Police - A brief history

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Police - A brief history

Postby holy vehm » Thu Dec 08, 2011 10:55 am

Medieval EnglandThe Anglo-Saxon system of maintaining public order since the Norman conquest was a private system of tithings, led by a constable, which was based on a social obligation for the good conduct of the others; more common was that local lords and nobles were responsible to maintain order in their lands, and often appointed a constable, sometimes unpaid, to enforce the law.[citation needed]

Along with the Ordinance of 1233 that required the appointment of watchmen,[12][13] the Assize of Arms of 1252 which required the the appointment of constables to summon men to arms, quell breaches of the peace, and to deliver offenders to the sheriff, is cited as one of the earliest creation of the English police, as was the Statute of Westminster 1285.[14][15]



In England a system of sheriffs, reeves, and investigative "juries" had developed under the Anglo-Saxons to provide basic security and law enforcement.

After the Norman conquest, these institutions remained though their roles changed. Sheriffs in particular were responsible for keeping law and order, although they were responsible to the king and represented his interests.

In the United Kingdom, the development of police forces was much slower than in the rest of Europe. The British police function was historically performed by private watchmen (existing from 1500 on), thief-takers, and so on. The former were funded by private individuals and organisations and the latter by privately funded rewards for catching criminals, who would then be compelled to return stolen property or pay restitution.

In 1285 the statute of Winchester obliged the authorities of every town to keep a watch at the city gates and 'arrest all suspicious night walkers'[18] The constable organised the watch and any strangers were handed over to him and taken to court.[18]

The first use of the word police ("Polles") in English comes from the book "The Second Part of the Institutes of the Lawes of England" published in 1642[19]

In London, night watchmen were the first paid law enforcement body in the country, augmenting the force of unpaid constables. They guarded the streets since 1663. They were later nicknamed 'Charlies', probably after the reigning monarch King Charles II.

In 1737, George II began paying some London and Middlesex watchmen with tax moneys, beginning the shift to government control. In 1749 Henry Fielding began organizing a force of quasi-professional constables known as the Bow Street Runners. The Macdaniel affair added further impetus for a publicly salaried police force that did not depend on rewards. Nonetheless, In 1828, there were privately financed police units in no fewer than 45 parishes within a 10-mile radius of London.

The word "police" was borrowed from French into the English language in the 18th century, but for a long time it applied only to French and continental European police forces. The word, and the concept of police itself, was "disliked as a symbol of foreign oppression" (according to Britannica 1911).

Before the 19th century, the first use of the word "police" recorded in government documents in the United Kingdom was the appointment of Commissioners of Police for Scotland in 1714 and the creation of the Marine Police in 1798 (set up to protect merchandise at the Port of London). This force is still in operation today as part of the Metropolitan Police and is the oldest police force in the world. Even today, many British police forces are referred to officially by the term "Constabulary" rather than "Police".

On 30 June 1800, the authorities of Glasgow, Scotland successfully petitioned the government to pass the Glasgow Police Act establishing the City of Glasgow Police. . Other Scottish towns soon followed suit and set up their own police forces through acts of parliament.[20]

The first organized police force in Ireland came about through the Peace Preservation Act of 1814, but the Irish Constabulary Act of 1822 marked the true beginning of the Royal Irish Constabulary. Among its first duties was the forcible seizure of tithes during the "Tithe War" on behalf of the Anglican clergy from the mainly Catholic population as well as the Presbyterian minority.

The Act established a force in each barony with chief constables and inspectors general under the control of the civil administration at Dublin Castle. By 1841 this force numbered over 8,600 men.

The force had been rationalized and reorganized in an 1836 act and the first constabulary code of regulations was published in 1837. The discipline was tough and the pay poor. The police also faced unrest among the Irish rural poor, manifested in organizations like the Ribbonmen, which attacked landlords and their property.

On 29 September 1829, the Metropolitan Police Act was passed by Parliament, allowing Sir Robert Peel, the then home secretary, to found the London Metropolitan Police. This promoted the preventive role of police as a deterrent to urban crime and disorder.[17]

These police are often referred to as "Bobbies" or "Peelers" after Sir Robert (Bobby) Peel, who introduced the Police Act. They became a model for the police forces in most countries, such as the United States, and most of the British Empire. Bobbies can still be found in many parts of the Commonwealth of Nations. The primary role of the police in Britain was keeping the Queen's Peace, which continues into the present day.


The Police Federation of England and Wales is the representative body to which all police officers in England and Wales up to and including the rank of Chief Inspector belong. There are 141,000 members as of July 2009. Members can elect not to pay subscriptions and thereby not receive the legal representation and other benefits that paying members receive, but they still continue officially to be members of the federation. In reality only a very few officers have ever decided not to pay their full subscription dues. Superintendents have their own association, the Police Superintendents' Association of England and Wales, whilst the Association of Chief Police Officers represents the most senior ranks.

The Police Federation of England and Wales was set up by the Police Act 1919 after two police strikes. The government of the day were frightened by the prospect of the police going on strike and created the Police Federation of England and Wales and withdrew the right of officers in the UK to strike.[1]

Police officers are technically not employees, but crown-appointed warrant holders. This allowed the police their unique independent status and notionally provides the citizens of the UK a protection from any government that might wish unlawfully to use the police as an instrument against them. The Police Federation was set up by statute to represent the rights and interests of its members, hence its recent involvement in campaigns involving drugs and licensing hours. Many observers mistakenly equate the Police Federation with a trade union. This is an incorrect assumption as it was set up specifically by the government of the day not to be a trade union.

"A ruler who violates the law is illegitimate. He has no right to be obeyed. His commands are mere force and coercion. Rulers who act lawlessly, whose laws are unlawful, are mere criminals".
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