What was the short term significance of the establishment of the Metropolitan Police in 1829? The nineteenth century saw the birth of an organised, uniformed policing body. With greater benefits and expectations than their law enforcement pre-decessors, such as the Night Watchmen or the Thief Takers. The establishment of this body was responsible by the actions of Sir Robert Peel in June 1829, with his two associates Colonel Charles Rowan and Richard Mayne. Central around this period, there was a struggle to maintain a stable society and an inability to decrease criminal activity. Government were unable to reduce rapid population increases, within the Metropolitan district.
The archaic forces such as the Night Watchmen and the local parish constables were struggling to decrease crime rates due to their lack of experience, professionalism and discipline. Peel wanted to insert these fundamental qualities within his policing body to successfully reduce criminal activity and to increase crime prevention. However it can be argued that Peel copied certain policies of these forces, the historian Phillip Rawlings (1999) suggests that Peel had focused his policing reforms on the two models of law enforcement at the time. Such as the Bow Street Runners and the Parish Watch systems. Their path to social acceptance was not without struggle or opposition. It took a considerable amount of time for the Metropolitan Police to be socially respected and received a great deal of humiliation and mocking from media propaganda; such as from The Illustrated Police News.
Peel’s Metropolitan Force seemed to be facing greater social repellence than The Night Watchmen in their first couple of years of establishment. Additionally, some argue that critiques of the prior policing groups- the Night Watchmen- were exaggerated. Qualified historians such as Robert Storch, argue that the groups of policing before Robert Peel’s reforms were not as bad as the reformers had claimed. Others argue that the Metropolitan Police were efficient and displayed Victorian concepts of a rational, calm society. Surviving Metropolitan officers such as Chris Forester mentions that “the Bow Street Runners were a byword for corruption and incompetence”, so that the establishment of the Metropolitan Police was a needed dearly to implement firm justice. This is a reliable source of information as Mr. Forester actually participated and saw the Metropolitan Police in action during the nineteenth century.
POLICE FORCE IMPROVED EXPONENTIALLY.
The new police force superseded the responsibilities and duties of the prior law enforcement groups. The Night Watchmen acted as a temporary force. Local parishes employed regular citizens as their Night Watchmen, so the Watchmen weren’t qualified or experienced-or even professional for that matter-this is what made them a weaker policing body. Chris Forester further supports this point by stating the importance of the mounted Metropolitan unit “the mounted police have been shown time and again to be extremely good at crime prevention making a very visible and mobile statement of a police presence on the streets”.
Not only has Forester mentioned their proficiency at improvement of crime prevention, but also their image that they present to society. An image of power and determination to make London a safer place. The Metropolitan Police earnt far greater social recognition than their pre-decessors, and for good reason. This is because the Metropolitan Police paralleled the Night Watchmen in every way. The following source is written by the historian Philip Rawlings who underlines the difference between the new modernized police and the older police.
“while the new police emphasised crime prevention, this was not in terms of deterring potential criminals by the certainty of detection, which had been at the core of John Fielding’s work, rather they looked to the moralisation of the poor and the continual harassment of those identified as the least moral sections of the poor-the ‘trained and hardened profligates’, the people of St Giles, the vagrants and the drunks.” (Rawlings 1999: 77).
Rawlings introduces the source off with “the new police emphasised crime prevention”, this infers to us that the new police force prioritised its aims to effectively decrease criminal activity. Rawlings juxtaposes the Sir Robert Peel’s idea to improve prevention by using John Fielding’s idea to improve crime detection by using “this was not in terms of deterring potential criminals by the certainty of detection”. Methods of crime detection in the nineteenth century were very un-developed or limited to a certain extent. For example, fingerprinting was first invented in 14th century Ancient Babylon, but first used to solve a British case on the 23rd May 1905 of which the Stratton Brothers were convicted and hanged. The discovery of DNA was also decades out of this area of time, so without these two substantial methods of crime detection- that we are dependent on to this very day- What did Fielding have? Nothing that was professional, reliable or effective such as suggestions and opinions from victims or witnesses (not conclusive evidence compared to today’s detective work). So we have already established that there was a distinctive difference between both policing bodies. I attempted to search the National Archives for criminal statistics in London before and after 1829 to cross reference the results. However, I couldn’t find such a source so I substituted for this. It shows criminals statistics between 1875 to 1879 and 1880.
