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Development of the Police Force

Development of the Police Force

Did you know the police force was only created in the 19th century? Less than 200 years old, the police force is a fairly modern invention. What happened to create a police force? Let's find out!

Police History Timeline

Here is a timeline of the development of the police force.

DateEvent
1800City of Glasgow Police Force founded.
1829Metropolitan Police Service was founded with the Metropolitan Police Act 1829.
1839Reforms were introduced with Metropolitan Police Act 1839
1842Investigative “Detective Branch” formed within the Met.
1856County and Boroughs Police Act required Local Authorities to form local police forces.
1857Police Forces were introduced nationwide
1860Over 200 local police forces now exist in England and Wales.

History of the Police UK

Before the development of the police force, policing was done through several localised means. This varied from private watchmen to parish constables.

RoleFunction
Local Parish ConstablesDealt with petty crimes and disorderly behaviour. They were unpaid and elected or appointed locally.
Night WatchmenHired to protect private property.
Part-Time SoldiersDealt with any rebellions or riots.

In some locations, some salaried constables and watchmen would be the beginnings of the modern police force, but in the following 200 years a proper, organised police force would eventually develop. The old model was rather problematic for several reasons. Firstly, due to the localised nature of policing, it was unorganised, unprofessional and could not undertake a proper criminal investigation. Secondly, localised policing was extremely vulnerable to bias and corruption, with unpaid constables left extremely open to local influence and opinion. Finally, the only response to public unrest was to introduce the army.

This was not only time-consuming and often unsuitable, but it was also completely impractical. The army was not suitable for controlling large crowds, as demonstrated during the Peterloo Massacre in 1819. Instead of calming the crowd down, the soldiers escalated the situation and led to fifteen people's death.

Peterloo Massacre

Fifteen people died in Manchester in 1819 when soldiers charged and attacked a crowd of 60,000 who were demanding reform of parliamentary representation.

Development of the Police Force c1700-c1900

The modern development of the police force is defined by three stages of policing, beginning with localised police constables and watchmen. As crime increased and cities expanded, magistrates sought the assistance of bounty hunters and eventually organisations such as the Bow Street Runners, who worked for the magistrates to catch criminals and were more reliable than bounty hunters. They wore uniforms and resembled modern forces much more closely. The final stage was full professionalisation, with forces paid by the central government and accountable to the public. The first modern police force in the world was the Glasgow City Police Force in 1800. Previously Scottish cities had been policed by unpaid watchmen. The new professional police force was born with the Glasgow Police Act 1800 and would set the precedent for future acts to establish police forces in other cities.


Development of the Police Force, Glasgow City Police in 1919, Studysmarter.Glasgow police, 1919. Wikimedia Commons.

Although technically the first modern police force, the Glasgow police officers held similar duties to the previous watchmen. These police officers did street sweeping and fire fighting and were a small force and so were not truly police officers in the modern sense. By contrast, the London Metropolitan Police was dedicated to maintaining law and order, and was a much larger organisation. The Met was founded by Robert Peel with the Metropolitan Police Act 1829. But even the Metropolitan Police did not have executive powers. The Met had to compete with local forces, even in London. Due to its size and professionalism, the “Met” is often regarded as the first official professional police force.

Modern Policing

What was notable about these new police forces is unlike previous parish watchmen and parish constables, the aim was not only to deal with criminals after a crime was committed but also to take on a preventative role. This summed up a new attitude in Victorian society that crime could be beaten altogether. By the 1850s based on the success of other forces, police forces began to be established uniformly across the country.

This suddenly gave the government more control over not just policing, but made them directly responsible for dealing with the issue of crime. The new police forces, therefore, answered to Parliament and by extension the people. This made it one of the police’s key duties to deal with issues of public concern, rather than the interests of private landowners or other figures.

The Development of the Police Force in Britain

In London, crime had begun to spiral. There were only a few parish constables or watchmen for a city whose population had swelled to one and a half million people. Crime was now rapidly becoming a political issue and Home Secretary Robert Peel viewed the introduction of a professionalised police force as the only viable solution.

The Metropolitan Police was the benchmark for police forces in the UK, and police forces began to be formed in cities across the country.

Development of the Police Force, Ramsgate Chief Constable Roderick Ross, English Police, Studysmarter.Ramsgate Police Chief Constable, Wikimedia Commons.

By the early 1850s, the government began to strongly consider national policing. The first national police force was the Irish Constabulary, formed in 1837. In 1856, the government introduced policing across the nation. Although not a national police force, local authorities were required to form their own police forces that would be funded by the central government. In a period of fewer than thirty years, standardised policing had been adopted across the country.

Policing By Consent

A key concept of these newly created police forces was the idea of policing by consent. This meant that Police Constables were civilians in uniform and that their basis of maintaining authority was based on the support of the general public and their fellow citizens. The way to build this support would be through demonstrating integrity and always maintaining a high level of transparency and accountability. To maintain legitimacy, constables could not engage in corruption and discriminatory practices and they must adhere to the law like everybody else.

Development of the Police Force, English Victorian Police Officers in Canterbury, Kent, Studysmarter.Victorian Police Officers in Canterbury, Kent, Wikimedia Commons.

