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police, public and private agents concerned with the enforcement of law, order, and public protection. In modern cities their duties cover a wide range of activities, from criminal investigation and apprehension to crime prevention, traffic regulation, and maintenance of records. In many countries they also have a political function (see secret police). The foundations of the present English metropolitan police system were formulated in 1829 by Sir Robert Peel (see Scotland Yard). On the North American frontier, before the government was well organized, vigilance committees (see vigilantes) functioned as volunteer police. The Texas Rangers and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are examples of organizations that function especially in large, sparsely populated areas. The colonies maintained constables, and this office survives in the rural sheriff. Regular police forces appeared in many states after the establishment (1844) of the New York City organization. Administration of the police system varies in different countries. In Europe, especially on the Continent, it tends to be centralized. In the United States there is decentralization: Metropolitan police have the widest functions, and state police are chiefly concerned with traffic control and rural protection. Police agents of the federal government include members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, agents of the Dept. of Homeland Security (including the members of the Secret Service, who guard the president and certain other public figures), and agents of the Dept. of Justice. The fight against crime on the international level is coordinated by the International Criminal Police Commission, popularly known as Interpol.


See J. Cramer, The World's Police (1964); H. Hahn, ed., Police in Urban Society (1971); H. K. Becker, Police Systems of Europe (1973); D. H. Bayley, Patterns of Policing: A Comparative International Perspective (1985); J. Roach and J. Thomaneck, ed., The Police and Public Order in Europe (1985); J. D. Brewer et al., The Police, Public Order and the State (1988); D. J. Kenney, ed., Police and Policing (1988).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

police (and policing)

the organized civil force and agency of SOCIAL CONTROL, which, in the service of the STATE, is charged with preserving law and order. It does this by protecting persons and property and bringing wrongdoers to JUSTICE, and acting as a deterrent to CRIME.

The first full-time and professional force (the Metropolitan Police) was established in Britain in 1829. Today it is funded and overseen by the Home Office. Other forces are funded in part by the central state and partly by local taxation and are responsible in theory to Police Authorities comprising local councillors, magistrates and the Chief Constable, as well as to the Home Office. (For the view that Police Authorities are more important in theory than in practice, see Simey, 1982.) In all forces the Chief Constable has an extremely powerful role in deciding on policing priorities and operational issues. This role has become even more important since the Police Act of 1964 and the reorganization of local government in the 1970s reduced the number of forces and greatly increased the size of individual policing areas.

As with other areas of the CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM in the UK, there has been a great expansion in sociological work on police and policing since the 1960s, and particularly in the 1980s. Much of the work has been in a radical or critical mode, in line with the reorientation of sociological approaches to crime and deviance from the late 1960s onwards. Some of these critical appraisals have had a clear effect on public opinion, and, to some extent on police practice. A notable example has been the feminist critique of police practices in regard to rape victims and victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Similarly, research criticizing police responsiveness to racial violence, while initially resented and dismissed by representatives of the Association of Chief Police Officers and of the Police Federation (the main organizations of senior and junior officers), was confirmed by a Home Office report (1981) and led to some changes in the system.

Other issues which have been prominent in sociological studies of policing have included the development of paramilitary styles of policing industrial disputes and political demonstrations; new technology and civil liberties issues; policing strategies – the debate on ‘community policing‘ being a particular focus; police powers and accountability, and the politicization of the police. Amongst ‘new deviancy theorists‘ (see NATIONAL DEVIANCY CONFERENCE) two divergent approaches have developed recently which might simplistically be described as:

  1. a more radical wing (e.g. Scraton, 1985);
  2. a more ‘Fabian’ and reformist wing, describing itself as ‘new realism’ (e.g. Kinsey Lea and Young, 1986). These approaches, as is usual in the discipline, coexist with others.

The relationship between sociology, sociologists and the police has been and remains an uneasy one.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



in exploiter states, a system of special bodies of supervision and coercion, as well as domestic punitive troops that protect the existing social system by means of direct and overt suppression.

K. Marx noted that the police was one of the first hallmarks of a state. For example, in ancient Athens “public authority initially existed only in the form of the police, which is just as old as the state” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 21, p. 118). The Middle Ages was the main period of development for the police, which flourished especially under the police state of the age of absolutism. After gaining power, the bourgeoisie preserved and perfected the police, which, like the army, became a bulwark of the bourgeois state. As one of the chief instruments of the state, the police in an exploiter society is always separated from and inimical to the people.

In Russia the police was established as an autonomous organization by Peter I in 1718. Its principal divisions were the general police, which kept order and included an investigative office that conducted inquiries on criminal cases, and the political police (information and security offices). There were also special service police stationed at palaces, ports, and fairs. The police were subordinate to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which had a Department of Police. The police system included city police administrations headed by chiefs of city police; police units and sections headed by unit and sectional police officers (supervisors); police stations; and, at the lowest level, the gorodovye (rank-and-file civilian members of the tsarist police serving in the cities). In district centers and districts the police agencies belonged to police administrations headed by a chief district officer and subordinate to the governor. The entire police hierarchy had broad powers. As V. I. Lenin observed, “tsarist autocracy is the autocracy of the police” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 7, p. 137).

