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10 Events In Criminal Justice History That Changed Law Enforcement Forever

March 28, 2017 by CopsPlus

From the signing of the United States Constitution to the establishment of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, many events in the history of criminal justice have altered the lives of and relationships among the U.S. citizens and our law enforcement. What follows are 10 major events that contributed to the growth and expansion of policing in the United States as well as the rights of the American people within our justice system.

1787 - United States Constitution Signed

Since its ratification, the Constitution has determined the rules of the game for American law enforcement. By guaranteeing the rights of citizens, it sets strict limits on the actions that police officers can and cannot take.

In fact, the Constitution's authors were extremely concerned with law enforcement and justice. Having seen the damage that justice systems could do when used as a tool of state oppression, the Founders were keen to limit their powers to safeguard liberty. Of the first ten Amendments to the Constitution, five relate directly to policing and the courts.

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The Fourth Amendment protects citizens against "unreasonable searches and seizures". This amendment is the reason why law enforcement officers require a search warrant for most search and seizure operations. Fourth Amendment cases are frequently argued in the Supreme Court, determining the circumstances under which officers may conduct searches. This Amendment is responsible for the existence of the "Terry stop" rules that allow officers to pat a detained person down for weapons given reasonable suspicion.

The Fifth Amendment guarantees due process before a person can be deprived of life, liberty or property. Crucially, it also prevents anyone from being forced to be a witness against himself. This Amendment, along with the Sixth, is the reason why arrestees musg be read their Miranda rights.

The Sixth Amendment guarantees defendants the right to a speedy and public trial in front of an unbiased jury. They are also required to be informed of the charges against them, to be allowed to confront witnesses against them, and to be allowed legal counsel. Although not directly related to policing, the existence of this Amendment requires police to be thorough in their evidence-gathering activities.

The Seventh Amendment guarantees the right to a jury trial in certain civil cases, while the Eighth Amendment is concerned with punishment for criminal offences. It outlaws cruel and unusual punishment, as well as excessively high bail and fines. These amendments concern the courts more so than the police.

1833 - Philadelphia Adopts 24-Hour Policing

Policing in the early United States was an informal business, based on the English system of common law. Policing during the Colonial era and the decades after independence was carried out by watchmen, often volunteers. As well as pursuing criminals, watchmen were charged with keeping a lookout for fires, attacks on the town and other dangers.

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The watch system was supplemented by constables and sheriffs, full-time officials who were typically paid a set rate for each warrant served. These officials were also often charged with collecting taxes, surveying land and carrying out other important municipal functions.

During the first half of the 19th century, increasing urbanization made the watch system increasingly ineffective in America's cities. In 1833, Philadelphia founded a day watch, making it the first city in the United States to enjoy 24-hour policing.

The next few decades saw major American cities move from watch systems to full-time, professional police departments. Boston founded a Day Police in 1838 in order to supplement their existing night watch, and replaced both with the Boston Police Department in 1854. New York City set up a full-time police force in 1845, and Chicago in 1851. By the end of the century, almost every American city was guarded around the clock by professional police officers.

The move to formalized policing represented a broader shift in law enforcement philosophy. The night watch was designed to interrupt crimes in progress. The new police departments had a broader mission to prevent disorder and deter crimes before they happened.

1908 - FBI Established

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Department of Justice's mission was expanding, but its resources were not. After the assassination of President William McKinley, the department was charged with monitoring anarchist groups. It was also responsible for regulating interstate commerce and tackling financial crime.

Attorney General Charles Bonaparte lobbied Congress for a permanent detective force under the control of the Department of Justice. In the meantime, though, he relied on personnel borrowed from other agencies, particularly the Secret Service.

In 1908, Congress banned this use of Treasury Department officials. However, they also voted to create a new Bureau of Investigations, so that the Department of Justice would not have to rely on borrowed staff.

FBI Seal
Image Source: Pixabay

The Bureau was initially a fairly small operation. It began with just 34 staff. Among its initial tasks were the investigation of economic crimes, as well as enforcing the Mann Act against prostitution and human trafficking.