This source displays the effectiveness of the Metropolitan Police’s crime prevention skills through the reduction in criminal rates in Central London. Between 1875 to 1880, criminal activity had decreased with 1,118 cases. This is remarkable effort for a police force living in the century that had not yet been introduced to DNA analysis, fingerprinting, CCTV or even the police car until 1887. The Metropolitan Police put good use to whatever experience and equipment they did have at the time, and the efficiency of their actions; show in the statistics above.
I gathered a statistics sheet concerning the amount of criminal offences within England and Wales between 1825 to 1826, although this is before the manufacturing of the Metropolitan Police this will give a rough indication of how effective prior law enforcements groups actually were. In 1826 within 34 counties there were 2040 criminal offences and in 1825 within 12 counties there 330 criminal offences. Between the interval of one year criminal offences had increased by 1,170 cases, this epitomizes parish policing bodies as ineffective as crime had increased during their establishment. On the other hand, between the years of 1879 to 1880, the Metropolitan Police had decreased criminal activity with 1,118 cases. This is conclusive evidence on the failures of the police before 1829 and the success of the Metropolitan Police after 1829.
This source was published on the 18th March in 1970, although this has nothing to do directly to the significance of the Metropolitan Police and it’s establishment, it is paramount. This publication in 1970 was calling for a meeting in Salford to deal with the rapid increase in crime, the meeting was held and all acknowledged that they needed to fund into a system into local officers and runners. This source shows the struggle to control criminal activity, their inability to create an organised police force and their desperation to solve this situation immediately. This source epitomizes the prior law enforcement groups’ weakness in governing criminal engagements, it also builds the status and importance of the Metropolitan Force by highlighting the archaic policing flaws .The collection of desperate, urgent words such as “imminent” and “alarming” shows how dis-organised and unprepared the Salford community was.
Additionally it wasn’t the just Night watchmen that the Metropolitan Police superseded, it was also the military. The Peterloo Massacre in 1819 epitomized their brutality and mercilessness by seriously injuring seven hundred civilians, the Metropolitan was a far more peaceful, diplomatic force when compared to the local militias. Logic would suggest that society would’ve been more accepting of the suggestion of a new, police body to calm street riots, than a violent repetition at Peterloo. Sir Robert Peel made it imperative to parallel the army in every way, by altering the uniform colour to blue and by banning unjustified violence.
The actions of the newly developed Metropolitan Police were being proved as successful. Then there was an assembly of minor victories. Their voiced battles in Birmingham and London against the Chartist group, displayed their ability to cope with major disorders and street riots. The Metropolitan Police Act introduced principles that transformed and shaped modern English policing that would be implemented in centuries to come. These principles would be that the police were to be patient, professional and to act in an impersonal manner; also that authority of the force was derivative between the Crown, the law and the co-operation with society.
Furthermore, their performance at the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace in 1851 was impressive as there were not random outbreaks of violence. This could be interpreted as that the Metropolitan Police were intimidated yet respected by society, so social opinions had already taken a pivotal changing point in the fact that the police were taken seriously. I use the word “seriously” as the actions on the Bow Street Runners and the Night watch Men were conveyed as “hilariously pathetic” (Paul Dew, Metropolitan Police Historian).
SOCIAL AND POLITICAL SUPPORT/OPPOSITION
Putting aside the short term successes of the Metropolitan Police within its birth, there was a considerable amount of social and political opposition and support. The handbill below is from 1830, and is an example on how much the Metropolitan Police were disliked. This propaganda article contains an inventive, figurative epitome of the Army and the Police. The Police are portrayed as the “Raw Lobsters”, hence their blue uniform. And the Army is conveyed as the “Cooked Lobsters”, by their distinctive red uniform. Liberal radicals were terrified that these “Raw Lobsters” would become the “Cooked Lobsters”. Charles Rowan would have acted as the metaphorical scolding hot water that would metamorphosed the Metropolitan police into another branch of the militia. The propaganda metaphor is a whimsical notion, but it is also combined with genuine worry and desperation. Lieutenant Colonel Charles Rowan was a veteran of the Wellington’s army, and many believed that it would be under Rowan’s militant hand that the Metropolitan Police would shift to “Red” as it were. The sub-title “Blue Devils” also accommodates a negative opinion of the Police, as they are associated with a kind of satanic creature. On the other hand, Peel chose the colour to be blue to evoke the popularity of the Navy at the time. And as the Navy was devoid of truncheons and firearms, it was hoped that this would avoid antagonism.
