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The Royal Commission on Constabulary Forces
The report was produced by Charles Shaw Lefevre, Charles
Rowan and Edwin Chadwick and argued
for the establishment of a national police force. Lefevre and Chadwick had
both been involved with the framing and implementation of the 1834
Poor Law Amendment Act. Rowan was one of the first two men appointed as
Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police, along with
This lengthy extract from the Report sets out their findings and makes
recommendations for the future of the police in Britain.
We now beg leave to recapitulate the chief conclusions which we have endeavoured
to set forth in this our Report.
- Having, with a view to judge of the extent of any requisite
remedy by means of a paid constabulary force, made a general investigation
as well as to the state of crime as to the present state of the unpaid constabulary,
we find in respect to the state of crime:
- That the public information as to the number of crimes committed, inferred
from the extent of crimes judicially pursued and punished, is widely erroneous.
- That there is an average of upwards of 100,000 commitments annually
to the gaols of the able-bodied population of England and Wales for Criminal
- That there are from 11,000 to 20,000 persons constantly in the criminal
gaols; of which a large proportion are persons known as living wholly
by habitual depredation; and from inquiries made in a large number of
the individual cases of prisoners for thefts in these gaols , we find
that on the average such prisoners in rural districts, where there is
no trained constabulary, have been at large living by depredation during
average periods upwards of five years; and that the criminal prisoners
in the gaols in the towns, where there is a paid and trained force, have
not been able to pursue their depredations more than half that time. But
that nevertheless in either districts, prisoners are liberated with the
prospect and the temptation of a career of unknown but long duration for
the future, before permanent removal by process of law or by natural causes.
- That with relation to the particular crimes committed by such habitual
depredators, no information is possessed by the unpaid constables.
- That it results from a special investigation of the habits of the classes
of habitual depredators; that a large proportion of them are migratory;
that they migrate from town to town, and from the towns where they harbour,
and where there are distinct houses maintained for their accommodation,
they issue forth and commit depredations upon the surrounding rural districts;
the metropolis being the chief centre from which they migrate: and that
they harbour in provincial towns in proportion to their magnitude, and
in proportion to the facilities for plunder or to the absence of protection
in the surrounding districts.
- That judging from particular cases in which we have made inquiries,
a large proportion, if not always the majority, of prisoners in the county
gaols for offences committed within the rural districts, are persons who
have migrated from the towns to the rural districts.
- That from the impunity enjoyed by the classes of depredators, migrant
or resident, property is rendered insecure; in some places so much so
on the part of the labouring classes as greatly to impair the value of
property to them, and their motives to industry and frugality.
- That in the rural districts agricultural produce is subjected to extensive
depredation which often interferes with the most advantageous cc course
- That a large proportion of the highways are left without any protection
whatsoever from any constabulary or other civil force.
- That on the highways of a large part of the country, commercial travellers
and strangers who travel singly, otherwise than by public conveyances,
and carry money about them, abstain from travelling after dark, from fear
of robbery and violence; and that farmers return from market in company,
from the like fear, after dark.
- That the products of commercial industry in transitu on the highways
being almost entirely without protection from any civil force, are subject
to extensive and systematic depredation.
- That in the absence of due protection, property carried by sea in ships
which are wrecked on those parts of the coast where shipwrecks occasionally
or frequently occur, is subject to extensive habitual depredation, and
life is endangered or lost, under circumstances of barbarity disgraceful
to a civilised nation.
- Having investigated the general causes of depredation, of vagrancy,
and mendicancy, as developed by examinations of the previous lives of criminals
or vagrants in the gaols, we find that in scarcely any cases is it ascribable
to the pressure of unavoidable want or destitution; and that in the great
mass of cases it arises from the temptation of obtaining property with a less
degree of labour than by regular industry, which they are enabled to do by
the impunity occasioned by the absence of the proper constitutional protection
to the subject.
