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History of British Police System

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The origin of the British police can be traced back to 1361 with the Justice of the Peace Act. Three or four men were appointed to arrest, take and chastise offenders. The early tribal history was based on customs for securing order through appointed representatives. These people were the police. The system was brought to Britain by the Saxons and it was then improved and developed to a better organization. In the beginning the people were divided into groups of ten people called ‘tythings’, with each tything man being a representative of each, and into larger groups, each of ten tythings being under a ‘hundred man’ who was responsible to the shire-reeve, or Sheriff of the County.

The Industrial Revolution caused many people to move from the countryside to the cities. An influx of people meant lack of jobs for many which led to poverty and desperation among the new immigrants. There was thus a lot of lawlessness and order crisis. There was a man called Henry Fielding who formed and paid the first police force that he called, The Runners. The Bow Street Runners were a small plain clothed force that was started in 1750. They sought assistance from the public by displaying images of wanted law offenders and criminals. The Runners were joined by The Bow Street Horse Patrol who were mandated with keeping the city of London clear of highwaymen. A new Bill called The Metropolitan Police Bill of 1829 was passed by Sir Robert Peel. He approved a force of 95 constables, 88 sergeants and 20 inspectors. The number of police forces had risen to over 200 by 1856 throughout Wales and England.

The new police were not kindly received by the populace. The police uniforms were thus designed to make the police look more civilian by having dark blue coats and a collar which carried the Constable’s Number. These police carried truncheons and rattles which they used to raise alarm. Helmets were introduced later in 1864 and the rattles were replaced with whistles.  The police were then supposed to adorn the official uniform which was also changed to make the police easily recognized from the crowds. The police were to patrol the areas to prevent crime and disorder. Besides the regular police duties, the new police force were to do the work that had been previously done by the watchmen such as lighting lamps, calling time and fire detection. The police would not be rewarded for the recovery of stolen property or for the reduction of the crime rates since they were already on the payroll.

Despite of the presence of the Metropolitan Police districts, there remaine some of the previous police establishments outside the control of the Metropolitan Police. These included the Bow Street Patrols (previously The Bow Street Runners). The police constables who worked in these patrols were under the control of the magistrates. By the year 1839, all of these establishments were absorbed by the Metropolitan Police force. The City of London Police Force was established in 1839 and remains independent up to this day.

The first police vehicle was horse drawn in 1858; later on more secure police vehicles were introduced. These were called Black Marias and a special area in the Bow Street Police Court was reserved for the loading and off loading of the Black Marias. It was not until 1914 that women were included in the police force. This came about when the men were away fighting in the First World War. The first policewoman, Edith Smith, with the powers to arrest was sworn-in in 1915.

Organizing and designing the New Police was done by two Commissioners, Colonel Charles Rowan and Richard Mayne. While working on the intricate details of the new police they occupied a private house at 4, Whitehall Place, the back of which opened on to a courtyard. This address is what led to the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police being known as Scotland Yard. Originally the Police Headquarters occupied even the nearest buildings which had been stores and Public Carriage Offices. These were moved in 1890 to the Victorian Embankment as became known as New Scotland Yard. In 1967 the need for larger premises led to a move to the present site in Broadway, S.W.1, also known as New Scotland Yard.

Today the police play a role in our everyday life. Each and every one of us has had an encounter with the police. Some will term theirs as favorable while others will have a totally different perspective. The police are there to keep things in order, assist at all times in all possible ways and prevent crime. They have come under great scrutiny of late when issues questioning their integrity have arisen and some have even faced prosecution for committing crime or organizing to cover up criminals and their activities for monetary gains.

Police culture plays a vital role in the integrity of the police while in service. It also plays a large role in how the police force is run. Police culture, discretion and misconduct can be traced to begin at the police academy where training begins (Weitzer). New officers in the force learn from the experienced officers who pass on the social norms and standards to the new officers (Grant &Terry 2005). This socialization between the two groups of officers creates a bond between them and trust is also developed (Chemerinsky 2005). Today’s society also plays a large role in influencing the police especially through the authoritarian control since many believe that the police have the most authority in society. Police work relies on attitude, trust, understanding guidelines and obeying authority.

Police brutality has been the chief complaint over the last couple of years. The police have been accused of this vice which has become widespread. Some incidences have even been recorded in video camcorders thus the police cannot deny it. These are the same people who are tasked with the safety of people and who have taken an oath to uphold the dignity of the people they protect.

Research done has shown that the police now have a new philosophy by which they stand. It urges them to confront and command, take control of the streets at all times and always be aggressive. They are also urged ‘to never, ever, admit that the department has done anything wrong’, (Holdaway, 1979). This philosophy has divided the police force into two. The management normally holds police accountable for their actions while on duty and raises a conflict with the use of discretion by the police. This is so since the police cannot possibly arrest everyone for every crime committed and therefore use their discretion to find ways of dealing with each situation. Discretion is the freedom to use personal judgment to make decisions. When cases came up for investigation, evaluation has to be made to determine whether discretion was appropriately used. These will vary from person to person thus the public often feel short charged in the outcomes of the cases they file against the police especially when complaining of police brutality. The police always seem to win these cases.

When situations involving the police get out of hand, they are usually covered to protect the policemen involved and to ‘save the face’ of the police force. This is the command and control subculture. Covering the mistakes made by the police officers allows for continuation of misconduct to occur. The police have been taught the ‘lay-low/cover-your-ass attitude’, (Ingleton, 1996). Police in the long run often develop a negative attitude towards their duties especially when enforcing mandatory arrests, which are situations where officers are required by law to arrest people who commit specific actions, like rape. The primary role of the police in Britain was keeping the Queen’s peace, which continues into the present day.

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