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The Metropolitan Police Force

The Metropolitan Police Force

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In 1829, the British parliament formed the third non-military police force in the world - the Metropolitan Police Force. Although it was the third, this police force was the first professional, centrally organised force - read on to find out all about it.

London Metropolitan Police History

Industrialisation, increasing crime, and its portrayal by the media at the beginning of the 19th century led upper and middle-class communities to become increasingly concerned. It became clear that the existing system of policing, organised by groups such as the Bow Street Runners, was insufficient and outdated.

Industrialisation A process of social and economic transformation of a society into an industrial society

Many members of the public, particularly those in poor areas where crime thrived, were suspicious of the new police force. They often saw the police as persecuting the public rather than protecting them. Founder Robert Peel made particular efforts to build public trust in the police - read on to find out how.

The Metropolitan Police Force London Peeler Policeman in the 1850s with Top Hat StudysmarterLondon "Peeler"(Policeman) in the 1850s with Top Hat

The Metropolitan Police Force 1829: Robert Peel

We've mentioned that Robert Peel was the founder of the Metropolitan Police, but who was he?

  • Peel served as Home Secretary from 1828 to 1830.
  • He not only established the Metropolitan Police but had long advocated for reform of law enforcement.
  • He is known as the Father of Modern British Policing, and officers of the police force were nicknamed "Peelers" after him.
  • Peel went on to serve as Prime Minister twice, from 1834 to 1835 and from 1841 to 1846.

The Metropolitan Police Force, Robert Peel (1788-1850) Father of Modern British Policing and Founder of Metropolitan Police, Studysmarter.Robert Peel (1788-1850), The Father of Modern British Policing

“Peelers” first began to patrol the streets of London on 29 September 1829. They would become the model for police forces across the country, with forces initially expanded to the London boroughs and eventually counties and towns through the 1839 County Police Act.

Peel in Ireland

In 1814 as Chief Secretary for Ireland, Peel introduced the Peace Preservation Act, which authorised the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to employ extra magistrates in troubled areas that, in turn, could hire special constables. This laid the groundwork for the later Royal Irish Constabulary.

Metropolitan Police Act of 1829 Principles

Peel communicated several key principles for the new police force. Significantly, the police's effectiveness was to be measured on crime rates as opposed to the number of people arrested. The officers were also expected to be accountable and to gain public trust.


An obligation to take responsibility

Other principles that officers were expected to adhere to include:

  • Preventing crime rather than focusing on punishing criminals;
  • Recognising the police rely on public support to fulfil their duties;
  • Demonstrating impartiality and fairness by ignoring one's wealth or social standing;
  • Only using physical force as a last resort when de-escalation has failed.

Although not directly outlined in the Act, these principles were communicated through the training material. These principles aimed to legitimise the police and build trust with the public.

Facts about the First Metropolitan Police Force

The first Metropolitan Police Force aimed to avoid military association - how did they do that?

Metropolitan Police Facts
The organisation was generally not structured based on military ranks, except the rank of sergeant.
The police wore blue uniforms instead of military red.
They initially wore civilian top hats before introducing the unique and familiar custodian helmet in 1863.

Unlike military units, the “new police” were generally unarmed, except for in exceptional circumstances.

Although designed to build public trust and resemble a civilian as opposed to a military force, an unarmed force was problematic when facing other armed criminals.

Joining the Metropolitan Police

Even though the new force was one of the first “modern” police forces, constables were required to adhere to several unique rules and requirements. Requirements for joining the police force included:

  • Age between 20 and 27
  • At least 5 foot 7 in height
  • Physically fit
  • Literate
  • No history of troublemaking

As well as a blue tail coat and top hat, each constable was issued with a wooden truncheon, handcuffs and a hand rattle to raise alarm.

Did you know? The hand rattle would be replaced by a whistle in the 1880s.

Constables worked long 12-hour shifts six or even seven days a week, receiving the equivalent of about £1 a week. Their lives were strictly controlled, with officers required to wear their uniforms even when not on duty. This was done so the public could be aware of who was a police officer and to prevent suspicion that they were being spied on by the police.

The Metropolitan Police Force, American Police Rattle equipment similar to those used by the Metropolitan Police, Studysmarter.American Police Rattle similar to those originally used by the Metropolitan Police

Public Perception

Despite the various efforts to build public trust in the police force, the new force was initially met with a high degree of suspicion and distrust. A professional police force on this scale was a completely new concept, and rather than making the public feel safe, regular police patrols came across as rather intimidating.

