Black History Month in Law Enforcement

black history month

February is Black History Month, a celebration of the history and achievements of African Americans. Shining a light on Black history is important to better understand our progress and struggles as a nation, as well as to grow stronger and achieve aspirations.

During Black History Month, many police departments take time to remember the inspirational events of African American officers throughout history whose actions have greatly influenced modern law enforcement practices.

Brief History of African Americans in Law Enforcement

Black History Month is a time to celebrate African Americans in law enforcement, both historically and currently, who fought to make a difference in their communities. In 1867, the first African American police officers were appointed to a police department in Selma, Alabama.

This action would be followed by Jackson, Florida law enforcement in 1868 and Houston and Galveston, Texas in 1870. By 1870, New Orleans, Louisiana had 177 African American officers. On April 12, 1870, Officer William Johnson of Jacksonville, Florida became the first African American police officer to be killed in the line of duty.

African American police officerThe United States encountered many more milestones since the late 1800s, including Bass Reeves who became the first African American Deputy U.S. Marshal in 1875, Georgia Ann Robinson who became the first African American woman police officer in 1916, and Dr. Louis Tompkins Wright who became the first African American police surgeon in 1928.

The law enforcement industry would also celebrate other breakthroughs, including in 1941 when William B. Lindsay, who was hired by the Illinois State Police, became the first African American state trooper. In 1966, Lucius Amerson became the first elected African American Sheriff, serving in Macon County, Alabama.

By 1976, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executive (NOBLE) was founded. Today, NOBLE has more than 50 chapters and represents more than 3,000 members worldwide that represent command-level law enforcement officials and chief executive officers from state, county, federal, municipal law enforcement agencies, and criminal justice practitioners.

Notable Law Enforcement Officers throughout History

While there have been many notable African American men and women in law enforcement over the centuries, there are some names widely recognized for their superior contributions to the industry.

In honor of Black History Month, here are a few of those individuals:

  • Willie L. Williams – Williams was the first African American law enforcement officer to become a top cop for both the Los Angeles and Philadelphia police departments. He is credited with the idea of taking a community policing approach to law enforcement, decentralizing agencies by establishing small police stations throughout the city and boosting diversity within the ranks.
  • Lloyd Sealy – Sealy was a law enforcement officer who experienced many firsts throughout his 27 years with the New York City Police Department. He became the first Black officer to command a Harlem precinct and would later become the first Black assistant chief commander and inspector of 11 Brooklyn precincts. He is also one of the founding members of NOBLE.
  • James Wormley Jones – In addition to fighting in World War I, Jones made history when he became the first African American special agent for the FBI, then known as the Bureau of Investigation. The agency sought out Jones due to his extensive experience in explosives which he gained during his time in the Army. He also worked undercover for the General Intelligence Division.
  • Georgia Ann Robinson – Robinson became the first Black female police officer working for the Los Angeles Police Department. She started as a volunteer before becoming an official officer after being hired as a jail matron in 1919. Robinson also worked as an investigator in many homicide and juvenile cases throughout her career.
  • Bass Reeves – Upon becoming a free man after the Emancipation Proclamation, Reeves joined law enforcement in pre-statehood Oklahoma. He was one of 200 deputy U.S. marshals who were responsible for tracking down fugitives hiding within Indian Territory. He would go on to become the first deputy U.S. marshal to be appointed west of the Mississippi River.

Protecting the Future with Law Enforcement Solutions

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