Edited Transcripts

Peelers! with Jedburgh Dagger

Welcome to this month’s Aether Salon! Today, Miss Jedburgh Dagger will lead her third Salon, in a look at the Victorian police and judicial systems.

Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: There is very little that I can add to praise our guest that is already known very well around New Babbage and various of the other Steamlands. Frau Dagger was the very first Salon guest, and we greatly appreciate her gracing us with her knowledge for a remarkable third time. Frau Jedburgh Dagger, danke.

Jedburgh Dagger: Just proves I still have a twistable arm. One thing I would like to request is that you hold your questions until I ask for them. If you blurt out I might miss it and I want to make sure I give you at least a passable answer if I can. Also, my ISP has been very twitchy this week (shakes fist at Time Warner) so if I poof…Not my fault.

Good afternoon. Today I will be talking about the history of policing, and about how the innovations of the Victorian era led to the professional Police agencies your typists hopefully see on occasion and are contacted by infrequently. I will say this on the outset, to be considerate of your neighbors, and for those of you not in an Anglo-American-centric country to forgive the degree of bias given the subject matter. My intent was to make this as ‘salon-sized’ a package as possible, so given the scope of material…I made some choices.

In the beginning…our first watershed date is 1285. Prior to this time in England, justice was primarily a private matter. Victims of a crime typically handled crimes with no assistance from the crown or their agents. So blood feuds between families was common, with revenge and retribution. (As a side note, my typist’s ancestors were for a large part Border Rievers from the Scottish side. On the border they had the tradition of the “Hot Trod”, where if you were raided you could make a lawful counter-raid within 6 days, with “hound and horne, hew and cry”, carrying a bit of flaming turf on a lance to show that this was a lawful raid.) Without going too far afield on that subject, there was a good bit of that going on until someone from the government came to calm things down

In the 12th century you begin to see the rise of the tithing system. 10 families (the tithing) were grouped together, agreeing to follow the law, keep the peace, and bring in violators of the law. Ten tithings formed a hundred, and a set of hundreds formed a shire. The shire reeve was appointed by the king to maintain order in that area. Hopefully for some of us who grew up watching Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone, this makes things make more sense

This is where the notion came from of the American county Sheriff, with the refinement that the sheriff became an elected position. The shire reeve would have assistance from town and village constables, who would provide manpower from the citizenry to chase and catch lawbreakers. The ‘hue and cry’ meant that those able-bodied souls in town would need to turn out and be ready to lend aid. This was the posse, something that has survived to the modern day, albeit in limited circumstances.

So I mentioned 1285. This was the year that the Statute of Winchester was passed. This law began the Constable/Watch system of policing. A constable was selected from each parish, and he would appoint men to be members of the town watch. These appointed unpaid watchmen would patrol the city at night supposedly to deter crime. The law also said that all men between the age of 16 and 60 would maintain arms and armor and respond when called to service. There were also criminal penalties for any man who did not respond to the call. One of the problems with this system is that you have a lot of menfolk who are made to stay up all night who may otherwise be of another inclination. The story goes that most of the nightwatchmen would hunker down in a warm spot that tended to serve beer, rather than be out walking around town

This system laid the foundations for many of the things that became part of the modern system of policing. As a side note, this system also influenced the militia system in the colonies, with many of the same concepts of preparedness and response. The colonial militia laws have been a point of research of mine for many years, with my involvement in Georgian-era reenacting. (And yes, I am normally in a unit who wears red or green. If you don’t get it ask me later.) This system ran on until the Victorian era reforms, with one notable exception.

The next date on the list is 1748. Henry Fielding, a London magistrate (and a fine novelist, for what it is worth) founded the Bow Street Runners. This was a group of professional paid law enforcement agents who worked in the Bow Street Covent Garden area of London. (Extra credit if you know what he wrote without googling.) They were publicly funded, working as a detective force to catch criminals and recover stolen property. It was said that the Runners were the most effective law enforcement organization of its day. Others had little luck duplicating the success of the Runners in other parts of London, but Fielding had a great deal of influence of the future of policing by his writings on the subject and what he organized on Bow Street.

Fielding set the stage for a professional, paid, and organized police force. A systematic approach to law enforcement would prove to be the wave of the future, but it would take the influence of the Industrial Revolution to set the wheels in motion for London.

The Industrial Revolution caused a huge shift in population centers, so that urban centers like London experienced a huge amount of growth from people looking for work in the factories. This caused the numbers of people in poverty to swell, and created more public disorder and crime. While there had been a great deal of resistance to a full time police department in London, in 1829 Parliament passed the London Metropolitan Police Act, creating a 1000 man force to work within the city. Sir Robert Peel, the Home Secretary, had been a major advocate of the department’s foundation, so the new men were called ‘Peelers’ or ‘Bobbies’. His rules for officers follow, and are still as relevant today as they were then. While we did not learn them verbatim in the academy, I was taught as a young trainee the same principles.

1. The police must be stable, efficient, and organized along military lines.
2. The police must be under governmental control.
3. The absence of crime will best prove the efficiency of police.
4. The distribution of crime news is essential.
5. The deployment of police strength both by time and area is essential.
6. No quality is more indispensable to a policeman than a perfect command of temper; a quiet, determined manner has more effect than violent action.
7. Good appearance commands respect.
8. The securing and training of proper persons is at the root of efficiency.
9. Public security demands that every police officer be given a number.
10. Police headquarters should be centrally located and easily accessible to the people.
11. Policemen should be hired on a probationary basis.
12. Police records are necessary to the correct distribution of police strength.

