Cops and Guns: Arming the American Police

Stanley H. Palmer offers an historical answer to increasing homicide in Boston, New York and Chicago.

Annual homicide figures in the United States are alarming: 17,000 killed, of whom 11,000 are gunshot victims. America’s homicide rate is per capita eight times higher than the average for West European nations, while for gun homicides American society is thirty times more lethal than European.

This contrast is hardly new. Sixty years ago, America’s cities were statistically several times more deadly than Berlin, Paris, Vienna or London. In America in 1916 a total of 8,372 homicides were recorded compared to only 196 in England - a higher per capita rate by fifteen times. Moreover, in those days the recording of crime in America was far less complete than in England.

This astonishing American superiority in criminal violence dates from the middle years of the last century. As patterns of crime changed, the civil authorities were forced to re-examine traditional methods of law enforcement. Urban police in America developed against a background of rapid population growth from 1850 to 1880. Boston and New York tripled in size, to populations of 360,000 and 1,300,000, respectively.

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