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03 Apr '24

Boston's Policing Revolution: The Birth of the Day Police on May 21, 1838

In 1838, Boston embarked on a groundbreaking journey to redefine its policing system. The catalyst for this transformation was Massachusetts Acts and Resolves Chapter 0123, “An Act concerning the Police of Boston,” which was enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives. This act, approved by the Governor on April 17, 1838, granted the mayor and aldermen of Boston the authority to appoint police officers as they deemed necessary. These officers were endowed with all or any of the powers of the city’s constables, with the notable exception of serving and executing civil processes. The tenure of these appointed officers was to be at the discretion of the mayor and aldermen, signifying a new era of law enforcement that prioritized adaptability and centralized control.

This legislative milestone, Chapter 0123, laid the foundation for the establishment of the Day Police in April 1838, a force that would patrol the streets during daylight, ensuring adherence to the city’s laws and ordinances. It was a pivotal step towards the professionalization and centralization of Boston’s police force, a model that would inspire similar reforms in cities across the United States. The Day Police initiative was a precursor to the Boston Police Department, which would formally come into existence in 1854, unifying the Day Police and Night Watchmen into one cohesive unit. The foresight and innovation demonstrated by this act continue to resonate in the principles of modern policing.

The establishment of the Day Police heralded a significant departure from the fragmented and decentralized approach to law enforcement prevalent at the time. Instead, it introduced a structured, centralized system designed to enhance professionalism, efficiency, and accountability in policing. The new department operated independently of the Watch, signaling a clear break from past practices.

On May 21, 1838, the city of Boston ushered in a new era in law enforcement with the establishment of the Day Police, marking a pivotal moment in the evolution of American policing. The backdrop of this transformation was the passage of a groundbreaking law by the Legislature, granting the Mayor and Aldermen of Boston the authority to appoint police officers endowed with powers akin to constables, albeit excluding the execution of civil processes.

With this legal framework in place, the Board wasted no time in organizing a dedicated police force for day duty, distinct from the existing Watch. Under the supervision of the City Marshal, six officers were appointed to lead this pioneering endeavor. Unlike their predecessors, these officers drew pay solely when engaged in active duty, reflecting a departure from the traditional volunteer-based model.

The establishment of the Day Police on May 21, 1838, represented a watershed moment in the history of American law enforcement. By prioritizing professionalism, centralization, and accountability, Boston set a precedent for the development of modern policing practices. The creation of the Day Police laid the groundwork for the eventual emergence of the Boston Police Department and served as a catalyst for similar reforms in cities across the United States.

The city of Boston was divided into distinct watch districts, each equipped with watchhouses to accommodate the operations of the Day Police. The North, East, South, and West Watchhouses, along with their respective constables and personnel, formed the backbone of this system. Additionally, the South and East Boston Watchhouses were merged, reflecting the city's commitment to optimizing resources and streamlining operations.

Financial appropriations underscored the city's commitment to bolstering its law enforcement capabilities. While the Watch enjoyed a substantial appropriation of $30,000.00, the newly formed Police Department received a modest sum of $3,637.00. Nevertheless, this allocation of resources signaled the city's recognition of the importance of investing in public safety initiatives.

In conclusion, the birth of the Day Police in Boston on May 21, 1838, stands as a testament to the city's commitment to ensuring the safety and well-being of its citizens. Through bold innovation and decisive action, Boston pioneered a new paradigm in law enforcement, leaving an indelible mark on the history of American policing.