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Seaports bustling with sailors and overseas trading ships boosted the merchant class economy but also caused unprecedented social problems that affected law enforcement.
Taverns were built to entertain sailors in port cities, and public drunkenness, brawls, and prostitution became more common.
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In 1749, Philadelphia passed a law that restructured the watch in an attempt to solve these problems.
This early policing system was modeled after the English structure, which incorporated the watch, constables, and sheriffs (derived from the British term, “shire-reeves”) in a community-based police organization.
(Interestingly, the British system developed from “kin policing” dating back to about 900 A.
Constables had similar tasks, which included maintaining health and sanitation and bringing suspects and witnesses to court—frequently for such conduct as working on the Sabbath, cursing in public places, and failing to pen animals properly.
In the more rural, sparsely populated areas of the Colonies, the sheriff was the main law enforcement figure.