The department was organized under the command of two magistrates, who were later called Commissioners. Peel believed that crime control and prevention would be best accomplished by officers on patrol. While some felt that having a constant presence in their neighborhoods was an unwarranted intrusion on their privacy, the system proved to be the way of the future. The London model also introduced the idea of a uniformed police force, so that they would be easily recognized

Meanwhile, in America… The United States hung onto the old English system for quite a bit longer than the English did. The Constable/Watch system hung on in the urban areas, and the Sheriff in the unincorporated areas. In many ways, this model has continued in vestigial terms, because as it was said many times in the references I read, the tendency is to gravitate to local control rather than to go to the next higher level of government. One of them said that the US has more police departments as a whole than any other country, but arguably fewer officers. I do know of a few 4 or 5 man departments in Michigan. I also want to interject the ‘your mileage may vary’ bit. I am familiar with the state laws in a few states, but not all, so y’know…

So, in 1844 New York City combined the Day and Night Watch into the first city police department in the US. It was not very successful at force because it was viewed as a bunch of political appointees who were out to further the intentions of City Hall. (the more things change in NYC, ….)

In 1853, the New York state legislature formed the Municipal Police Department for the city. It was for the most part a failure, because it was slated to be disbanded by 1857 because of widespread corruption and bribery, and the fact they were not really reducing crime. The legislature then created the Metropolitan Police Department. This was to be headed by 5 commissioners that were appointed by the Governor, with one acting as Superintendent. The idea was that the commissioners would be more accountable and reduce corruption. The mayor at the time, when called on to disband the Municipals, refused to do so. The two police departments were involved in several clashes, one of which came from the Metros trying to arrest the mayor. The governor ended up sending in the National Guard to take charge, and finally the Municipal department was disbanded after the mayor was forced by a court injunction. If you ever want to read about politics, look up Tammany Hall and Boss Tweed. (New York City has always been corrupt. Tweed makes some of our modern politicos look like pikers.)

Boston followed suit in 1855, with much less chaos than the New Yorkers, and most large cities followed suite after this, so that by the beginning of the War of Northern Aggression, er the Civil War, most large cities in the US had a central police force. After the war, you began to see more uniforms and regimentation of police departments.

Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: Retired soldiers.

Jedburgh Dagger: In some cases, yes. It is why the myth of the band of cowboys riding up and down the street shooting is so very Hollywood. Northfield, Minnesota and the James Gang. Nuff said

Just a few dates in addition… The first agency to issue a multi-shot firearm as a standard happened to be the Texas Rangers, in the 1850s. In the late 1850s San Francisco began the systematic use of photographs to identify criminals. In 1862 W.V. Adams patented the first modern style ratcheting handcuffs. In 1878 Albany New York installed telegraphs in all their police and fire houses, and a year later, Washington DC installed telephones.

In 1888, Chicago started using the Bertillion method of identifying people. Mr B was a Frenchman who came up with a system of using anthropological data to identify people–hand size, head shape, things like that. This lasted until the onset of fingerprints

In 1901, Scotland yard began classifying and taking fingerprints based on the Henry system. Henry was the superintendent of the police in a city in India. The argument is he did it, and there was a guy in France working on the same thing whose name is on a sheet I left on my desk at work (sigh). This all started around 1878 or so, and it took all this time for it to get traction in the law enforcement community and for the science to get approved by the court. As always, things have to get well established before they are deemed reliable.

So, While I still have a few points yet unmentioned, and while I could ramble on for a while…now is the time to ask questions. Or for you fans of Car Talk, you want to play Stump the Chump…

Nika Thought-werk raises her hands.
Jedburgh Dagger: Nika?
Nika Thought-werk: I wonder … of all the pre-1900 police forces … which did you think was the best? Sorry if I missed this. I do not grasp big words, you know?
Jedburgh Dagger: Best is subjective, and you could argue one way or another. The London Metropolitans were some of the best organized, IMO, and I think that Doyle gave them a bad rap overall. And we could argue US ones all day.

Jedburgh Dagger: Jon?
Jon Chen: Why was it difficult to establish a police force in London, initially… What was the thinking?
Jedburgh Dagger: Because the people were worried that this was going to be another hard handed instrument of the King. During the Gordon Riots in London they did deploy the Army. Quick sidebar: We grew up with the phrase ‘read the Riot act.’ Which was basically the magistrate read the Riot Act, and once it was read, you were breaking the law if you didn’t scatter. Another homework assignment. Gordon Riots.

Tepic Harlequin: In the UK, the police had to have a hand on you to arrest you, was this common in other forces?
Jedburgh Dagger: and not so much Tepic. Normally it was you had to bring the whole person.
Another homework assignment. Gordon Riots.
Tepic Harlequin: 1714 Riot Act, you could do ANYTHNG one that had been read……
Jedburgh Dagger: The Guards did a bayonet charge in Hyde Park.
Jedburgh Dagger: Like Tepic said, once they said the words, you were bought and paid for. Which is also why US law has all the things in it it does.

Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: As we wind this down, may I remind you all to show your appreciation for our wonderful speaker.
Jedburgh Dagger: Ok kids, if you want to ask, you can hit me up later if it wasn’t covered.

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