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The roots of local responsibility
for crime prevention seem to lie in Anglo-Saxon customs. Many
of these were continued after 1066 by the Norman rulers who
needed a system to control the largely Anglo-Saxon population.
1. Every male over the age of 12 had to belong to a group of
nine others, called a tithing. These ten men were responsible
for the behaviour of each other. If one of them broke the law,
the others had to bring that person before the court. The sanction,
to make the system work, was that if they did not, they would
all be held responsible for the crime. This usually meant paying
the victim of a crime for their loss.
2. The community was also responsible for doing their best to
chase after a criminal. If the victim of a crime "raised
the hue and cry" -called out for help -- everyone nearby
was supposed to join in the chase. Again, if they did not make
an effort then the whole community was held responsible for
3. If the criminal got away, the king's representative, the
sheriff, could call upon everyone to join a "posse comitatus"
to pursue him.
The system was obviously well-suited
to a time when there were few government officials and everybody
knew everybody else in small, stable local villages.
The growth of towns in the later Middle Ages brought some
changes, but even then each "ward" or area of a
town was expected to react to the "Hue and Cry"
just like a village community. Such officials as were appointed
were responsible to the town government and were often part-time.
This local, small-scale, more democratic, community-based
system was much admired by some people in later centuries
when a more remote, centralised crime prevention system was
being put in place (see GalleryPrevention