In modern capitalist states the police are used primarily in the struggle against the revolutionary and working-class movement —against democratic progressive forces. There are two forms of national police systems: the centralized system (Austria, France, and Finland, for example) and the decentralized system (Great Britain and the Federal Republic of Germany [FRG], for example). The police may be classified, according to the main emphasis in their work, as government police, security police, crime-control police, administrative (office) police, political (secret) police, and military police. In the USA the federal police includes the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and many other police agencies associated with various government departments. State police are, as a rule, directly subordinate to the governor of a state. The local police, the most numerous branch, consists of police agencies for the counties and municipalities.

In Great Britain, the police is subordinate to the Home Office, and its operational headquarters is Scotland Yard, the criminal investigation department of the Metropolitan Police of London. The local police operate in the cities and counties. The police systems of Scotland and Northern Ireland are nominally autonomous. In France police institutions are subordinate to the General Directorate of the National Police, which is part of the Ministry of the Interior. The Paris Prefecture of Police has a special status.

In bourgeois states, private police guard major industrial, transportation, bank, and other facilities and conduct private criminal investigations.

The military police is a police agency in the ground forces of some foreign states, including the USA, Great Britain, and the FRG. Its duties include highway traffic control; the detention of deserters and of servicemen who have lagged behind or deliberately left their units; and guarding imprisoned servicemen. Also among the duties of the military police are the prevention and investigation of crimes and the evacuation of prisoners of war. Units of the military police are used for domestic control. There were military police units in the Russian Army from the 17th to the early 19th century, but in 1815 they were replaced by the military gendarmerie.

The term “police” is also used in some socialist states, such as the Polish People’s Republic and the German Democratic Republic. In these states, however, the police is an instrument for protecting the fundamental interests of the working people, and it performs the same functions as the militia in the USSR.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

What does it mean when you dream about the police?

Authority symbols, police officers enforce the rules in life. Dreaming about police can indicate apprehension over failure to perform or to honor obligations and commitments. It can also be a warning to avoid reckless behavior.

The Dream Encyclopedia, Second Edition © 2009 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.


a. the organized civil force of a state, concerned with maintenance of law and order, the detection and prevention of crime, etc.
b. (as modifier): a police inquiry
2. the members of such a force collectively
3. Archaic
a. the regulation and control of a community, esp in regard to the enforcement of law, the prevention of crime, etc.
b. the department of government concerned with this
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


Dreaming about the police could symbolize many different things, so please consider all of the details carefully. If the police are chasing you, it suggests that you may be feeling some guilt about something that you have done or have been thinking of doing. The police could be addressing karmic law as well as the laws in our physical world. If you are feeling that you can’t meet all of your obligations and fear repercussions due to an unmet commitment, the police may be an unwelcome sight. On a more positive note and depending on the details of your dream, the police could symbolize support and protection. Your emotional response to the dream will provide you with good clues to interpreting this dream accurately. Old dream interpretation books say that dreaming about police is an indication that you will obtain unexpected assistance with a current problem.
Bedside Dream Dictionary by Silvana Amar Copyright © 2007 by Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.
References in periodicals archive ?
And research on the attitudes, beliefs and perceptions of African American police officers has mostly consisted of studies related to their service in large, urban areas (Sun, 2003; Weitzer, Tuch, & Skogan, 2008; Zhao, Lai, Ren & Lovrich, 2011).
He was missed by the American police, and it was ascertained that he had left New York for England on a "mission".
A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State follows America's change from a society based on "we the people" to a police state governed by law--which is being used as a tool of oppression.
When 19-year-old Abdulaziz Al-Amoudi decided to cover his luxury sports car with decals to look like an American police car, he not only created a buzz on the Internet but also attracted the unwanted attention of the Jeddah police.
On Monday morning, she loaded a pistol in a bathroom at the police compound, hid it in her long scarf and shot an American police trainer, apparently becoming the first Afghan woman to carry out such an attack.
However, the local media earlier reported that the policewoman opened fire and killed an American police advisor inside Kabul police headquarters at about 10 a.m.
8 -- Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Managing Committee has announced to give US $ 5,000 award to the valiant American police official who risked his life to save the innocents inside Oak Creek gurdwara.
AN American police chief says no one is above the law - not even his wife.
In the letter, convicted bomber Megrahi referred to tyrant Gaddafi as "our big brother" and said British and American police were "immoral" and "knew there was foul play and irregularities in the investigation of the 1980s".
But he added: "If you enjoyed all those American police TV shows and like the attention then go for it."
At first, most people don't believe it's a real American police car.
Summary: American police have released 911 tapes of emergency services responding to the Arizona shooting incident as it unfolded.

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