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Law enforcement refers to those institutions responsible for preventing and stopping criminal activity, promoting public safety, and apprehending criminal suspects.

During the nineteenth century, law enforcement in the West was uneven and often sporadic. Low population densities, geographic isolation, nascent political organization, and other factors created in many places a vacuum of authority that was difficult for state-supported law-enforcement institutions to fill. Yet a variety of organizations stepped in to fill the void. These included legal and extralegal institutions, military units, and even businesses, thus creating a patchwork of policing agencies that moved west along with the line of white settlement. Sheriffs, constables, municipal police forces, and even state-level agencies such as the Texas Rangers pursued suspects, served warrants, and kept the peace. Meanwhile, railroad detectives ...

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