Most people don't know that the police as an institution are a modern invention, part of the industrial revolution just like railroads. Those who know tend to assume that the reason the police were invented was a natural reaction to crime rising. This article challenges that notion:
contrary to the crime-and-disorder explanation, the new police system was not created in response to spiraling crime rates, but developed as a means of social control by which an emerging dominant class could impose their values on the larger population.Crime rates skyrocketed when the police were instituted, not because they were naturally going up but because many sorts of new laws were created and imposed, that could have never been enforced without a standing army of enforcers.
This shift can only be understood against a backdrop of much broader social changes. Industrialization and urbanization produced a new class of workers and, with it, new challenges for social control. They also provided opportunities for social control at a level previously unknown. The police represented one aspect of this growing apparatus, as did the prison, and sometime later, the public school. Moreover, the police, by forming a major source of power for city governments, also contributed to the development of other bureaucracies and increased the possibility for rational administration. In sum, the development of modern police facilitated further industrialization, it led to the creation of other bureaucracies and advances in municipal government, it consolidated the influence of political machines, and it made possible the imposition of Victorian moral values on the urban population. Also, and more basically, it allowed the state to impose on the lives of individuals in an unprecedented manner.