Wednesday, 18 June 2008

The Metropolitan Police: three early official sources

Peel's proposals for a Metropolitan Police Force

As Home Secretary in Liverpool's government (1822-27), Peel had undertaken an overhaul of the criminal code and an improvement in the prisons. His next step was to introduce a law to create a civilian, unarmed police force.  On 12th December 1828, the Home Secretary, Robert Peel, wrote to Henry Hobhouse setting out his (Peel's) ideas about a new police force for London. The Metropolitan Police Act (10 Geo IV, c.44) of 1829 was the start of the modern police force in England.

'I have under my consideration at present very extensive changes in the Police of the metropolis.

You perhaps have read the Police Report of last Session. I am now employing Gregson in drawing up a Bill to give effect to the recommendations of the Report, so far as they concern the constitution of the nightly watch.

My plan is shortly this - to appoint some authority which shall take charge of the night police of the metropolis, connecting the force employed by night with the existing police establishments now under the Home Office and Bow Street; the authority which has charge of the police establishments, horse patrol, day patrol, night patrol, to act under the immediate superintendence of the Home Office, and in daily communication with it.

I propose that charge of the night police should be taken gradually. I mean that my system of police should be substituted for the parochial system, not per saltum, but by degrees.

I will first organise a force, which I will not call by the name of 'watchmen', which shall be sufficient to take charge of a district surrounding Charing Cross, composed, we will say, of four or five parishes. It shall extend on the City side as far as Temple Bar and the boundary of the City on that side, having the river as far as Westminster Bridge as the limit on another side. When it is notified to the parishes that comprise this district that this force is ready to act, and prepared to take charge of the district, the functions of the parochial watch in each of the districts shall terminate, and no rates be thereafter leviable on that account.

In the same way, as a little experience shall enable us to manage a more numerous force of nightly police, I propose to signify to other parishes from time to time that the police will take charge of them. Their present watch will continue to act until such signification be made, and will cease when it is made.

The present amount of money issued from the public funds for maintaining horse patrol, foot patrol, magistrates &c. shall continue to be issued, but the surplus that may be requisite to maintain the night police, or to improve and extend the existing patrols, shall be levied from the district within which that night police may act.

Police Rate will be levied instead of the Watch Rate. ...

Now the out-parishes such places as Brentford, Twickenham Isleworth, Hounslow, and so forth - in all which the police at present is scandalous, will feel, and very justly, that if the new police system succeeds for London, it will injure them, by driving a fresh stock of thieves from the heart of the metropolis into the environs, and it will be a great object to me, as well as to them, to devise some mode of improving their police. If I undertook the immediate change my force would be too large, the machine would be too cumbrous and complicated to be well managed by one authority. How, therefore, shall I proceed to provide for these out-parishes?

My notion is to take power for the Secretary of State to consolidate parishes bordering on the metropolis into a district for police purposes, to appoint Commissioners of Police, two for instance, resident in each parish within the district, who shall have the general superintendence of the district police...'

Peel's letter of 11th May 1829 to the Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington outlined the proposed legislation for the establishment of a police force and urges the Duke to ensure that the House of Lords pass the law.

'Just conceive the state of…one parish, in which there are eighteen different local boards for the management of the watch, each acting without concert with the other! ... Think of the state of Brentford and Deptford with no sort of police by night! ...

My Bill enables the Secretary of State to abolish gradually the existing watch establishments [and to substitute in their room a police force that shall act by night and day, under the control of two magistrates, who will be executive officers, and be relieved from the ordinary duties of justices, such as attending at Quarter Sessions, transacting parish business, &c. There is power to place the present Government establishments of police, the horse and foot patrols, under their superintendence.

I propose to substitute the new police gradually for the old one, not to attempt too much at first; to begin perhaps with 10 or 15 parishes in the centre of the City of Westminster, and gradually to extend the police district. The present watch and the present watch rate are to continue until the Secretary of State notifies to a parish that he is ready to undertake the superintendence of it. From that time the present watch and the watch rate are to cease.

I defray the expense by a rate in the parishes that are actually included within the new police, the new rate to be paid when the present rate ceases. The new rate is to be collected exactly like the poor rate, the same property to be assessed to each. The maximum of the new police rate is 8d. in the pound...

Pray pass the Bill through this Session, for you cannot think what trouble it has given me.'

Debate about the creation of a standing police force in England raged during the early part of the 19th century. Confronted with political objections and fears of potential abuses Sir Robert Peel sponsored the first successful bill creating a bureaucratic police force in England.

Peel's speech on policing in London

In this speech, given on 15th April 1829, Peel told MPs of the increase in crime in the capital and criticised the unsatisfactory state of policing.

'If they took any series of years, say seven, on which the police committee had reported, they would find crime had not only increased in the metropolis more than in the other parts of the country, but had far outstretched the rate of increase of its inhabitants.

It was not easy to determine what the causes were which had led to this frightful difference between the increase of crime and of population but he [Peel] feared that one of the causes was the increased mechanical ingenuity of the age, by which the committing of crimes was aided and the means of detection lessened. The mechanical improvements, which had so, distinguished the country and were a great source of its prosperity, aided criminals by enabling them to travel a great distance in a few hours.

Another cause was the unsatisfactory state of that branch of our police, which were controlled by the parish authorities. He was satisfied that as long as the present night watch system was continued there would be no efficient police prevention of crime, nor any satisfactory protection for property or the person. The House would be aware that each parish had its own watch house, established its own watchmen, its own discipline and its own responsibility, that it was left to the parochial authorities to devise and control the means of protecting the property and persons of its own inhabitants. By this arrangement each parish was quite isolated as far as prevention of crime was concerned from every other; there could therefore be no general unity of approach or general responsibility. But this was not all; each parish had its own districts, each one of which might be independent of the rest as to its police, so that responsibility was still further sub-divided. In the parish of St Pancras for example there was no less than eighteen different police establishments making unity of purpose impossible. The wealthy and populous district of Kensington - not less than fifteen miles in extent - was dependent on the protection of three constables some of whom, after they were in office for a time, became not very remarkable for their abstinence from intoxicating liquor, it was not surprising that three drunken beadles should be no preventive of housebreaking and thievery. The situation was the same all over London as it was in Kensington.'

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