Nineteenth-Century Policing: Success or Failure?

The successes and fails Sir Robert Peel faced and how he dealt with them.

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How did Sir Robert Peel overcome opposition to a p

  • He had to make sure the new policemen didn't look like soldiers because of fears they would be used to interfere in the liberties of citizens - they wore top hats, blue coats (to contrats with most soldiers' red coats), no decoration (to contrast with the soldiers' badges) and carried truncheons rather than swords.
  • In fact, the hats they wore served a double purpose - they were reinforced so constables could stand on them to look over a high wall!
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What did his police force actually do?

  • Most of the time, they were spent on routine tasks, clearing drunks and vagrants out of the streets, sorting out traffic problems and dealing with dangerous driving such as cab men and delivery drivers who whipped their horses through the overcrowded streets. 
  • They also dealt with many other crimes, such as thefts. The police were very effective at catching thieves - preventing quite a lot of crimes simply because they were seen on the streets. However, there's only so much the police can do, they were not able to solve the problem over night.
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Was there a problem with police staying in the pol

Yes, staff turnover was a problem, of the 2800 constables in 1830, only 562 remained four years later. 

  • Drunkenness was a major problem early on. It led to 80% of dismissals, then we lost 1300 who left to 'better' themselves or return to their old jobs.  
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Would this problem been avoided if the police had

  • They were paid 21 shillings a week, and this was seen as overpaying them.The cost of the police force was the biggest cause to opposition. 
  • However they were paid less than a skilled worker; in one force, in 1836, 36% had previously been general labourers and another 16% had been soldiers or sailors.
  • In 1842, two thirds of Bedfordshire parishes petitioned for the disbanding of the police because it was 'expensive in not efficient'. 
  • If they wanted a police force they had to be prepared to pay for it, which many weren't. However, in the end, they had to be forced. In 1856 it was made compulsory for every district to have a police force.
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Did the police learn from their early mistakes?


  • There was a limit to what a uniformed policemen could do. In 1833, one of Sir Robert Peel's policemen said, 'All thieves know a policemen in uniform and avoid him.' 
  • Ordinary police in uniform were watched on their rounds until they were away from their spot.  
  • So they started a plainclothes force. The commanders found that policemen in plain clothes arrested three criminals for every one taken by uniformed men.
  • This was when they set up a detective branch in 1842 to detect criminals after a crime had been committed; the police took over from the public the gathering of evidence and making prosecutions, which since roman times had been left to the victims of a crime.
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What was the greatest success of the police force?

  • The fact that the police force became accepted and respected.
  • At first they were called 'Crushers' and 'Raw Lobsters'.
  • By the 1850s that suspicion of the police was replaced by respect and they were more likely to be called 'Peelers' or 'Bobbies' - a generous reference to Robert Peel.
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But police still didn't solve the problem of crime

Although not all crime was stopped, the statistics showed a bigger picture - crime fell steadily for 50 years fro 1850 to 1900.

Police were able to prevent many crimes from happening. Good policing stops crime.

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