The Peel Web
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In this speech, Robert Peel, the Home Secretary in the ministry of the Duke of Wellington, told MPs of the increase in crime in the capital and criticised the unsatisfactory state of policing. This was part of his campaign for the establishment of a civilian police force in London.
If they took any series of years, say seven, on which the police committee had reported, they would find crime had not only increased in the metropolis more than in the other parts of the country, but had far outstretched the rate of increase of its inhabitants.
It was not easy to determine what the causes were which had led to this frightful difference between the increase of crime and of population but he [Peel] feared that one of the causes was the increased mechanical ingenuity of the age, by which the committing of crimes was aided and the means of detection lessened. The mechanical improvements which had so distinguished the country and were a great source of its prosperity, aided criminals by enabling them to travel a great distance in a few hours.
Another cause was the unsatisfactory state of that branch of our police which were controlled by the parish authorities. He was satisfied that as long as the present night watch system was continued there would be no efficient police prevention of crime, nor any satisfactory protection for property or the person. The House would be aware that each parish had its own watch house, established its own watchmen, its own discipline and its own responsibility, that it was left to the parochial authorities to devise and control the means of protecting the property and persons of its own inhabitants. By this arrangement each parish was quite isolated as far as prevention of crime was concerned from every other; there could therefore be no general unity of approach or general responsibility. But this was not all; each parish had its own districts, each one of which might be independent of the rest as to its police, so that responsibility was still further sub-divided. In the parish of St Pancras for example there was no less than eighteen different police establishments making unity of purpose impossible. The wealthy and populous district of Kensington - not less than fifteen miles in extent - was dependent on the protection of three constables some of whom, after they were in office for a time, became not very remarkable for their abstinence from intoxicating liquor, it was not surprising that three drunken beadles should be no preventive of housebreaking and thievery. The situation was the same all over London as it was in Kensington.
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Last modified 4 March, 2016
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