The new organization's big break came in the 1920s and 1930s under the leadership of long-serving Director J. Edgar Hoover. The agency was on the front lines of Prohibition enforcement. During the War on Crime of the 1930s, its agents were involved in the arrest or killing of several high-profile criminals, including the 1934 killing of notorious bank robber John Dillinger. In 1935, it became an independent division within the Department of Justice, and was renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

From the 1940s onwards, the FBI took a role in counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism as well as its traditional role of tackling organized crime. Its counter-terrorism role became increasingly important during the 1990s after the first World Trade Center bombing and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

Today, the FBI is the United States' most important domestic intelligence service, as well as its foremost enforcer of federal laws. Much expanded from its modest beginnings, it now employs more than 35,000 Special Agents and support staff.

1923 - First Police Crime Lab Established

Today, the crime lab is a central part of every cop show on television. A century ago, though, not a single crime lab existed in the United States. That all changed in 1923, when August Vollmer, Chief of Police of the Los Angeles Police Department, founded the nation's first crime lab.

Vollmer drew on criminological work coming out of Europe at the time, which inspired him to create a more modern, more technologically advanced police force that used scientific methods to fight crime.

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The use of forensic evidence was not new in law enforcement. Police were already making use of fingerprinting, ballistics analysis and other forensic techniques to catch criminals. In fact, the world's first crime lab had already been established in France in 1909. However, it was the first time that each of these techniques had been brought into a single specialized unit at an American police department.

The facility created was quite modest. Manned by one officer, it consisted of a tiny office, a single aging microscope, and a few essential chemicals and pieces of glassware. The officer in charge, Rex Welsh, often had to establish his own scientific evidence-gathering methods, as there were few experts to learn from.

However, Vollmer's experiment caught on quickly. Police departments expanded their forensic capabilities. In 1932, the FBI founded their own crime lab in Quantico, Virginia, now one of the largest and most sophisticated in the world.

Building the first crime laboratory in America was not Vollmer's only innovation. He was a pioneer in American criminology, persuading the University of California to set up the first criminal justice program in the United States. He also pushed for a more mobile and responsive police force, using motorized patrols and radio communication to speed up his officers' ability to react to incidents.

1966 - Miranda Rights

"You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney, and to have an attorney present during any questioning. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you at government expense. Do you understand?"

Anyone who has ever watched a cop show can probably recite a Miranda warning. Every arrestee in the United States must be informed of their rights before being questioned. Before 1966, though, there was no such thing.

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In 1963, the Phoenix Police Department arrested Ernesto Miranda for kidnapping and raping a woman. After a two-hour interrogation, he signed a confession that included the statement that he had been advised of his full legal rights.

In fact, he hadn't. As his lawyer, Alvin Moore, argued in court, Miranda had never been informed of his right to remain silent, his right to legal counsel, or the fact that his statements could be used against him.

These objections were overruled during Miranda's initial trial, and he was found guilty and sentenced to a long stretch in prison. Moore appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court, who affirmed the original decision as Miranda had not specifically requested a lawyer.

In 1966, though, the case reached the United States Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled that Miranda's Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination had been breached. His conviction was overturned, and the prosecution's case against him thrown out.

As a result of the decision, all arrested suspects were required to be informed of their rights before questioning. Questioning could not continue if a suspect asked for a lawyer, or refused to answer further questions. Statements obtained from a suspect who had not been informed of his rights were ruled inadmissible at trial. In fact, there is no mandated script for informing a suspect of their Miranda rights, and the precise warning varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. So long as the officer covers all of the suspect's rights and the suspect indicates that they understand, it counts.

The decision was controversial at the time. Politicians including the future President Richard Nixon argued that it would make policing less effective.

For Ernesto Miranda, though, the victory was short-lived. At his retrial in 1967, he was convicted on other evidence and sentenced to 20 to 30 years in prison. Paroled after just five years behind bars, he was arrested repeatedly for various petty crimes before being stabbed to death in a bar fight in 1976.

1968 - 9-1-1

Even kids know what to do in a life-threatening emergency: call 9-1-1. According to the National Emergency Number Association, Americans make around 240 million 9-1-1 calls each year.

