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THE POLICE GAZETTE

Part 1: Issues for 1866-1878, 1882-1897 and 1899-1900 from the Cambridgeshire Police Archive

Appendix A: Notes on the First Report of the Constabulary Commissioners

The three Commissioners appointed in 1836 to inquire into the best means of establishing an efficient constabulary force in the counties of England and Wales were:

  • Colonel Charles Rowan (Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police)
  • Edwin Chadwick Esq and
  • Charles Shaw Lefevre, country gentleman.

In their report published in 1839 the Commissioners recommended that the counties should be policed by a properly trained and equipped preventative police force on the lines of the Metropolitan Police, where the magistrates so wished. They envisaged a force which would be one quarter funded from central government and three quarters funded by local rates. All ranks would be liable to work to local magistrates, by whom they could be removed from office. The general management of the police would be under rules framed by the Commissioners. Such an outcome of the Commission could easily have been predicted. Colonel Rowan was in no small part responsible for the success of the Metropolitan Police. Chadwick was also committed to the idea, having earlier written a treatise on preventative policing. Lefevre appears to have played only a small part in the proceedings.

What appear to be the complete papers collected and used by the Commissioners are deposited in the Public Record Office at Kew under references H.O.73.2 to H.O.73.9. The first important point is that the 14 boxes of material (H.O.73.4-9 are each in two boxes) are not catalogued or indexed in any way.

The original material is however a rich source of detail for the police historian. H.O.73.2-3 contain general correspondence and some unique proposals and interesting figures. (28) It is the following boxes however which contain the most exciting and interesting material. The Commissioners sent out three different sets of printed questionnaires to Magistrates, members of watch committees, and Guardians under the Poor Laws. These original returns, in their hundreds, are to be found in the remaining boxes.

The 1839 Report paints a picture of complete lawlessness in the country with virtually no policing outside London and with bands of criminals displaced into the countryside in the face of an efficient and effective Metropolitan Police. The report faithfully reproduces material supplied in questionnaires which had been submitted to the Commissioners. What is not included in the report is any measure of the overall degree of dissatisfaction with the old parochial system in the country. There were in fact many returns testifying to a somewhat less universally lawless countryside than the Commissioners would have had us believe. The family or local historian interested in the effectiveness of pre-1839 policing in a certain locality can learn a great deal from these questionnaires of the past, once the right returns have been located.

Set out below is the questionnaire sent out to magistrates. The other two questionnaires follow broadly similar lines. This gives something of an insight into the level of detailed material to be found at Kew.

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Where any Magistrate of the Petty Sessions may be desirous of answering any questions individually, those answers should each be distinguished by the initials of the Magistrate making them.

1. What is the extent and supposed population of the division for which you act?

2. What number of acting Magistrates reside generally within your division?

3. State, as nearly as you can, the number of felonies and misdemeanours committed during the last twelve months within your division?

4. What proportion of the offenders has been apprehended?

5. Do the constables apprehend offenders without being specifically applied to for that purpose?

6. To what causes do you ascribe the failure to bring the offenders to justice; and have such failures been ascribable in any cases to the inefficiency of the constables?

7. Are there any, and what peculiar facilities of inducements to the commission of crime within your division?

8. By what means, as you conceive, may they be removed?

9. In case of depredation in your division, is escape with the property easy; and is such property easily disposed of?

10. Is there reason to believe that the depredations committed within your division have been committed by persons who do not reside in it; if so, from what place or direction are they supposed to come?

11. Are there within your division any lodging houses for trampers, vagrants of mendicants of any peculiar inducements to vagrancy or mendicancy?

12. Are these lodging houses frequently inspected; and by what officers?

13. Are offenders frequently apprehended there?

14. Are there within your division any persons who have no visible or known means of obtaining their livelihood honestly, and who are believed to live by habitual depredation, or by illegal means? Will you state the number and supposed habits of such persons?

