The creation of the professional police, just like that of the prison, has been surrounded by many controversial debates. We all take a concept of the police for granted; after all, the origins of the office of constable date back to a Saxon and Norman era, and it would be difficult to imagine today's Britain without the police. However, when we contemplate the emergence of the organised police force, there is no universal truth behind it. This paper aims to reveal, and analyse the mechanism that, potentially, led to the birth of, what came to be known as the "New Police".
It would not be possible to fully comprehend the mechanism that led to the development of professional police forces without briefly discussing the social context. It is worth to notice that although from the fifteenth century to the 'Glorious Revolution' in 1688 England was a country of the massive political instability, the changes that occurred did not involve any standing army or police force. Criminal law enforcement had, to some degree, been left to the justices of peace, who on many occasions, used their influence in the neighbourhood, and managed to settle disputes between citizens without invoking law1. The justices of the peace were appointed by the Crown and they exercised authority over the parish constables. Whilst they enjoyed quite a favourable attention, the same cannot be said about the parish constables.
However, as Newburn argues, although portrayed by Shakespeare as "incompetent, lazy and ignorant"2, we need to remember that their office was unpaid, and they often found themselves in conflict, torn between their duties, and maintaining a good relationship with the community of people who were their neighbours. Also, Kent (1986), in her very detailed study of the constable of that period, praised them very highly for their "time, effort, and even financial sacrifice that was expected and so often given"3. Jones argues that the argument of inefficacy was just one of many tools used by the reformers, to justify their pressure for professional policing.
By the beginning of the eighteenth century England had witnessed the final breakdown of the feudal system. Industrial Revolution resulted in birth of an urban society, where crime and disorder went virtually unchecked. Michael S.Pike refers to streets of London as "swarming with armed gangs, thieves and pickpockets. (…) robberies increased at an alarming rate"4. It is argued that the principles of law and order experienced a complete breakdown. The increase in trade and commerce progressed, and as the turmoil, which initiated the French Revolution continued, both the aristocracy and the emerging middle class of traders had felt their properties and status endangered5. Hay argues that, although it is difficult to underpin the most potent influences behind birth of the centralised police, the 1780 Gordon Riots in London, is thought to be one of them6.
Jones thinks it was unlikely that they represented any danger, although they might have reinforced fears of the more affluent members of society. Neither the watchmen not the constables were thought to be able to deal with the problems of the emerging, more advanced social order. Some considered them corrupted and the term "trading justices" was often used to describe their interest in fees rather than crime control7.
Sir Radzinowicz writes in The Growth of Crime: The International Experience: "Like most people I would rather live in a world with no police"8control", and despite the growing urban unrest, and the appearance of the notion of "dangerous classes", most people in the eighteenth century seemed to share his opinion. Radzinowicz further argues that until 1732 "the word "police" was not even a part of the English vocabulary9. Of course, there were those who thought that the need for reform was necessary and inevitable. When in 1748 Henry Fielding was appointed Chief Magistrate at Bow Street he wrote:
"The introduction of trade…hath indeed given a new face to the whole nation…and hath almost totally changed the manners, customs and habits of the people, more especially of the lower sort10. Crime and disorder were especially evident in London, where the area's population in 1750 increased to about 675,000, making it the biggest urban city in Europe11. London came to be seen as the town which represented the reality of crime problem, and Fielding was happy to use this common misconception to provide more effective force to patrol the streets. The "Bow Street Runners" emerged, a body of "thief-takers", who encouraged by the rewards offered by the law, assisted in arrest and conviction of the offenders, and had been often called upon their services. They also managed to receive some financial support from the government12.
The end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the ninetieth century saw the reformers such as Jeremy Bentham and Patrick Colquhoun formulating plans for transforming London system of policing. Colquhoun analysis of the cost of crime in London docks resulted in Thames River Police creation in 1798, and the force enjoyed wide range of powers in areas concerned with property crime and disorder. Despite of all these experiments there was little support for any large scale organisation.
Even Thames River Police was seen as being "repugnant to the spirit of English government"13. Opposition continued despite the fact that when first official statistics were published in 1805, they showed that crime was a serious problem. Not only working classes but also the gentry thought that professional force would lead to the increases power of the central government, which in turn could threaten liberty. Select Committee set up out of the initiative of Parliament concluded in 1822, that although such a service might lead to crime reduction, it was also "difficult to reconcile…with that perfect freedom of action and exemption from interference, which are the great privileges and blessings of society in this country"14.
All the above arguments serve to document that the process of creation of the police force was not immediate, and the reformers actions generated a wide public hostility. How did Robert Peel manage to achieve his aim, despite so many decades of opposition? Historiographical debate, seeking to answer this question is led by two major themes; orthodox and revisionists. Traditional school portrays police as "necessary (in any) complex and materially advanced social order"15. But it is easy to notice that amongst the changes that occurred in England of that period, the most prominent were the increased intervention of the state in problems initially dealt at local level, and the politicisation of criminal justice16. The role of Parliament was changing and the growth of urbanisation resulted in the need of controlling the labouring classes.
This is the central argument of the revisionist scholars such as Storch or Emsley. They argue that the birth of the "New Police" must be explained in the language of "power and domination". They do not agree with the idea of police as the force representing justice or solution to the growing crime problem. Instead they see it as a useful tool in the hands of dominant class. Reiner's critique of both orthodoxy and revisionisms shows that the process might have been more complex that both schools try to portray: "The police cannot be written off either as 'conning bastards' or as all sweetness and light (M. Brogden 1981)".
Whilst the orthodox see the emergence of the police as the consequence of the corruption and ineffectiveness of the old systems, and the revisionist see it as a ruling class instrument of dealing with the riots, Reiner, notes that many recent studies show that both the justices of the peace and the constables were actually quite adept in calming down the mob. Quite rightly he argues, that if the "dangerous classes" were as dangerous as portrayed, and the fear of riots as dominant as both schools try to suggest, it remains surprising that the opposition to the police continued for so long and the reforms were so slow.
Prevention of crime dominated discourses of the police reformers, especially Peel, in his introduction of the 1829 Metropolitan Police Bill in Parliament. Generally, it would be hard to argue that there was just one dominant force responsible for the creation of the organised police. It would be more appropriate to see the process as the mixture of decisions. Peels was an ambitious politician and as Home Secretary he was determined to reform the criminal justice system. His fellow member for Oxford University chaired 1828 Select Committee, which presented the scheme favourable to the formation of a centralised police service. It can be argued therefore, that the elements of political calculation were present there18.