kin policing | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction / Policing

Kin Policing is an age-old law enforcement system where each citizen and family unit shares the responsibility for upholding law and order.

Kin policing is an antiquated law enforcement system. It came into existence even before the modern-day police forces were established. In this system, every community member had a part to play in maintaining law and order. Not just their behavior, they were also accountable for the actions of their extended family members. This system finds its roots in the idea that the entire community must collaborate to preserve peace and order.

Historically, several cultures and societies have practiced kin policing. Ancient Greece is a prominent example. There, kin policing was closely tied to ‘oikos,’ which translates to ‘the household.’ The household head had the task of maintaining order within the family, which also included extended family members.

Native American cultures also practiced kin policing to ensure peace within the community. Here, each family or clan was responsible for the behavior of their members. This responsibility also extended to any guests that the family or clan hosted.

In some societies, kin policing took a more formal shape. In medieval Japan, the system known as ‘jito’ (manor steward) was responsible for maintaining law and order within a specific area. The jito, usually an aristocrat, was accountable for the behavior of their extended family and the residents of the area they governed.

Kin Policing Today

Although modern police forces have replaced kin policing in many societies, it still exists in some form in others. In certain rural areas in developing countries, the community, rather than the state, may still shoulder the primary law enforcement responsibility. Community leaders or elders, with the aid of traditional customs and laws, may take up the role of settling disputes and preserving order.

However, in contemporary societies, it is often viewed as an outdated and ineffective law enforcement system. Modern police forces, generally built around a centralized authority, are trained to prevent and investigate crimes. While the involvement of the community is still valued, modern policing places greater emphasis on a professional and specialized approach to law enforcement.

The Enduring Influence of Kin Policing

Kin policing, an ancient law enforcement system, relies on the shared responsibility of a community for maintaining law and order. Though largely replaced by modern police forces, it survives in some societies. Despite its limitations, the concept of kin policing underscores the significance of community involvement in preserving law and order. In various ways, it continues to shape modern policing practices, highlighting the timeless importance of communal responsibility in maintaining societal harmony.

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Last Modified: 06/08/2023


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