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The English Influence on Modern Police Essay

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Updated: Jul 31st, 2020

Sir Robert Peel and Henry Fielding

Both Sir Robert Peel and Henry Fielding significantly influenced the establishment of the police. Peel created the first police department in England, the London Metropolitan Police (Dempsey & Forst, 2016, p. 4). The draft of the first police bill called ‘the Act for Improving the Police in and near the Metropolis’ was written by Sir Robert Peel in 1828; it was successfully passed by the Parliament in 1829 (Dempsey & Forst, 2016, p. 7). The first organized and paid civil police in London included more than one thousand men (Dempsey & Forst, 2016, p. 7).

Peel and his colleagues believed the mutual respect between the police and the citizens was the path to success (Dempsey & Forst, 2016, p. 7). The police followed Peel’s Nine Principles: preventing crime, depending on public approval, securing the public, securing the public proportionately to the necessity of physical force, demonstrating service to the law, restoring the law with physical force only if other means did not work, being the part of the public, never usurping the power, and eliminating crime and disorder (Dempsey & Forst, 2016, p. 7).

Henry Fielding, living and working in Bow Street, trying to decrease the number of robberies, made lists of stolen property, and checked these with the local pawnbrokers (Dempsey & Forst, 2016, p. 6). Together with the high constable of Holborn Fielding and his brother created an investigation unit called the Bow Street Runners; in 1793 a civilian horse patrol was formed. The patrols created by the Fielding brothers were a prototype of the Peel’s police.

Watch and Ward and Thief-Takers

Long before the Peel’s police other attempts were made to establish a force that would guard the people. King Alfred developed a system of the mutual pledge: ten families (a tithing) were grouped into ten tithings (a hundred) under the charge of a constable; groups of hundreds were combined into shires; shires’ head was the shire-reeve (sheriff) (Dempsey & Forst, 2016, p. 4). If a crime was committed, a citizen was expected to raise a hue and cry (call for help) (Dempsey & Forst, 2016, p. 4).

These methods were used by the Statute of Winchester in 1285; two other approaches were added: ‘the watch and ward’, and the requirement for all men to keep weapons in their homes. All men of the town needed to serve the night watch: patrol the streets, light street lamps put out fires, and enforce the criminal law (Dempsey & Forst, 2016, p. 5). If the ‘hue and cry’ was pronounced, all citizens had to help the watchmen. It seems to be an efficient method because all citizens were engaged in the patrol and bore the responsibility; plus, ignoring the hue and cry was punishable.

The 17th-century police had a special form – a private one. The members, called ‘thief-takers’, combated the highwaymen that made traveling through England dangerous. Nevertheless, there were criminals among thief-takers who hoped for the king’s pardon of their crimes; moreover, thief-takers often made young people commit crimes: when a young criminal was arrested, thief-takers split the fee (Dempsey & Forst, 2016, p. 5). The system thus was ineffective and brought even more crime to the streets.

Peel’s Nine Principles and Modern Law Enforcement

To understand if the nine principles created by Peel apply to the modern-day police, they need to be examined closer. The first principle states that the police exist to prevent crime and disorder (Dempsey & Forst, 2016, p. 7). It is hard to disagree because it is still the primary function of the police. The next principle states that the ability of the police to perform their actions depends on public approval (Dempsey & Forst, 2016, p. 7). In light of recent events, I would say the police do not ask for approval. Public opinion is somewhat irrelevant to the police, so implementing this principle would be useful.

The next two principles prescribe that the police must secure the cooperation of the public and that the degree of this cooperation “diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force” (Dempsey & Forst, 2016, p. 7). The police still allow the public to take part in local/national searches, but ban public involvement in dangerous operations – it is a fair rule. Fifth and sixth principles state that the police serve only to the law and use physical force if persuasion, advice, or other means fail (Dempsey & Forst, 2016, p. 7).

If the modern police followed these two principles exactly, would there be less violence and chance-medley? Difficult to say because these principles only apply to simple situations. Seventh and eight principles declare that the police and the public are parts of each other, and the police have no right to usurp the power. The police are considered as the higher authority, so they are certainly not the part of the public.

The usurpation of power exists, but it always needs to be proven; nevertheless, these principles would suit well to the modern police. The last principle determines that the efficiency of the police is the absence of crime and disorder. Remembering the recent terror attacks, one could only wish this principle would be successfully implemented one day. I would not be happy if the early English officers were patrolling the streets since they would not be as professional as the modern police, but I find the principles quite suitable for today’s life.

The Early Days of the Police: Five Facts

The story about the Bow Street Runners was intriguing and even inspiring, but it was not mentioned that the Runners were criticized for some of their actions. Some mocked their goings-on and arrests in the brothels, because, as citizens believed, the Runners were interested in maintaining such business as they could benefit from the arrests (Beattie, 2012, p. 17).

Henry Fielding’s contribution was not only the Bow Street Runners. In August 1973, five people were reported to be killed by robbers in London; the Duke of Newcastle personally asked Henry Fielding for advice (Beattie, 2012, p. 22). Fielding, in return, wrote a fourteen-page document that later was used by the Duke to reform the existing police (Beattie, 2012, p. 23). Fielding’s devotion to the law was notable.

‘The police before the police’ were, of course, flawed. As Emsley (2014) states, during the Tudor and Stuart regiment, “there were corrupt, idle, ignorant and poor constables” who were mocked in the plays of Shakespeare (p. 11). Moreover, during the Elizabethan period, the so-called Trained Bands existed, run by the local gentry, unreliable, but effective if the night watch failed (Emsley, 2014, p. 13).

The proto-police thus had various forms. The City Marshal Thomas Gates was not mentioned in the book; however, during the 1770s he organized his men against the gangs of London and formed regular patrols (Emsley, 2014, p. 19). It follows that during the centuries different attempts were made to form a guarding force that could protect citizens and towns.


Beattie, J. M. (2012). The first English detectives: the Bow Street Runners and the policing of London, 1750-1840. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Dempsey, J. S., & Forst, L. S. (2016). An introduction to policing. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

Emsley, C. (2014). The English police: A political and social history. London, UK: Routledge.

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