- Having specially examined the state of public security against breaches
of the peace in the manufacturing districts, we find,
- That the free investment of capital and employment of labourers, and the
progress of manufacturing industry is impeded and endangered, and combinations
carried on by violent and unlawful means; that murder has been resorted
to, and that threats of murder, and arson, and personal violence are resorted
to by such combiners as means to effect their objects.
- That for the prevention of the disturbances peculiar to such districts,
as well as for the prevention of the more ordinary breaches of the peace,
amidst the new and increasing population, no other efficient force than
a military force is provided.
- That such force is inadequate for the purpose of the prevention of disorders,
and that from the reluctance which is felt in having recourse to it for
the purpose of repression, it is rarely used until considerable evil has
- And we further find that from the want of an efficient preventive force,
the peace and manufacturing prosperity of the country are exposed to considerable
- Having specially investigated the state of the constabulary
force, and the execution of the constitutional principles of penal administration
connected with that force, we find
- that the early constitutional principles of local responsibility for
offences committed, by compensation to the sufferers, or by amercements
to the Crown, has been impaired; and that there does not exist an adequate
local interest to ensure the adoption of efficient means for the prevention
of crimes, especially of crimes committed against the persons of strangers,
travellers, or wayfarers.
- That in the majority of instances, the courts leet, or other functionaries
charged with the duty of appointing fit and proper persons to act as constables,
do not appoint persons who possess the requisite legal qualifications
in respect of intelligence, substance, character, and connections.
- That the modes of carrying out the early constitutional principles of
action of a constabulary force, of seeking information of offences, felonies,
or misdemeanours committed, and of instituting quick and fresh pursuit
for the apprehension of the offenders, have fallen into desuetude, and
that no new modes adapted to the present circumstances of society have
- That offenders, after having committed extensive depredation, in one
district, have recourse to another; the people in which, having received
no warning, are enabled to take no measures of prevention; and that until
detected and pursued by some private individuals, usually at their own
private cost, the depredators proceed without interruption by any public
officers from district to district.
- That the criminal law is
often extensively dispensed with, and its execution left to the discretion
of private and unauthorised individuals.
- That in consequence of the extensive dereliction of the constitutional
principles of penal administration, self-protection is extensively resorted
to by private individuals separately, as well as by individuals associating
together for mutual protection.
- That there are upwards of 500 private or voluntary associations for
self-protection in different parts of the country, by the payment of rewards
for the apprehension of felons and the expenses of their prosecution,
independently of a large number of associations for self-protection by
subscription for the maintenance of private watchmen; and of other private
associations for the removal of various evils, such as the suppression
of vagrancy and mendicancy, which it is the business of the Government
to prevent or repress.
- That the protection obtained by such associations is in proportion to
the cost extremely inadequate, and that the practice of investing private
hands with public powers for their own use, is fraught with much inconvenience,
and some danger of mischief to the public by large associations.
- That the proper performance of the legal duties of constables in the
present state of the law and circumstances of the community would require
from persons otherwise properly qualified in respect to substance and
character, a sacrifice of time and labour which would render the compulsory
service of the office grievously burthensome, and that within the time
allowed for such service the requisite information and experience for
its proper performance could not ordinarily be obtained.
- That it is essential to the proper performance of the duties in question
that they should be performed by an agency specially trained, paid, and
appointed, during good behaviour, for the purpose, and subjected to the
control of superior and trained officers, who are themselves specially
qualified and subjected to effective responsibility.
- Having specially investigated the cases of the trial of paid constables,
we find in the case of the trial of a paid constabulary force appointed and
controlled, according to an Act of Parliament for the county of Chester, by
the magistrates at quarter and petty sessions, we find
- That the appointment and management of a paid constabulary force in
separate divisions, separately managed at the discretion of the justices
at the petty sessions of those divisions, is an arrangement of itself
incompatible with any efficient and economical system for the prevention
- That such a mode of appointment and separate management in separate
divisions does not comprehend any adequate local interest or proper security
for the due protection of property or persons unconnected with the vicinity
on the Queen's highways, or the constitutional responsibilities in that
behalf to the sovereign authority.