However when compared to the source of the right there is a considerable amount of variations. The “Bobby” or “Peeler” displayed on the right is not equipped with any harmful weapons making him look less threatening and
intimidating if he were. Both sources completely juxtapose each other ” The Blue Devils” handbill hosts the idea that the Metropolitan Police are aggressive and reckless by the use of menacing words such as “Blood thirsty attack”. The officers’ facial expression does not convey this idea of anger or viciousness; however he looks conserved and jubilant. The source on the left and right vividly contrast social and political opinions of the Metropolitan Police, which infers that there was a division in society and politics on who supported and who opposed Peel’s Police.
Putting aside Peel’s successes, the power of the Metropolitan Police was handicapped. During their establishment in 1829, there was a political compromise as the Metropolitan Police was limited to the City of London. Statistics show that as the crime rate fell in London it increased in surrounding rural and urban areas. The area of Wandsworth became to be known locally as Black Wandsworth because the majority of their population were felons. Expansion of police institutions to areas outside of London took a long time, but the establishment of the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 began to change this. The following statistics are evidence of this. In 1837, 93 out of 171 boroughs had their own police force. In 1840, 108 out of 171 had their own police force. And in 1848, 149 out of 171 had their own police. So between 1837 and 1848, 56 boroughs had felt obliged to establish their own police by the inspiration that the Metropolitan Police had offered. This is remarkable effort for the space of eleven years.
The main method of crime prevention in the nineteenth century was by” the moralisation of the working class” (John Lea 2004). The Metropolitan Police targeted pubs, alehouses and the streets in which case the 1842 Vagrancy Act granted officers to arrest people not for committed crime but for loitering with intent. The Police focused their attention not so much on those who committed crimes but the working and poorer classes that were portrayed as the “criminal class”. Logically this makes sense. Poorer classes have lower wages, causing them to kill and steal to financially support themselves and their family. However this would raise ethical questions about their methods, it could be argued that the Metropolitan Police discriminated the poorer classes to be the most dangerous, therefore flawing this idea of
social equality. Rawlings agrees:
“focused attention on the streets and therefore, on the labouring people who lived, worked and played there… The police could show through the arrest statistics that certain people were dangerous, but, because those arrests depended mainly on subjective assessments by officers of what constituted suspicious behaviour, the size and nature of the problem was largely determined by the police themselves.” (Rawlings 1999: 77)
So constables could arrest civilians due to apparent conspicuous behaviour, this isn’t conclusive evidence and doesn’t suggest that they are about to commit a crime. In fact on certain occasions constables wore civilian attire for surveillance to blend in. The use of detectives was spoken with distrust and so it should’ve been, it too raised ethical questions whether this was a correct method of policing. The qualities of lies, deceit and trickery were not exactly idyllic qualities that Peel wanted to be inserted into his force. Opposition may have occurred because no one really trusted the Metropolitan Police, and it would appear that the same fear exists today.
Throughout this essay I have provided many examples of the short term significances of the Metropolitan Police in 1829. I have contrasted social and political ideas and attitudes that both supported and opposed this new policing body. However there is one paramount factor that is distinct amongst the other explanations. The Metropolitan Police Act of 1829 was the foundation stone of a new organised, uniformed institution. Peel’s police surpassed the standards of the Night Watchmen, the Thief Takers and the Bow Street Runners. Sir Robert Peel’s decision to concentrate on crime prevention rather than detection showed ingenuity and a beginning of change to preserve justice.
Additionally this new force was funded by the government, therefore opening new financial avenues to purchase advanced equipment for crime detection. Also this extended their ability to employ and recruit larger numbers of constables and police officers. However, the Night Watchmen were not an
official force and they were funded by local parishes and communities- with only limited amounts of funds- therefore crippling their actions. Combined with the Metropolitan’s victories over Feargus O’Connor and the Chartists, their success seemed to be very inspiring for such a new, yet undeveloped force. This is supported by the gradual increase of surrounding boroughs that established their own police force. Over fifty six rural boroughs felt obliged to set up their own police because of the inspiring actions made by the police in The City of London-between 1837 to 1848.
Furthermore, the uniform of the Metropolitan Police was dyed blue, not only to parallel the red, violent uniform of the army. But also to evoke the popularity of the Navy at the time. So there was a distinct visual difference between the institutions concerning their looks and how they acted. Peel made it imperative that a re-enactment of the Peterloo Massacre was never to happen again. Notably, Peel’s force also displayed immaculate organisation by their outstanding performance of security at the Great Exhibition in 1851. In conclusion to this, it my authentic opinion that the most important example of short term significance, was the fact that they superseded the capabilities of prior law enforcement teams. Furthermore their structural organisation mixed with their honest, just objectives to bring justice; made them an efficient policing body that set the model of an idyllic force. Word Count: 2,753
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