Monday, 11 January 2010

The Beginning of the Metropolitan Police

‘What about the police, didn’t they do anything?’

Elizabeth looks at Jones, who stares at the poo-strewn ground. ‘Police, what on earth are these police of which you speak? I do worry for your health.’

Right. No police 300 years ago. That probably explains the scoundrels then.

It wasn’t until 1829 that the Metropolitan Police Act was passed through Parliament. Before that, law enforcement was carried out by regular citizens who were interested in keeping order in their beloved city. It was the Conservative Home Secretary Robert Peel who decided that an organised police force was required. The Metropolitan Police force first stepped out on duty on the 29th September 1829. And they were not popular.

First of all they were no better than the people that they were trying to police. The first officer employed was dismissed after just four hours on the job because he was so drunk, according to the History of the Metropolitan Police. By 1863 , booze was still a big problem - 215 officers were fired that year because they were drunk whilst on duty.

Secondly, many thought that having a police force was a like having an overbearing government keeping a constant eye on the people of London, and therefore was a threat to civil liberties. Others saw the police as bullies. It was not uncommon for officers to be physically assaulted in the line of duty. In 1833 , one police officer was stabbed to death for trying to break up a political meeting. The jury sided with the defendant with a verdict of ‘justifiable homicide’ - in other words it was okay to kill a police officer. In 19th century London no one wanted a police force, and it wasn’t until organised crime became a problem that people started to see a use for these ‘Bobbies’ (so named for Robert Peel).

It looks like Picky will have to wait a long time to report anything to the police. Good luck to her.

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