- That any less scale of administration of a paid constabulary than for
a whole county, does not comprehend a sufficiently wide basis for ultimate
and complete efficiency and economy, either as to the county regarded
separately, or in its general relation to the rest of the kingdom.
- That the appointment and executive control of any paid constabulary
force for the conservation of the peace are proved to be incompatible
with the due and impartial discharge of the functions of the justice of
the peace, with the maintenance of proper respect for the office, or the
efficient direction and control of the force itself or the avoidance of
party or local animosities, or the jealousies arising on the part of the
labouring classes from the relation of employer and workmen.
- Having examined the effects and tendencies of the other paid
constabulary forces separately organised and directed in towns, we find:
- That whilst the paid forces which have been instituted on the model
of the Metropolitan Police force, in many of
the municipal towns, have rendered considerable benefits to the inhabitants
of those towns, they have not gained these benefits by preventing or suppressing
the whole of the evils from which they are freed. but by shifting a portion
of it, or driving depredators into adjacent districts.
- That a considerable proportion of the habitual depredators in the rural
districts harbour in the towns, where since they do not, unless under
safe opportunities, pursue their practices, they receive no molestation.
- That, in consequence of the absence of a proper constabulary force and
the want of due protection in the rural districts, the towns are subject
to the occasional escapes of delinquents, and are obliged to maintain
a stronger or more expensive constabulary force than would otherwise be
necessary to guard against criminals who subsist chiefly by depredations
in the surrounding country.
- That the like results must be produced by separate or uncombined arrangement
for the prevention of crime.
- Having investigated the most favourable instances of the trial
of a paid and well-appointed constabulary force in the rural districts, we
- That by means of such force the habitual depredations of resident delinquent
have been prevented, and that they have been reformed or constrained to
courses of honest industry.
- That the districts in which such force has acted have been kept free
from vagrants and mendicants, and from migratory depredators; and that
habitual depredations on agricultural produce and crimes in general against
property have been
- That the disorders in beer-shops and ill-regulated houses of public
resort and other sources of temptation and causes of domestic distress
and immorality have been repressed.
- That for a time, and during the continuance of the full efficiency of
the force the public peace, the efficiency of the laws, and the authority
of the magistrates have been restored or increased as regards riotous
or individual infractions, and a state of order produced, such as to leave
but little immediate anxiety in the minds of the peaceable and well-disposed
of the population for further amendment.
- Having inquired into the services other than in the prevention
or repression of crime which a paid and well-appointed constabulary force
may render, we find:
- That they may render extensive public service in the prevention of the
loss of life, and destruction of property, and in the diminution of the
feelings of alarm arising from calamities by fire or other causes.
- That they may render various local, civil, and administrative services,
as in reporting on the state of the roads, and in maintaining the free
transit of persons and goods.
- That they may aid the public service of administrative departments of
the Government; and especially that they may to an important extent prevent
the infraction of the laws of the Excise and Customs, and thereby increase
- Having inquired as to the mode in which such a force should
be appointed, and the probable expense, we find:
- That it is essential for the efficiency and attainment of all compatible
services from a constabulary force, - first, that the constables should
be trained, or appointed from a trained force, secondly, that neither
by appointment nor otherwise should they be privately connected with the
district in which they act, thirdly, that they should at periods be changed
from district to district, fourthly, that whilst they should act under
local direction for the performance of various local and administrative
duties, for the repression of the practices of migratory depredators,
vagrancy, and offences which concern the community at large more than
the particular locality, they must act under general rules and principles,
and in subordination to general directions from one general and responsible
- That such a trained and moveable force, under general and responsible
direction, will produce greater advantages than at least double the number
of untrained, irremoveable constables, acting more expensively under separate,
independent, and voluntary, or untrained and irresponsible direction.
- That the expense of a general and uniform force, which we believe would
be adequate to the attainment of these objects, would be under half a
million sterling per annum.
