Our society has a weird relationship with its law enforcement. On one hand, it's good to know that someone is contractually required to come to our rescue when Choppy the Killer Klown attacks, or at least shovel what's left of us into a bucket afterward. On the other hand ... yeah, you know.
Still, things in the past were much stranger. Most every period of written history has featured at least some form of law enforcement, and back before modern, fancy tools like DNA testing and David Caruso, their methods could get ... pretty interesting.
5In Ancient Athens, Cops Were Slaves And Citizens Investigated Crimes
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With its estimated population of up to 300,000, ancient Athens was a bustling motherfucker of a city-state by the day's standards. As such, it was in need of a sturdy, powerful police force that could keep all the rowdy drunk philosophers in check. What it got instead was a cadre of 300 slaves, armed with whips.
Warner Bros. Pictures
Not these 300. That would have been a very different form of peacekeeping.
The publicly owned slaves were Scythians -- nomads with a barbaric reputation and unrivaled archery skills. And their elected leaders gave them Judge Dredd-scale peacekeeping rights; they ended riots, arrested people, and performed prisoner transport and guarding duties. They also had a license to kill when necessary and performed executions.
And, oh yeah, the whip thing: Despite their aforementioned archery skills, they most likely didn't carry bows as weapons. The magistrates decided to arm them with whips instead, presumably so they could keep things peaceful and kinky at the same time. Athens had a police force made up entirely of Indiana Joneses and Simon Belmonts.
"Look, I get that you guys need to practice, but could you at least take away
the second target from my crotch?"
Even though arming a bunch of slaves and asking them to enforce the law sounds totally bananas, it apparently worked pretty well. Rome even later copied the system with their awesomely named Triumviri Nocturni or "three judges of the night," because Rome was Mega-City One, apparently.
Of course, this system completely disregarded all the actual, you know, crime-solving. That shit was the responsibility of the citizens themselves, who could -- and were totally encouraged to -- run around with the era's equivalent of a kid's detective kit and make arrests if they ran into someone guilty of insider-trading or murder or whatever. On an unrelated note, the Athens legal system turned into a notoriously convoluted, lawsuit-happy mess.
4The Wild West Had Sherlock Holmes-Like Detectives
Despite what Josh Brolin, Armie Hammer, Johnny Depp, and other icons of Western cinema have taught us, the Old West was actually pretty peaceful and cooperative. Even freaking Tombstone had stricter gun laws than we have today. And why wouldn't it? People were already living in a frontier packed to the gills with snakes, wolves, and an angry native population. The last thing people needed was an abundance of boomsticks.
"Christ, Frank, I'm just trying to walk my puppy."
Rather than being full of gunplay and dramatic heroics, Old West law enforcement was slow-paced, scientific, and sophisticated. Instead of itchy-fingered "I'm your huckleberry" federal marshals, they had something arguably way cooler: Old West detectives like Charlie Siringo and James B. Hume.
Hume, a sheriff turned Wells Fargo detective, distinguished himself by employing investigative methods that sound like they belong on CSI: Dodge City: He'd scratch shotgun pellets off the sides of stagecoaches, sketch shoe impressions for later comparison, and even analyze handwriting. He was also an accomplished interrogator who employed modern techniques with great success. If he was an Old West Batman, he had his own Riddler in Black Bart, a masked "gentleman" stagecoach robber who was afraid of horses, never fired a gun, and left taunting poems at the scene of his crimes. And if that wasn't delightfully whimsical enough, Hume managed to track the guy down and arrest him based on the laundry mark on a freaking handkerchief he dropped.
"My criminal career has always been doomed
Because I behave like a fucking cartoon."
-Black Bart, upon being captured (probably).
Siringo, on the other hand, was a famous Pinkerton agent known as the "cowboy detective" thanks to his past in the cow-wrangling profession (and the best-selling book he wrote about it). Despite his celebrity status (or perhaps because of it), he became a pioneer in undercover work and disguises, and reportedly made a point of personal pride to avoid violence during his arrests. Among his many other undercover antics, he infiltrated Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid's gang and painstakingly tracked its members around the country for years. Then he retired and wrote a book to piss off his former employer, because at a certain point you just become addicted to making enemies.
As befits a man who voluntarily calls himself "Chas."
But you know how it is: An epic gunfight is much sexier than a small, determined man in a fake mustache painstakingly extracting buckshot from the side of a stagecoach for examination, and then using that science to track poetry-themed criminals and notorious gangs across the- wait a minute, no it's not. What the hell, Hollywood? Give me my Sherlock Holmes In The Wild West movie. Show me a Sherlock Holmes Wild West movie that's based on a true story, and I'll show you a Western that won't fall face-first into some cow pies at the box office.