The police are arguably the most visible and contested apparatus of legal authority and urban power in American history. The navy blue uniform, badge, and utility belt of armaments of varying lethal potential have simultaneously been the symbols of justice, order, and security, while also representing the trappings of a virtual standing army of punitive state coercion, eliciting equal amounts of fear and admiration among the most vulnerable members of society. The traditional law enforcement historiography dictates that urban policing in its present form saw its origins in London in the first half of the nineteenth century. I contend, however, that a diverse array of social classes and communities in the American city from the mid-nineteenth century onward formed and continuously reformed the municipal police departments into their current form. This process can best be observed in the experimental process of law enforcement in San Francisco, where a diversity of political ordering and community visions competed for dominance in policing methods and ideology. The sudden convergence of a multitude of classes and ethnicities on the small peninsula of San Francisco from the late 1840s onward shaped the institution of urban policing in ways that would have national ramifications.



Madame Léon Grandin and Jacqueline de Bryas, French Woman's Impression of America (New York: The Century Co., 1920), 234–235.


Two exceptions to this may be found in Kelly Lytle Hernandez, Migra!: A History of the U.S. Border Patrol (Berkeley: University of California, 2010) and Andrew R. Graybill, Policing the Great Plains: Rangers, Mounties, and the North American Frontier, 1875–1910 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2007). These superb works primarily highlight the role of rural law enforcement branches, e.g., the U.S. Border Patrol and Texas Rangers in the Western and Southwestern Borderlands. A law enforcement social history of an urban, “Pacific Borderlands” environment such as San Francisco where a multitude of varying peoples meet and interact would be truly exciting. See also, Eric Monkkonen, Police in Urban America, 1860–1920 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1981); Monkkonen, The Dangerous Class: Crime and Poverty in Columbus, Ohio, 1860–1885 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1975); Monkkonen, Murder in New York City (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001); and Monkkonen, Crime, Justice, History. (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2002); Monkkonen, “From Cop History to Social History: The Significance of the Police in American History,” Journal of Social History, 15, no. 4 (Summer 1982): 575–59. Roger Lane, Policing the City: Boston, 1822–1885 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967); James F. Richardson, The New York Police, Colonial Times to 1901 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970); and Robert M. Fogelson, Big-City Police (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1977).


See Jennifer Fronc, New York Undercover: Private Surveillance in the Progressive Era (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009).

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