- That the saving from the services of such a force would be considerable;
that, independently of the saving to individuals of the greater proportion
of the money or produce now taken by habitual depredators, there would
be much saving effected, on upwards of two millions of money, now expended
chiefly in the cost of repression and of punishment in various ways, amongst
others in the maintenance of delinquents in gaols, in transports, and
in the penal colonies, as well as in the prevention of frauds upon the
- That much time, which we cannot accurately determine, would be required
to obtain proper persons and fit them by training for the proper discharge
of their duties, and to organise an efficient trained force.
- That the only available district or trained force that can at present
be obtained is the new Metropolitan Police force.
- That the great majority of instances, or nearly all, of the successful
trial of a paid constabulary force, have been instances where trained
men have been obtained from the Metropolitan Police force, comprehending
about 200 instances in towns and rural districts.
We therefore propose -
- That as a primary remedy for the evils set forth, a paid constabulary
force should be trained, appointed, and organised on the principles of management
recognised by the legislature in the appointment of the new metropolitan police
- That for this purpose on application in writing, under the hands and
seals of a majority of the justices assembled at any quarter sessions of the
peace for the county, setting forth the insecurity of person and property,
and the want of paid constables, the commissioners of police shall, with the
approbation of the Secretary of State for the Home Department, direct a sufficient
number of constables and such officers as may, upon such examination as the
said commissioners shall make or direct, be by them deemed adequate for the
due protection of life or protection of life or property within the county.
- That force shall be paid one-fourth from the consolidated fund and three-fourths
from the county rates, as a part of the general expenses of the whole county.
- That the constables so appointed shall report their proceedings to the
magistrates of the quarter and petty sessions where they are stationed.
- That the superintendents shall be subject to dismissal upon the representation
of the justices of the peace in quarter sessions, and that the sergeants and
constables shall be subject to dismissal upon the representation of the justices
of the peace in petty sessions.
- That the magistrates shall frame rules and regulations for the service
of process and attendance at petty or quarter sessions of such force, which
rules shall be submitted to the Secretary of State, and, if approved by him,
shall be binding.
- That the commissioners shall frame rules and regulations for the general
management of the police, which rules shall, on the approbation of the Secretary
of State, be binding.
The principles embodied in our recommendations being based on extensive experience,
we feel confident that however they may for a time be impeded by adverse interests,
these interests and the prejudices engendered by them will yield before the
light of future experience which will lead to the ultimate adoption of measures
on the principles of those we propose. If one uniform and trained force be efficiently
directed to the prevention or repression of crime we cannot doubt of success.
We can fund no solid grounds for the supposition often entertained that a large
amount of crime is a necessary evil incidental to the present condition of society,
and that the most ignorant and base of the community may defeat the exertions
of a well appointed agency instituted for the repression of their crimes.
The appointment of a proper force for the prevention or repression of crimes
has sometimes been viewed with apprehension on the supposition that such a force
might be used to impair the political liberty of the subject.
If we were to admit that a diminution instead of an increase of the political
liberty of the subject were the probable consequence of the establishment of
an efficient constabulary force, we should nevertheless be prepared to show
that the evils we have found in existence in some districts and the abject subjection
of the population to fears which may be termed a state of slavery, which the
objectors would endure from a groundless fear of loss of liberty, form a condition
much worse in all respects than any condition that could be imposed by any government
that could exist in the present state of society in this country. We do not
believe that in this country any government could possibly exist which subjected
the people to domiciliary attacks and to have their houses broken open and plundered,
and their lives endangered at night, or which caused a large proportion of the
population to abstain from travelling singly after dark for fear of being put
in danger of their lives and stripped of their property by armed men, - which
allowed its agents to pillage or maltreat the unfortunate people wrecked on
the coasts, or which generally inflicted such evils as are now inflicted by
upwards of 40,000 thieves, robbers, or marauding hordes of various descriptions,
against whom the honest in almost every part of the country have been driven
to associate for self-defence. Neither do we see any motives which could induce
any government in these times to impose political restraints so oppressive or
mischievous on any industrious community as we find imposed by illegal means
on the manufacturing population of the city of Norwich and other parts of the
kingdom; nor do we believe that by any form of the abuse of the powers of a
government it could use any agency such as secret committees have employed in
the manufacturing districts to coerce the honest and industrious, but peaceable,
to purposes injurious to them, by actual murder or the fear of life or maiming,
or the threats of such fire and pillage as were displayed in the burning of
the city of Bristol.