Before the 1960s, though, Americans in need of emergency services would either have to dial their local police department directly or rely on an operator to put them through. In 1957, the National Association of Fire Chiefs recommended that the United States adopt a single, national emergency telephone number so that fire departments could respond to incidents more quickly.

The idea of an emergency telephone number was quickly adopted by various municipalities throughout the United States and Canada. However, it was not picked up at the federal level until 1967, when President Lyndon Johnson's President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice recommended the move in its final report.

The Federal Communications Commission and AT&T, at the time the monopoly telephone provider in the United States, then worked together to develop the system, which was launched in 1968. The number 9-1-1 was chosen to be easy to remember and quick to dial.

Red Phone
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On February 16th, 1968, the first ever 9-1-1 call was placed from the Haleyville City Hall in Haleyville, Alabama. The 9-1-1 emergency number was not universally adopted straight away, however. Some communities resisted the new system, citing costs, with holdouts continuing well into the 1990s. Even today, some rural areas lack 9-1-1 coverage.

Since its initial adoption, technological advancements have helped to make the emergency number more effective. Enhanced 9-1-1, now available in almost all areas that have 9-1-1 service, automatically tracks the location of the caller to speed up response times.

Currently, Enhanced 9-1-1 services are undergoing upgrades to better track calls from cellphones and other wireless devices. Some areas within the United States have also implemented text-to-9-1-1 services that allow users to contact emergency services using SMS messages.

1970 - RICO Signed

Officially called the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, this United States federal law is usually just called RICO. It was enacted in 1970 as part of the larger Organized Crime Act. Designed to tackle organized crime, RICO allows prosecutors to charge individuals who have committed acts from a specified list of crimes with racketeering, so long as those acts are connected to an "enterprise".

Before RICO, it had been very difficult for prosecutors to go after the leaders of criminal organizations, as they typically ordered other people to commit crimes for them instead of carrying them out themselves. After it passed, they could use racketeering charges to prosecute criminal leaders for organized crime-related activities.

The act also allowed attorneys to seek a restraining order to temporarily freeze a RICO defendant's assets before trial. This provision made it far more difficult for criminals to flee with their ill-gotten gains. It also meant that the mere threat of RICO charges could be enough to convince defendants to plead.

Finally, RICO also allowed private individuals to take civil action against racketeers so long as they could prove the existence of an enterprise in court. It allows plaintiffs to be awarded treble damages, making it potentially extremely expensive.

The RICO Act proved an extremely effective weapon against organized crime. In 1985 and 1986, it claimed its first high-profile takedowns when 11 high-profile New York Mafia figures, including the heads of each of the Five Families, were charged with various racketeering offences under RICO. Of the nine that survived to the end of the trial, five died behind bars, two were eventually released, and two remain in federal prison.

RICO has also been deployed against leaders of other high-profile criminal organizations, including the Chicago Outfit in 2005 and the Latin Kings in 2006. Although originally intended as a weapon against organized crime, it has been used in other contexts. The Los Angeles Police Department, Major League Baseball and President Donald Trump have all been sued, albeit unsuccessfully, under the civil provisions of RICO.

1984 - DNA Evidence

In September 1984, Alec Jeffries, a professor at the University of Leicester in Great Britain, discovered that he could use DNA samples to distinguish between members of a single family.

His discovery quickly found law enforcement applications. In 1986, British police asked Professor Jeffries to use his DNA discovery to verify the confession of a man accused of rape and murder. When the DNA evidence proved that someone else was responsible, he was acquitted and the real criminal brought to justice.

A year later, in 1987, DNA evidence was used to convict a criminal in the United States for the first time. Rapist Tommie Lee Andrews was sentenced to 100 years in prison based on DNA evidence.

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In 2001, DNA evidence put an extremely high profile criminal behind bars. The Green River Killer terrorized Washington State during the 1980s and 1990s, becoming one of America's most prolific serial killers.

