Crime in Britain in 1900 was lower
than it had been for 60 years and some of the credit for this
could be put down to the police. The policeman on the beat
had managed to become part of British life and the compromises
worked out by Sir Robert Peel in 1829 had, on the whole, worked
(see Gallery Crime
Prevention 1750-1900). This consensus
held for several more decades, but began to dwindle, until
by the last years of the century police-public relations,
particularly in certain urban areas, were at an all-time low.
There were several possible reasons for
- In 1900 most people did not expect
to break the law in their lifetime. The motor-car, with
all the major and minor offences associated with it, changed
this and brought many more people into conflict with the
police, even if it was only over a parking or speeding offence.
- The huge increase in crime after 1960
inevitably led to criticism of the police, whose job it
was to prevent this.
- There was greater awareness of a citizen's
rights, hence criticism of police attempts to "cut
corners" in an investigation.
- Some isolated but serious cases of
police corruption, of faking evidence leading to a miscarriage
of justice, of police brutality including deaths of people
in police custody, lowered the reputation of the whole force.
- The black communities in British cities
felt that there was widespread racism among police, showing
itself in harassment of black people and failure to pursue
crimes against black people vigorously. This culminated
in the murder of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence in
London in 1993, for which the police failed to find and
convict the murderers.
For their part, police pointed to shortages
of manpower and the collapse of social ties in many areas
of British cities. They have also tried to meet these new
situations with new methods of policing, as some of this Case-Study