This wasn’t helped by the lack of discipline amongst the constables. In the early days of the Metropolitan Police, 80% of dismissals were due to drunkenness.

In 1863, for example, over 200 constables were reprimanded for being drunk on duty.

As a civilian force answerable to the government and general public, this ill-discipline was problematic, undermining the new police force.

The Metropolitan Police Force Metropolitan Police and Protestors Clash in London on Bloody Sunday 1887 StudySmarterViolent clashes between protestors and the Metropolitan Police, Bloody Sunday 1887

Despite this initial hostility, public opinion towards the police gradually changed - why?

  • The police were trained on how to deal with the public, always remaining calm even when subjected to abuse. This made the constables more approachable and trustworthy.
  • Drunken behaviour decreased over time as offenders were fired or reprimanded.
  • Crime rates began to fall, and the police came to be seen as serving their purpose.
  • The police force did not inform on the public or infringe on civil liberties.

As the police force expanded, the behaviour of the majority of constables thus eventually inspired trust amongst ordinary citizens.

Metropolitan Police Reform

In the years following the formation of the Metropolitan Police, several acts were passed to reform the new police and combat the lack of discipline.

These reforms included:


The force was split into 17 separate territorial divisions.

1831The Special Constables Act 1831 allowed magistrates to appoint ordinary citizens as special constables to support the police and maintain law and order in times of crisis.

The Bow Street Runners and the Thames River Police were absorbed into the Metropolitan Police.

1839A separate City of London Police was established, which still exists to this day. The Metropolitan Police also significantly expanded its area of operations.
1842The investigative “detective branch” was established. Detective work had previously been undertaken by the Bow Street Runners.
1878The detective branch reorganised to combat corruption and was renamed the Criminal Investigations Department (CID).
1882The Metropolitan Police grew to 11,700 officers.
1883The “Special Irish Branch” was established to combat Irish Republican Terrorism. It was renamed the Special Branch in 1888 and expanded to investigate terrorism and organised crime.
The Metropolitan Police Force Metropolitan Police Special Branch undercover 1905 StudySmarter
Undercover members of the Special Branch in 1905

Although these reforms helped to improve the force, there were still several issues. 1872 saw a police strike, for example, while in 1877, three high-ranking detectives were tried for corruption (this inspired the formation of CID).

Regardless, the Metropolitan Police achieved its goal of reducing and preventing crime in London, gaining public trust and support over time. As a result, the Metropolitan Police became the basis for every other police force in the country and set a precedent for modern policing across the world.

The Metropolitan Police Force - Key takeaways

  • The Metropolitan Police was set up by Home Secretary Robert Peel in 1829 to reform the justice system starting with the police. Officers were known as “Peelers” or “Bobbies” after Robert Peel.
  • The Metropolitan Police were the first centrally organised, modern police force tasked with deterring crime.
  • They were trictly non-militarised and wore top hats and blue clothing to resemble civilians.
  • The Metropolitan Police set the benchmark for other police forces - all police forces would now be held accountable by the general public and government.
  • Within thirty years of the formation of the Metropolitan Police, police forces funded by the central government would be a mandatory requirement in communities across the country.

Frequently Asked Questions about The Metropolitan Police Force

The Metropolitan Police Force was set up in 1829 by the Metropolitan Police Act 1829.

The Metropolitan Police Force was set up to professionalise policing and drastically reduce crime rates in London.

Yes, the act expanded the Metropolitan Police although it has been since updated with acts that followed.

The Metropolitan Police Force was created in 1829 by the Metropolitan Police Act 1829.

The first professional Metropolitan Police Force was formed in London.

Final The Metropolitan Police Force Quiz

The Metropolitan Police Force Quiz - Teste dein Wissen


Who established the Metropolitan Police Force?

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Robert Peel

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What year was the Metropolitan Police created?

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What colour were the Metropolitan Police uniforms?

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

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Why was the detective branch not formed until 1842?

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Bow Street Runners had previously investigated crimes

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The Special Branch primarily investigated what?

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Terrorism and Organised Crime

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

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

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Why was the police unarmed and strictly non-militarised?

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To build public trust and represent civilians

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