15. Are the beer shops or public-houses within your division the subject of complaint; and are they, in point of fact, ill conducted?

16. Since the year 1829 have there been any riots or tumults within your division? If any, describe them and their supposed objects.

17. Since the year 1829 have there been any fires within your division? If so, specify their nature, and whether they were suspected to have been wilfully caused; and what were the effects so far as relates to the loss of life or property?

18. Was any efficient assistance rendered by the constables in arresting the progress of the fires or in apprehending the offenders or suspected persons?

19. Since the same period have there been any malicious injuries committed on cattle or other property? And if so, what number?

20. Is there reason to believe that offences of any description within your division are much more frequent than any official information would give reason to suppose?

21. What is the number of constables in your division, and how are they appointed?

22. From what class of persons are they usually selected, and are they permitted to provide substitutes?

23. What description of persons usually serve as substitutes?

24. What is usually paid to them by the principal?

25. Have the persons serving as substitutes any other emoluments or inducements to serve the office?

26. Have constables or their substitutes a competent knowledge of the law with relation to the duties of their office?

27. Are their connexions of interests such as might tempt them to connive at illegal practices, or cause them to be less active than they ought to be in the performance of their duty?

28. Can you ascertain, by examining competent persons who have served the office of Constable, what is the annual cost on average to the public, and the individual, of the service of a constable during the year?

29. Does any nightly patrol appear to be requisite within your division?

30. Do the high roads in your division require patrolling?

31. In the case of the commission of any offences, are there any public means of promptly spreading information or of pursuing the offender? Describe the means, and specify the extent of district over which such information can be carried; in what time, and at what cost?

32. In the case of the occurrences of any riots or tumults, what means are available for their suppression, and for the apprehension of the offenders; and do you find any difficulty in securing the prompt attendance of a sufficient number of persons to act efficiently as special constables for the protection of your division?

33. In case of need, are there and what means of co-operation between your division and other divisions in the same or different counties?

34. Are there within your division any, and what class of persons such as army pensioners or others, who may be relied upon for trustworthy service as special constables?

35. Is any difficulty or delay experienced in the service of warrants, or the execution of processes, or in the performance of their duties, civil and penal, by constables as at present appointed within your division? If so, specify the difficulties and their consequences?

36. Do any delays or obstructions arise from constables being restricted from acting beyond their immediate district?

37. Are there within your division any, and what numbers of officers paid to keep the peace or give their whole time to the execution of their duties as constables? If so, state what is the whole expense of maintaining them, including their salaries and equipments; the authority under which they are appointed, and the fund out of which they are paid.

38. On the apprehension of any offender, to what distance is it requisite to take him to a magistrate?

39. In case a prisoner is remanded for further examination, in what place and manner is he secured; and to what distance is it necessary to send him to a place of legal confinement?

40. In case he is committed for trial, what is the distance of the prison to which he must be sent; and what is the expense of his conveyance thither, including maintenance?

41. Is any, and what part of the procedure before trial, the subject of complaint on account of trouble, delay, and expense? If so, specify their effect in inducing persons to withhold information or otherwise.

42. Supposing it desirable to appoint paid constables to give their whole time to the performance of their duties, what other useful functions might be assigned to them?

43. How many paid constables do you consider would by requisite in your division?

44. Are there any voluntary associations for the protection of property or the prosecution of offenders within your division? If so, describe them, and state their effects in preventing crime.

45. Is there within your division any voluntary association for the suppression of vagrancy or mendicity? If so, state its effects.

46. What proportion of the expenses now incurred by the public in the apprehension and prosecution of offenders do you conceive might be saved by the establishment of a more efficient preventative force?

47. Do any and what additional means appear to you to be desirable in your division for increasing the actual security, and the sense of security to persons and property?

48. Have you any other information to give or suggestions to offer in furtherance of the objects of this commission?

Signatures of the magistrates who make the answers …

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