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Police: History

The Beginning Of "modern" Policing In England

Three names are generally associated with the development of the first modern police forces in England—Henry Fielding, Patrick Colquhoun, and Sir Robert Peel. Henry Fielding was a playwright and novelist who accepted a position as magistrate deputy of Bow Street Court in 1748. He is credited with two major contributions to the field of policing (Gaines et al.). First, Fielding advocated change and spread awareness about social and criminal problems through his writings. Second, he organized a group of paid nonuniformed citizens who were responsible for investigating crimes and prosecuting offenders. This group, called the Bow Street Runners, was the first group paid through public funds that emphasized crime prevention in addition to crime investigation and apprehension of criminals. While citizens responsible for social control used to simply react to crimes, the Bow Street Runners added the responsibility of preventing crime through preventive patrol, changing the system of policing considerably.

Despite the Bow Street Runners' efforts, most English citizens were opposed to the development of a police force. Their opposition was based on two related factors: (1) the importance placed on individual liberties, and (2) the English tradition of local government (Langworthy and Travis). To reconcile these issues with the development of a police force, a Scottish magistrate, Patrick Colquhoun, developed the science of policing in the late 1700s (Langworthy and Travis). Colquhoun suggested that police functions must include detection of crime, apprehension of offenders, and prevention of crime through their presence in public. The function of crime prevention was supported by other influential scholars at the time. In his 1763 essay On Crimes and Punishment, Italian theorist Cesare Beccaria proposed that "it is better to prevent crimes than to punish them" (p. 93).

Colquhoun also argued that highly regulated police forces should form their own separate unit within the government. Furthermore, he argued that judicial officers could provide oversight and control police powers if they were organized as a separate unit within the government, in effect proposing the separation of powers controlled through a system of checks and balances (Langworthy and Travis). The ideas expressed in the science of policing were consistent with political theorists' descriptions of the social contract. Political philosophers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (particularly John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau) speculated about the relationship between societies, states, and governments. The theory of the social contract suggests that individual members of a society enter into a contract with their government where governments are responsible for providing protection and maintaining social order. In exchange for this protection, members of the society agree to relinquish some of their rights, including the right to protect their own interests through the use of force. Democratic societies are structured systems based on the balance between individual rights and the collective needs of those societies. In modern societies, the police are the agents responsible for maintaining that balance.

Despite the virtues of the science of policing, issues regarding the English tradition of local governmental control remained. This issue was addressed by Sir Robert Peel. Peel is credited for establishing the first modern police force in England under the Metropolitan Police Act, a bill passed in Parliament in 1829. This act created a single authority responsible for policing within the city limits of London. The force began with one thousand officers divided into six divisions, headquartered at Scotland Yard. These officers (known as "Bobbies" for their founder) were uniformed and introduced new elements into policing that became the basis for modern police. The County Police Act of 1839 allowed for the creation of similar police forces in other localities, where responsibility and costs for the agencies were shared by the central and local governments (Walker and Richards).

Walker (1999) described three new elements of the English police forces as particularly important for modern policing. First, borrowing from the Bow Street Runners, their mission was crime prevention and control. The philosophy that it was better to prevent crime than simply respond to it greatly influenced the role of modern police officers. Second, their strategy was to maintain a visible presence through preventive patrol. Finally, the third element was that of a quasi-military organizational structure. As described by Walker, "Peel borrowed the organizational structure of the London police from the military, including uniforms, rank designations, and the authoritarian system of command and discipline" (1999, p. 21). These three elements of policing developed in the early 1800s in the London police department had a significant impact on modern policing.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawPolice: History - Early Policing In England, The Beginning Of "modern" Policing In England, Early Policing In Colonial America