ABSTRACT

While it is possible, in this way, to sketch the broad outlines of the changes in criminal justice, large lacunae exist in our knowledge. This is

I

In the historical literature on nineteenth-century policing, two main themes have claimed attention. The first concerns the factors which led to the foundation of the Metropolitan (1829), the borough (1835) and the rural {1839) constabularies. The traditional perspective is to see the evolution of the modern police as 'a Whig (more exactly, Benthamite) march of progress, the true end and goal being an efficient, centralized, nationally directed constabulary force'. 2 Drawing, in particular, on the lurid examples of the state of the unreformed police and on the recommendations of a professional police, to be found in the First Report of the Constabulary Commissioners {1839), historians of this persuasion have dignified the statist Utilitarians as farsighted reformers acting with a benign regard for the public interest.3 Against this view, is an explanation which emphasises conflict rather than consensus. In this approach, the introduction of the police was a reassertion of state power in the face of a new and threatening conjuncture. In the 1830s and 1840s, urban disorder was thought to presage an upsurge of the 'dangerous classes', against which the old techniques of policing would be inadequate. Hence the evident deficiencies of a frightened constabulary, a paralysed magistracy, and an exhausted military in the face of an insurgent Chartist movement, is said to have induced the government in the summer of 1839 to countenance reform of the rural police. A professional and bureaucratic control of urban and industrial society would, it was conceived, insulate the powers that be from popular animosity, at the same time as effectively combating crime and disorder.4 An integral feature of this second interpretation is the popular hostility which met the 'New Police', suggesting, at the least, that police reform

A number of smaller motifs enrich the historical debate on the origins of the reformed police. One argument has been to reassert the influence of the incidence of ordinary crime as against the role of popular unrest. As it has been noted, Peel's speech proposing the Metropolitan Police Bill in 1828 referred only to the recent increase in the number of committals for property crime.6 So, too, the Constabulary Commissioners' Report of 1839 emphasised the profitability of a criminal career (especially in the poorly-policed rural areas into which bands of criminals were said to be migrating) more than it did the crimes of organised workmen or political radicals. And, anyway, the Report was completed before any major Chartist outbreak.7