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Tarnished Badges – The History of Corruption
in the Police Department

By Linda Canada, For The Paper Store, Inc., July, 1999

   The skin of the man lying on the ground was dark by nature, his original pigmentation made darker still by the impact of repeated blows from four nightsticks. Four nightsticks held by four sets of hands with pigmentation of a lighter degree. A crowd of about a dozen or so stood by casually, their nightsticks idle as they watched the scene unfold, a scene that would end with a final score of nightsticks 56, victim 0 (Dempsey, 1994).

   This particular scene was not an occurrence from America’s turbulent 1960s, however much it might resemble an event from that era. Nor was it a vigilante incident from the frontier days of America’s wild and untamed west. The scene described above is circa late twentieth century America, Los Angeles, California in March of 1991, to be exact (Dempsey, 1994). This scene, a scene that a passerby happened to capture while out experimenting with his new video camera, was to be replayed countless times across the screens of America’s television sets during the coming weeks. This scene, which depicted the assault of California resident Rodney King by four Los Angeles police officers, told a shocked America that all was not well within its law enforcement system. This scene, followed by a trial in which all four officers were acquitted, attested to the fact that, despite a number of reforms and improvement measures, corruption still exists in America’s police departments (Dempsey, 1994).

   The history of the organized police force is a checkered one, and it is a concept that dates back to the days of the early Romans emperors. One of these emperors, Augustus, established one of the earliest law enforcement organizations known to the world about the time Jesus Christ was born (Dempsey, 1994). The sole purpose of this organization, known as the Praetorian Guard, was the protection of the emperor and palace. Augustus followed this organization with the formation of the Praefectus Urbi, an urban force designed to protect the city of Rome (Dempsey, 1994). A third organization established by Augustus, a group known as the Vigiles of Rome, were originally formed to fight fires in the city of Rome, but eventually took on the responsibility of patrolling the city’s streets in an effort to protect Roman citizens from crime. It is from this organization that the word and the concept of vigilante originated (Dempsey, 1994).

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