The police were seen as a force to promote crime prevention instead of just dealing with criminals once a crime had been committed. From this perspective, police constables needed to be welcomed by communities both rich and impoverished and not seen as a threat.

First Police Force in England

The popularity of the police was varied, with many members of the public seeing them as a threat to civil liberties and essentially a backup to other law enforcement. The concept of policing by consent aimed to mitigate this, and over time trust strengthened. The British Police came to be affectionately known as “bobbies” after Robert Peel or in other cases “Peelers”.

Due to London’s size, the professionalism and organisation of the police were essential. The police were efficiently organised into different districts, while the principle of policing by consent was a core value. With a professional, unified police force, crime could be combatted effectively and in an organised manner.

Development of the Police Force, City of London Police give a guard of honour to King George V outside St. Paul's Cathedral London in 1915, StudysmarterCity of London Police give a guard of honour to King George V outside St. Paul's Cathedral in 1915, Wikimedia Commons.

The Development of Police Forces was a key ingredient in the development of modern law enforcement. The role of police officers was to rather assist the public rather than suppress them. Led by the Metropolitan Police, Britain would soon have a professional police force nationwide.

Development of the Police Force - Key takeaways

  • The police could fight crime in a unified manner and not look out for private interests on a localised basis like parish constables or watchmen.
  • Maintaining and funding the police force was now the government's responsibility. A publicly-funded police force could effectively represent all citizens.
  • Metropolitan Police set the benchmark for police forces in England, many police forces followed this model.
  • By 1857 local authorities were required to set up police forces by law - central government policy.

Frequently Asked Questions about Development of the Police Force

Policing developed from localised parish constables, private watchmen and part-time soldiers to enforce order to police forces hired by magistrates to catch criminals to eventually professional, modern police forces managed by the government similar to what we see today.

Policing originated as unpaid parish constables voted for by the local community from the medieval era until early modern period. The next period saw uniformed police forces such as the bow street runners hired by magistrates to catch criminals for a reward. The final period saw full professionalisation with police forces set up by the central government answerable to the public.

The history of policing is important to understand as it highlights the reasoning police forces exist out of necessity and demand for their services. It also demonstrates why British police are unarmed, wear blue uniforms and are seen as necessary to protect the public.

The police were created in 1829 as a response to rising crime rates and ineffective responses to public order units. A professional police force funded by central government was seen as the best means to reduce crime and protect the public.

The British police force were referred to as the "Peelers" and "Bobbies" in the 1800s.

Final Development of the Police Force Quiz

Question

Why did the Bow Street Runners wear uniforms?

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Answer

To appear professional

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What year were the Bow Street Runners established?

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Answer

1748

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Who were the Bow Street Runners formally associated with and receive payment from?

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Answer

Bow Street Magistrates

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Question

In what year did the Bow Street Runners merge with the Metropolitan Police?

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Answer

1839

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Question

Who established the Bow Street Runners?

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Answer

Henry and John Fielding

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Why did the Bow Street Runners patrol the streets?

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Answer

To prevent crime

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How did the Bow Street Runners gain information?

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Answer

Through newspapers and informants

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How did the Bow Street Runners aim to remove corruption?

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Answer

By working under close supervision from the magistrates

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What was an issue with the thief-takers?

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Answer

They were unreliable making mistaken or malicious arrests

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What is one way that the Bow Street Runners prevented crime?

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Answer

Patrolling the streets

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What were the police known as in the 19th century?

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Bobbies

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When were professional Police forces first introduced in Britain?

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Answer

19th Century

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Question

Before the formation of a formalised police force, which of these groups was NOT responsible for maintaining law and order?

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Answer

Highwaymen

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Question

In what year was the Metropolitan Police established?

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Answer

1829

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Which police force was established in 1800?

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Answer

City of Glasgow Police

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In what decade did the government introduce centrally funded police forces across the country?

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Answer

1850s

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What was policing by consent?

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Answer

That the police's basis for maintaining law and order was the support of the general public

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In what year was the investigative "detective branch" established in the metropolitan police?

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Answer

1842

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Question

Who dealt with public unrest before the formation of the police?

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Answer

Part-time soldiers/the army

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What was the name of the magistrates police force that pre-dated the Metropolitan Police?

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Answer

Bow Street Runners

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Who established the Metropolitan Police Force?

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Answer

Robert Peel

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What year was the Metropolitan Police created?

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Answer

1829

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What colour were the Metropolitan Police uniforms?

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Answer

Blue

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In what year were the Bow Street Runners amalgamated with the Metropolitan Police?

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1839

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Why was the detective branch not formed until 1842?

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Answer

Bow Street Runners had previously investigated crimes

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Question

The Special Branch primarily investigated what?

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Answer

Terrorism and Organised Crime

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Why were the public initially hostile towards the new police force?

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Answer

The concept was new and people feared they were being spied on

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Why were the police known as peelers?

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Answer

As the founder of the Metropolitan Police was Home Secretary Robert Peel

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What is a lasting legacy of the Metropolitan Police?

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Answer

It became the blueprint for other police forces in the UK as crime rates fell

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Question

Why was the police unarmed and strictly non-militarised?

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Answer

To build public trust and represent civilians

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