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Our History

The Beginning

On July 22, 1970, Ford Foundation President McGeorge Bundy held a press conference in New York City to announce the establishment of a Police Development Fund to foster improvement and innovation in American policing. Bundy outlined the reasons for this effort:

The need for reinforcement and change in police work has become more urgent than ever in the last decade because of rising rates of crime, increased resort to violence, and rising tension, in many communities, between disaffected or angry groups and the police.

The 1965 Presidential Commission report, The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society, recommended far-reaching improvements, and later reports from the Commission on Civil Disorders (the Kerner Commission) and the Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence (the Eisenhower Commission) added significant observations on the need for more effective policing. In establishing the Police Development Fund, which was immediately renamed the Police Foundation, the Ford Foundation observed:

We leave to the police many of society’s problems, whether or not they are equipped to handle them. We have neither articulated a precise role for them in combating crime, nor structured their broader role in the community. Nevertheless, whenever the lid blows, we call the police.

Independent, nonpartisan, and nonprofit, the Police Foundation works to improve American policing and enhance the capacity of the criminal justice system to function effectively. Motivating all of the foundation’s efforts is the goal of efficient, humane policing that operates within the framework of democratic principles and the highest ideals of the nation.

Forty Years as a Catalyst for Change

In the past 40 years, policing has changed more fundamentally and dramatically than at any time in its history. At the beginning of the 1960s, many police departments were closed to the outside: their personnel were drawn largely from particular groups. Little public debate took place over police practices or procedures. The courts frequently deferred to the police department in complaints about or lawsuits over police misconduct. Police departments were frequently well-funded by municipal governments. Police departments engaged in little experimentation and virtually no innovation.

During the same period in the 1960s, other forces were at work. The nation experienced the agony of riots in most of its large cities and many of its smaller ones. Women began to assert their rights and to bring to public attention the prevalence of domestic violence. Stories of corruption in police departments surfaced in the media. The conduct of police toward civil rights and antiwar demonstrators was displayed on television for all the nation–and the world–to witness.

Determined to address the challenges of change in an ever-changing world, the Police Foundation did much of the research that led to a questioning of the traditional model of professional law enforcement and toward a new view of policing–one emphasizing a community orientation–that is widely embraced today. Seminal foundation research on issues such as police patrol practices, women in policing, use of force by police, and the police response to domestic violence has transformed policing in profound ways.