The Police Service in England and Wales
There are 43 police forces of varying size in England and Wales (see map). Each is commanded by a chief constable; the chief constables of Metropolitan London and of the square mile of the City of London are both known as ‘commissioners’. The chief constables report to both the Home Office and to local police authorities. Since the mid-1990s these police authorities have usually been made up of nine democratically-elected local councillors, three magistrates and five others (including the authority chair) who are appointed by a complex process involving the Home Office. The police forces receive half of their funding from central government and the other half from local taxation, principally the community charge. It was not always thus.
During the medieval and early modern periods policing was largely considered as a task for members of a local community. In every parish there was a constable; the position usually changed annually by some form of rotation. In towns householders had a duty of watch and ward, and men were supposed to patrol their districts, in turn, as night watchmen. Gradually these positions began to be taken over by men working for payment in some form; respectable labourers improved their pay by taking part-time jobs as watchmen patrolling the streets from dusk to the early hours. Some constables were also professional policemen; for a small fee they would act in place of the man on whom the annual lot had fallen, and they would earn other fees by making arrests or bringing petty offenders before the courts for minor transgressions and nuisances. Professional detectives, who also worked for fees and rewards, also began to appear. The most famous of these were the men who worked from an office in Bow Street in London and who have become popularly known as the Bow Street Runners.
In 1829 Sir Robert Peel, as Home Secretary, established the Metropolitan Police in London. This was a uniformed police institution whose commissioners were directly responsible to the Home Secretary. Effectively this new police institution was no longer accountable to the people of London, or their representatives meeting in local government bodies. When other uniformed police institutions were created elsewhere in the country, however, they were under some form of direction from local authorities. In the counties, this was a committee of magistrates until the local government reforms of 1888 which established Standing Joint Committees (SJCs) made up equally of magistrates and elected county councillors. In the towns, local supervision of the police was through Watch Committees, appointed by and usually made up of elected town councillors. At the beginning of the twentieth century this structure of policing meant that there were some 58 county forces in England and Wales and around another 130 city and town forces. Some of these – in big counties like Lancashire, and big cities like Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester – had a thousand or more men; some of the smaller towns had only a dozen or so.
The number of police forces was gradually reduced during the twentieth century. The biggest changes came in the 1960s and, at the same time, the SJCs and Watch Committees were abolished in favour of new police authorities. The system was changed again, as noted above, during the 1990s when the police authorities were reduced from between 30 and 40 members to just 17.
Several of the documents printed below come from the archives of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). This organisation began its life as a professional association for the most senior police officers in the country. Towards the end of the twentieth century, however, it acquired an executive role, advising the Home Office on policing tasks and with a raft of committees that discuss and propose police policy in conjunction with the government. The following tables give an idea of the committee structure of the ACPO, of its various interests and the variety of roles undertaken by the police.
|Technical and Research (TARC)||formed from the above three committees in 1986, to 1996.|
|Information Technology||renamed from TARC in January 1997.|
|Research||formed from the Research and Requirements Group (RARG) in January 1997.|
|Training||1980-1990, then became part of Personnel and Training.|
|Personnel and Training||1990- . Comprised a number of sub-committees, one of which (Diving) transferred to General Purposes in 1995.|
|General Purposes||1980-. Comprised a number of sub-committees, one of which (Quality of Service) became a full committee in 1993.|
|Quality of Service||1993-1996, when it became known as Performance Management.|
|Performance Management||1996-2001, when it became known as Performance Management Business Area.|
|Terrorism and Allied Matters||1987-|
|Conditions of Service||1991-1996, when its role was taken over by the newly formed staff association, CPOSA.|
Many of these committees comprised a number of sub-committees: some of those belonging to the General Purposes Committee are shown below.
|Discipline and Complaints||1980-2001|
|Working Party on Goods and Services||1993-1999, when it was renamed Procurement Sub-Committee|
|Public Order, Tactics, Equipment and Training||1978|
|Public Order||1982-2001. This comprised 7 working groups until 1998 when two of them combined.|
|Uniform Working Group||1986-1996|
|Air Suppor||1992-2001. This comprised two working groups, which combined in 1996.|
|Laws||Disbanded in 1968 with the reconstitution of ACPO. Reformed in 1976-1982.|
|Diving and Marine||1996-2001. Formed from the above two in 1996.|
|National Goods and Services||1996|
|Racial Equality||1979. Was this renamed to Race Relations?|
|Race Relations||1979-1980. Was this renamed?|
|Race and Community Relations||1980-1996. Was this formerly Race Relations?|
Note: the dates refer to available minutes.
Both of these tables demonstrate the fluid nature of the main committees and their various sub-committees and working groups to address new technologies and the changing behaviour of society.
If you wish to follow up any of the points made in the above discussion, you could look at Clive Emsley, The English Police: A Political and Social History (2nd edn. London; Longman, 1996). If you wish to get the students to look at court proceedings, to check if anyone with their name was ever prosecuted for a serious offence, etc. you can access the on-line proceedings of trials at the Old Bailey from 1674 to 1913 at http://www.oldbaileyonline.org.