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Policing in Greensboro

The middle of the 19th Century marked a period of steady growth for Greensborough. With this growth, the town grappled with the proper means to ensure its citizens' safety. One year after appointing John Logan as the town's Public Officer, the Town Commissioners realized the inadequacies of a part-time, one-man, public safety system.

The Citizen's Patrol

Accordingly, in March 1830, the Commissioners established a Citizen's Patrol system, designed to supplement Officer Logan's efforts. All male citizens between the ages of 21 and 45 (except ministers) were required to serve on the Citizen's Patrol. These men were organized into companies of five men, with each company commanded by a captain. Each company was required to patrol nightly for one week at a time. Although not paid a salary, service on the patrol for one year canceled a citizen's poll tax.

The Citizen Patrol's principal duty was to provide night-time protection to the town. Its members functioned within a very broad framework of state statutes, town ordinances and common law. Accountability was sought for by requiring the previous week's captain to report on Monday to the Chairman of the Board of Town Commissioners, swearing that his company had fulfilled their duties as required by law.

Night Watchmen

By 1837, the town limits had grown to one square mile, with a corresponding population increase. Seeing that further improvements in the public safety system were needed, the Commissioners hired Jeremiah and Jesse Lumbley as full-time Night Watchmen in 1839. The Night Watchman's duties specified that for a weekly salary of $1.50, they were to patrol "...each and every night from the hour of 10 o'clock PM until the break of day the morning following." Their basic duties involved "...keeping a faithful and vigilant watch over the streets and property, reporting immediately all disorderly persons and all disorder calculated to disturb the peace and safety of said town to the Town Constable."

The Night Watchmen were also required to "...proclaim through the four main streets.. at least once an hour, after the hour of twelve o'clock midnight, the hour of the night and the condition of said town, the same to be done while passing through said streets." The streets of Greensborough thereafter echoed with the familiar cry of the Night Watchman as he called out the hour and announced to the citizens, "All is well!"

The Beginnings of a Professional Police Agency

By the middle of the 19th Century, Greensborough had three paid law enforcement officers of a sort. Admittedly, one of these officers served only part-time, working during the day enforcing minor ordinance violations and collecting taxes. The other two officers were full-time night watchmen, whose primary function seemed to be more to reassure the citizens of their safety than to enforce laws. Their combined efforts were further supplemented by a Citizen's Patrol system.

Growth continued over the next several decades. By 1850, Greensborough's population had risen to about 1500. In 1870, a new town charter was written, changing the community's name from the Town of Greensborough to the City of Greensboro. Additionally, the Board of Commissioners was empowered to appoint "...one or more Constables, all of whom shall respectively hold their office for twelve months, subject, however, to be removed at any time ... for misbehavior or neglect in office." The duties of Tax Collector were still lodged with the Constable.

Gradually, over a period of about 60 years, law enforcement in Greensboro had taken rudimentary shape. The Public Officer, Night Watchmen, Town Constables, and Citizen's Patrol all served as the roots for the City's first professional police agency.