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Case Study 2 - Did relations between police and public change in this period? Task Glossary

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 this:

  • 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 shows.

Case Study 2 Sources
Source 1 Source 2 Source 3 Source 4 Source 5 Source 6