The apprehensions expressed of danger to the liberty of the subject from the
institution of a preventive police are usually supported by reference to institutions
having that name on the continent; but we believe it will be found that the
notions prevalent as to the state and operations of such institutions are even
more erroneous than those we have found prevalent on the state of the penal
administration in this country. We believe it will be found that the police
force in a neighbouring country, which has been referred to as a preventive
police, is in no proper sense in sound theory or in actual practice preventive;
and that it has had none of the chief effects popularly attributed to its Although
organised for political purposes, to the neglect, as we believe, of the. main
purposes of a preventive police - the protection of private individuals in the
enjoyment of their rights against infractions by depredators or others, - it
has not saved the various governments which have depended on it, if any have;
and in all large movements by the whole of the community it has been disregarded
or thrown aside as of no serious account. The trained force which we propose
is of little more than one constable to 2,000 inhabitants; - a force three or
four times more numerous than that we propose were absurd as a means of constraining
the whole community to any course which they felt to be inimical to them. What
such a force might do with the tacit consent of the community, and what we believe
to be most important for the liberty of the subject it should do, is to enforce
the laws for the suppression of conspiracies, riots, or dangerous violences,
by which ignorant or fanatical, or rapacious minorities may seek their ends.
Without the assent or aid of the community, that is to say, without information
from the people, a police or constabulary force cannot perform properly even
its ordinary duties,
The safe course for maintaining the freedom of the subject appears to us to
be, not to render the authorities impotent, but to make them strictly responsible
for the use of the power with which they may be invested for the public service.
The securities respecting which the greatest anxiety should be manifested, are
the securities that the power which the Legislature may confer for the general
advantage shall be fully used. The great mass of evil indicated in our Report
is ascribable not to the abuse, but to the neglect and disuse of beneficial
powers. The chief and proper objection, as we conceive, to the police forces
abroad are, that they act on powers which are arbitrary: the force which we
propose could only act on powers which are legal, and for which they would be
responsible to the courts of law, and ultimately to the Parliament.
What has been done partially in particular places, may be done generally and
more completely throughout the country, by the more efficient application of
the like means. If a constabulary force were well appointed and trained on a
uniform system, and were placed under trained and responsible direction for
the whole county, it would, we are assured, soon enable Your Majesty's subjects
to sleep under a feeling of security from midnight plunder and violence; it
would give protection to the industrious classes in the enjoyment of property,
and by enhancing its value create additional motives to industry and frugality;
it would give freedom and security to travellers on the roads, and humane succour
to natives, and hospitality to strangers thrown by shipwreck on our coasts;
it would free the country from mendicancy and vagrancy, and the various evils
that follow in their course; it would free the industry of the manufacturing
labourers and increase the inducements to the investment of capital by protecting
them from lawless violence; it would tend to secure the people from the alarms
and dangers of riotous disturbances of the peace, by affording a powerful means
of repressing them without the risk of military execution and bloodshed, without
putting hostile parties in array against each other, without endangering animosities
by arming neighbour to conflict with neighbour, and master with servant; all
this, and much more beneficent service it might be made to render at an immediate
expense of less than one-fourth of the sum recently saved by one amendment in
local administration; or, as we feel confident, all these great objects may
be accomplished with an ultimate saving of the whole expense from upwards of
two millions of money, now chiefly expended on what have been proved before
Committees of both Houses of Parliament, and pronounced by them to be, ineffective
or demoralising systems of punishment.
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4 March, 2016