In the nineteenth century, London had many problems with crime; there was a major increase in murders and street crimes. By 1840, criminal offences had risen from 5000 to 20000 in just 40 years; this became increasingly difficult for the newly found Metropolitan Police Force, which was set up in 1829 by home secretary sir Robert Peel. Before the Metropolitan Police Force was set up, crime was often kept down by watchmen and parish constables, who patrolled the streets of the towns and cities, this was probably successful as they were locals and knew the area and people well.

Police work had started to improve by the nineteenth century and that had brought the crime rate down, during this period, the roles of the police had started to transform as they were not just there to deter crime, but also there to solve crime. During the 19th century the police were not very liked as they had a very bad reputation for handling protests and riots. Punishment was also changed during this period, capital punishment was abolished for most crimes, but still stood there for murder and treason but other than that, other means of punishment were introduced.

On the whole, the police force changed dramatically in the way crime was handled, punishment for criminally and the jobs of the police. The ‘Metropolitan Police Force’ when first formed was divided into 17 divisions, each division had a superintendent, 4 inspectors and 144 constables, they was to carry out the roles of the watchmen and constables, their duty was to guard the streets to prevent crime and tackle major disturbances. Each officer was to be of good health, between the ages of 18-35, at least 5″5 tall and had to be literate. It took the public some time to get used to the police force and their reputation went up and down.

This was due to many people thinking that the police force handled situations violently and aggressively. It was during the 1840s where detectives were introduced to the Metropolitan Police Force, this caused many troubles as people thought that they was too plainly dressed and that there was no distinction between detectives and ordinary civilian. Detective work started to begin during the 1960s when the first murder was investigated, photos were taken at the crime scene and so were the criminals, as it was believed at the time that you can tell a criminal from the size of their head.

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A detective department was then formed in 1869 and there was a full time detective in each division. But in spite of this, 3 out of 4 officers were discovered guilty of corruption. Instructions for the murder cases were introduced in 1879, the body was not to be moved, nothing in the room was to be interfered with and the public was to be kept away. Their methods started to slowly develop, the Alphonse Bertillon method was adopted in 1892 as a method of identification as it was thought that no two individuals could be the same and the Alphonse Bertillon method involved measuring parts of the human body.

Fingerprinting was then introduced in 1901 and it was in 1902 when the first person was convicted of murder using the fingerprint method. This was the beginning of the use of forensic evidence in murder cases. Police received very little training, before they went out on the beat; they mostly spent their time practicing drills. Most skills were learnt on the job where police officers would spend up to 14 hours a day. It was expected of the police to have a squeaky clean image, they were not to be seen rendezvousing with women and they had to seen at church every Sunday.

The squeaky clean public image of them was very important because up to 1868, there had been no major problems or disturbances that they had to deal with. It wasn’t until the mid 1880s when their reputation had started to go downhill. The worst case was in 1887 on 13th November referred to as the ‘bloody Sunday’, they charged a mass demonstration of the unemployed by the Metropolitan Radical Federation and it was done using 2 squadrons of life guards and 2 companies of foot guards.

This did not help their reputation, as it seemed as if they were favouring the upper class to the working class, as the working class was treated unfairly. Crime went up and the crime rate rose due to the large social changes of the period, there was industrialization and quickly growing cities. There were so many people in London and not enough jobs to go around and this made unemployed people turn to crime, thus the crime rate rose. The main types of crime in the late 19th century were theft, murder, violence and treason.

Later in the 19th century, it was made illegal to not send your child to school. Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty was very common for crimes such as theft, murder, stealing sheep, chopping down trees in Downing Street and skipping hot wires. But in 1841, capital punishment was only the penalty for murder or treason. This changed due to many people thinking that the punishment was too harsh and the juries did not convict criminals of crimes as they thought it was not an appropriate punishment. It was felt that being killed for stealing a loaf of bread was too harsh of a punishment.

It was thought that the punishment should match the crime, not outweigh it. The biggest punishment was transportation, if someone was convicted of a crime, the person would be sent to jail until there was a sufficient number of prisoners for the ‘voyage’, when there was, they would load up a boat full of prisoners and their voyage would begin, the journey would take about 4 months and the conditions were very poor and cramped. Once they arrived to their destination, they were assigned to a family and given work to match their crime.

The destination they were taken to Australia as English settlers had captured it and was using it as a detention centre for criminals. Each criminal was set a time of which they had to be there for and good behaviour was rewarded an early ticket back to England. Transportation was the one punishment that made crime rate fall. Now that it was introduced, the juries seemed less reluctant to convict more people and now people had seen that the jurors were willing to convict so many people; they decided to buck their act up.

Sending criminals to Australia was a successful method of punishment and many convicts who served their punishment would continue to stay in Australia because they became useful to the calm, quiet and peaceful life there. Prisons in the 19th century were in very poor conditions; the prisons had been hugely neglected. There was no separation between men, children and women. Prisons were crawling with diseases and there was no thought for sanitation conditions; after all, they were just criminals.

This was the view of many people back then. Prisoners were charged for food, drink and the privilege of a bed. The prisoners were often chained to the walls in order for them not to escape. In 1869, the ‘silent system’ was introduced, this made prisoners do hard and pointless labour and it was done to keep them busy. The food given was boring and repetitive. This was how prison life was remained until the turn of the century. Children were no exception when it came to crime.

The first prison for juvenile delinquents was set up in 1839 but many children were still being sent to the same prison as many of the adults. Age was never considered when convicting a child, children as young as 10 years old was being hung or transported. Many people were shocked when it came to a hearing of a child; child crime eventually became so bad that the government set up a ‘committee for the investigating metropolis’. Children began to be treated differently under the ‘juvenile offence act 1847’ it said that anyone under the age of 16 were to be trailed at a new kind of court.

The biggest change in child crime was reformatory schools where they were sent there for a long period of time to drag the children away from bad habits. Women’s crimes were treated very harshly and they were not lenient to the fact that they were women. The first women’s prison opened in 1853. In 1861, it was made illegal for women to have abortions. In the early 19th century, the job of policemen was to deter crime not solve it, but nearing the end of the 19th century, it became more preventing and solving. Policing gradually became better and more sophisticated and lead to what it is today.


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