An expert task force was assembled in the 1980s to track the killer. One of the suspects that they arrested was Gary Ridgway, who had previously been arrested for prostitution-related crimes. While police took hair and saliva samples from Ridgway, they were unable to connect him to his crimes using the techniques available at the time.

In 2001, police reexamined the evidence collected from Ridgway in the 1980s, and were able to connect his saliva sample to semen found on one of his victims. Ridgeway was arrested again, and initially indicted on the murders of four women.

In exchange for immunity from the death penalty, Gary Ridgway plead guilty to 48 charges of aggravated first degree murder. He was sentenced in 2003 to a total of 48 life sentences with no chance of parole, plus an additional life sentence to be served consecutively. He also received an additional 480 years for 48 counts of evidence tampering. He remains behind bars.

DNA analysis is now one of the most important forensic tools for law enforcement agencies, used for identifying both criminals and victims. The National DNA Index now contains over 10 million offender profiles, and has helped in hundreds of thousands of investigations.

1994 - Megan's Law

In July 1994, seven year old New Jersey resident Megan Kanka was raped and murdered. The culprit was Jesse Timmendequas, a neighbour of the Kanka family. Unknown to them, Timmendequas had previously served time in jail for sexual assaults on minor girls.

Megan's parents began lobbying the state government to require community notification of sex offenders living in the area. They argued that, had they known about Jesse Timmendequas's previous crimes, their daughter would still be alive.

The Kankas' arguments were met with understandable sympathy from politicians and the public. Just a few months after Megan's death, New Jersey's state government enacted the first Megan's Law. This package of bills required state registration of sex offenders, as well as public notification of high-risk sex offenders moving into a neighbourhood.

The new laws won widespread national media attention, and quickly became the model for similar federal legislation. At the federal level, sex offenders were already registered under the 1994 Jacob Wetterling Act. In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the federal version of Megan's Law, an amendment to the Jacob Wetterling Act that required states to notify the public of sex offenders in their communities.

States were allowed to choose for themselves which sex crimes required community notification, as well as how notification should be handled. While federal law has set minimum standards since 2006, some states make their complete sex offenders registers publically available, while others restrict notification to the most serious crimes.

The public interest in Megan's Law drove states to adopt closer monitoring of sex offenders. Before the law was enacted, only five states required sex offenders to register with local law enforcement. By the end of 1996, all 50 states and the District of Columbia had a sex offenders registry. Since 2005, many states have also adopted "exclusion zone" laws, barring registered sex offenders from living within a specified distance from schools, daycares and other places where children gather.

Megan's Law dramatically changed the way in which sex offenders are dealt with across the United States. Although legally challenged on multiple occasions, sex offender registries have been upheld by the Supreme Court. As for Jesse Timmendequas, he remains in prison serving a life sentence without possibility of parole.

2001 - PATRIOT Act Signed

In October 2001, President George W. Bush signed the USA PATRIOT Act into law. The act, the name of which stands for "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism", granted sweeping powers to security agencies, particularly over surveillance.

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So-called "sneak and peek" powers allowed security agencies to search properties and seize evidence before issuing the property owner with a warrant. Roving wiretaps allowed them to intercept all communications made by a single target, instead of having to seek a new warrant for each line of communication. New powers allowed them to also demand more information from Internet Service Providers.

The act also included new powers to prevent money laundering, increased border security measures, and speedier compensation for victims of terrorism and officers killed or injured in the line of duty.

The PATRIOT Act immediately proved extremely controversial, with organizations like ACLU and the Electronic Freedom Foundation immediately opposing it. In 2007, both "sneak and peek" provisions and the use of National Security Letters to gain email and telephone records from private companies without a court order were struck down by courts.

However, the vast majority of the act remains in force. Despite controversy, it was reauthorized by President Bush and later by President Barack Obama, who retained most of its controversial provisions including roving wiretaps.

Some of its controversial aspects were changed: for example, suspects had to be notified of "sneak and peek" searches within 30 days, instead of simply "a reasonable period". Congressional oversight was also increased. However, provisions allowing the surveillance of "lone wolf" terrorists were extended, with an increased time frame for surveillance operations.

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