Between the County and Borough Police Act of 1856 and the Police Act of 1964, England and Wales gained what was routinely described as the best police force in the world. It was celebrated for its particular combination of political neutrality and civilian restraint. Policemen did not carry guns, they did not favour party interests. They were at once distinct from the communities they served and subject to their control. The reforms that had been set in motion by Peel in 1829 bore fruit in a disciplined force that, at least until the closing years of the interwar period, contained theft and made the streets safer to walk along. The police were an integral element of a drive towards professionalization that embraced not only the men on the beat but the lawyers who conducted the trials and the prison staff who administered the punishment. In this sense the middle decades of the nineteenth century represented a major watershed in the history of crime. Before the reforms, the systems were both amateur and inefficient, in the aftermath, they were remunerated and competent. In the ancien régime the line between private and public procedures was essentially blurred; in the modern world there was a clear and necessary distinction between those who enforced the law and the people who paid for their services and reaped the benefit of their labours.
KeywordsParish Constable Class Conflict Interwar Period Metropolitan Police Prison Staff
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