Public Safety Careers Background
Virtually every aspect of life involves policies, regulations, and laws that help to promote public safety. The exterior of a house meets certain codes, or rules, so that it won’t catch on fire easily. Every time you drive a car, you follow a number of rules so that you won’t cause or get in an accident. Even your dog must be controlled according to regulations like leash laws.
Public safety, and the rules that go with it, has been a concern for a long time. In the earliest societies it was clear that people would run wild unless certain rules of conduct were created. Some laws evolved from the common agreement of the group’s members, while others were handed down by the group’s leaders.
Soon after the establishment of rules and laws, methods of enforcement developed. For a long time, enforcement simply meant punishment. Those who broke the laws were often ostracized or exiled from the group, subjected to corporal punishment, tortured, maimed, or even killed. Enforcement of the law was usually left up to the society’s leaders or rulers, often through the soldiers who served in their armies. Often these armies also collected taxes, which were used to maintain the army and sometimes to line the ruler’s pockets.
Eventually, more organized methods of public safety were developed. In England, for example, early law enforcement officials were considered servants of feudal lords, kings, and other rulers, and their duties revolved around protecting their masters’ interests rather than ensuring the public safety. More modern law enforcement officials, however, became directly responsible for protecting people from crime. In addition, they continued to collect taxes, and they were often responsible for the maintenance and safety of public buildings, property, and other facilities. Colonial America followed in England’s footsteps and adopted its system of law enforcement.
Cities grew larger during the 18th and 19th centuries, and the need arose for even more organized efforts, since larger cities often meant more crime, riots, and other disorders. The first modern police force was formed in 1829 in London. Cities in the United States organized police forces as well, beginning with New York in 1844. As the United States stretched across the continent, many states created state police forces to work with police forces in the cities and towns. Interstate crimes were placed under federal authority, and various agencies, including the U.S. Marshals Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Secret Service, the Internal Revenue Service, and Customs & Border Protection, were formed to enforce laws across various jurisdictions.
The punishment of criminals changed as well. Beginning in the 18th century, efforts were made to create punishments that were equal to the crime. To deter people from committing crimes, societies began to develop specific punishments for specific crimes. These newer penalties generally called for a period of incarceration. Jails and prisons historically had been used as temporary holding pens before more permanent punishments, such as exile or death, but now became an important feature of these new ideas of punishment. The new prisons hired guards to watch over the prisoners, bring them food, and prevent them from escaping. The first American jails appeared in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
Another feature of protecting the public safety was the detection, prevention, and solving of crimes. Police officers who specialized in these efforts became known as detectives. Much like today, their job was to examine evidence related to a crime in an effort to catch the person or persons responsible. They also were vigilant in trying to prevent crimes and to catch criminals in the act. During the 19th century, the first private detectives and detective agencies appeared. These agencies not only worked to solve crimes against their clients but also offered guard services for people and their property.
Solving crimes also became more and more scientific. As early as 1780, a crime was solved when a suspected criminal’s shoes were found to match footprints left at the scene of the crime. Toward the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, modern forensic science techniques were developed. Methods were developed to link fingerprints, bullets and other weapons, hair, soil, and other physical evidence found at a crime scene to the crime and the criminal. Laboratories were constructed that were devoted to this work. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s laboratory, established in the 1920s, became the largest and most famed crime laboratory in the world.
Intelligence operations, that is, the collection and evaluation of information about one’s rivals or enemies, have also been a part of our history for a long time. Spies were often sent from one group into another, to determine the other’s strengths and weaknesses. By gaining information about their enemies, groups were better able to protect themselves from attack. Before long, government agencies began to use intelligence-gathering techniques. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) became responsible for preserving U.S. international interests. The FBI was charged with maintaining the country’s internal security. Each branch of the military services also operates intelligence forces.
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Department of Homeland Security was formed under the Homeland Security Act of 2002. This department of the federal government has three main goals: to prevent terrorist attacks within the United States, to reduce America’s vulnerability to terrorism, and to minimize the damage from potential attacks and natural disasters.
Clearly, emergency and protective services involve the cooperation of almost everyone in a society. Politicians draft legislation intended to promote the public well-being and to prevent threats to individual and public safety. Many organizations, both governmental and private, act as inspectors and watchdogs to see that regulations and laws are obeyed. Industries are always concerned about the safety of both their employees and the products they make. Start paying attention to all of the rules and policies that help to keep you safe. In your home, your workplace, your streets, state, and country, you’ll find innumerable measures that ensure your safety and well-being.