The History Of America's Oldest Police Department

america's oldest police department

 

The Philadelphia Police Department is America's oldest police department. It was founded in 1751, and has grown to be the sixth-largest non-federal law enforcement agency in the country. Notably, it had a mounted unit for most of its history, and though that unit was disbanded due to budget cuts in 2004, efforts are underway to bring it back.

Before there was a full-fledged police department, Philadelphia had a town watch made up of volunteers. The town watch was established when the city's population reached 4,400, way back in 1700. Once the town grew bigger, it hired wardens and officers to make an official police force. This new system was a first – before that, all towns used watches made up of volunteers or young men who had been drafted to serve as watchmen for specific periods. With the paid force, however, only those who were actually interested in working in police positions applied for them. The end result was improved policing while the disruption in the lives of general citizens was minimized.

Even with this change, more improvements were yet to come. In 1833, Philadelphia took a cue from London and reorganized its force. It became more independent and began operating 24/7 in order to keep up with the demands of policing the quickly-growing city. Since then, it has added and removed units and divisions as needed to keep up with changing needs. Its uniforms and insignia have also changed through the years to reflect the standards of the times.

Now, there are three main uniform colors in this department. New recruits wear uniforms of khaki and tan, while police officers and corporal detectives wear the traditional blue. All of the ranks above that wear white. Standard police patches for this department have a blue background with gold lettering and the symbol of Philadelphia in multiple colors. This patch has the shape of a shield. The accompanying badge is metal, shield-shaped, and prominently bears the number of the officer bearing it.

A large variety of unit and division-specific patches accompany the standard one. Each of these patches are round, and most feature black backgrounds with the unit information embroidered around the edge in gold thread. Those with light backgrounds use black embroidery. A unit-specific image fills the center.

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