction with the need of the community through regulating traffic, control and other public safety duties. Policing has indeed included an array of activities in different contexts, but the predominant ones are concerned with order maintenance and the provision of services (Neocleous,2004, 93-94). Police responsibilities continues to increase as they are not only regarded as keepers of the law but also a person whom the society can depend on not only in times of criminal violence and lawlessness but also during helplessness due to personal circumstances, like when there is domestic trouble, and chaos that was brought about by nature like in times of calamities.


The responsibilities of the police enforcers had deliberately changed over the centuries. From being just the body guard of the elite or the chosen few to the person who is now playing a major role in the community as the protector and enforcer of law and order in the modern context. These changes were brought about by the first, the change in our system of law. This is best illustrated in the primitive times where the principle that is being followed is lex taliones and people themselves are the enforcers of the law. This is much different from the modern times where the help of the law enforcers are needed in order to execute the law.

Second, the evolution of the responsibilities of law enforcers has changed due to the change in the society itself. Police responsibility therefore is a product of the societal structure of which it is a part. Simply stated, where the structure of a society provides more or less an equal right and opportunity for all societal members to share in access to and use of basic resources, then the police has as its function to see that inpiduals who attempt to interfere with that free and equal access are prevented from doing so. Conversely, if the society is class-based that society must have a state structure to maintain that unequal access to basic resources and the police are considered as that state structure that is tasked to maintain that inequality by force.

Third, responsibilities of the police officers are changed due to the variety and constantly changing needs of the community. Day-to-day order in the community is a need of every inpidual living in a certain community. Thus, traffic control, non-criminal services like locating missing persons, dealing with marital disputes, crowd control, and ambulance calls became part of the responsibilities of police officers.

Lastly, the responsibilities of police enforcers changed overtime due to the reform that is gradually created in the organization of law enforcers themselves. Community policing is now the trend. This policy is based on the philosophy on citizens and police working together in creative ways to help solve contemporary problems related to crime, fear of crime, disorder, and decay.

Thus, the functions and responsibilities of police officers or law enforcers have changed overtime but one thing remains the same though, law enforcers are considered the protectors of the peace and order of the community. Through them, we are assured that our rights will remain respected and our liberty continued to be cherished.


  • Robinson, Cryil, Scaglion, Richards and Olivero, J. Michael (1994). Police in Contradiction: The Evolution of the Police Function in the Society. Greenwood Press.
  • Wrobleski, Henri M. and Hess, Karen, (2006). Introduction to Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice. ISBN 0534646689.
  • Berg, Bruce(1998). Policing in Modern Society. Elsevier.
  • Neocleous, Mark (2004). Fabricating Social Order: A Critical History of Police Power. Pluto Press, 93-94. ISBN 978-0-7453-1489-1.
  • Walker, Samuel (1977). A Critical History of Police Reform: The Emergence of Professionalism. Lexington, MT: Lexington Books, 143. ISBN 978-0-6690-1292-7.
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