Law and Order in Late 19th Century
In the 19th century the main aim of the Metropolitan police was to
deter criminals from committing crime rather than actually solving it.
However the police force did have to deal with many cases of
drunkenness and petty theft, which were common in 19th century London.
As well as dealing with the common crimes, the police also got
involved in controlling public demonstrations. They often used batons
to control the crowd and soon got a reputation for being heavy handed,
after a baton charge at a demonstration in Bromley in 1868, resulted
in a seventy-eight year old man being trampled to death.
Many people saw the police as Defenders of order. However many people
from working class background saw the police in a bad light (police
frequently went on the beat armed with cutlasses.) In fact the rates
of attacks on police officers were so high in some areas that police
officers were afraid to patrol these area on their own. The pay of a
police officer was deliberately kept low so that working class people
would be attracted to the job.
Police officers received very little training, most officers just had
to be able to read and write. Much of the time before they went out on
the beat was taken up with learning military drill. Inspections were
usually based on parades rather then on actual police work. Great
emphasis was put on personal appearance and good behaviour. Working
conditions were very hard, in many forces constables had to learn
their 'trade on the job'. Officers often had to spend up to fourteen
hours a day seven days a week patrolling the streets of London. During
the daytime officers had to walk about seven and a half miles without
a break. At night-time it was two miles.
Capital punishment was a common way of punishing criminals in the
eighteenth century. These executions were very popular with the local
people who came to watch. Public executions were stopped in 1868, but
capital punishment still continued in Britain up until the 1960's.
Imprisonment was also widely used. Prisons were harsh, a common
punishment in prisons was 'the crank', this was a handle attached to a
crank, which the prisoner had to turn a certain number of times each
day. Some times a prison warden would tighten the screw in the crank
just to make it harder. Many prisoners were also punished with
solitary confinement. This meant that they were shut up in a room on
their own all day. Some prisoners were sent out to penal colonies in
Australia and New Zealand.
The first detectives were appointed in 1842, but the public was
concerned that the plain clothed police officers could not be easily
identified. In 1862 photos of criminals were taken in prison, then
sent to Scotland Yard where they formed the 'Rogues Gallery'. The
photos were taken because police...