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The metropolitan police 1850-1914: targeting, harassment and the creation of a criminal class

Stanford, Terence George (2007) The metropolitan police 1850-1914: targeting, harassment and the creation of a criminal class. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

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Within Victorian society there was a public perception that within the wider field of
class there were a number of levels at the bottom of which was a criminal class.
This, a very diverse group growing out of the working class, was considered to be
responsible for the vast majority of offences ranging from begging to murder.
Following the ending of transportation in the 1850’s the Metropolitan Police were
faced with a number of new problems and responsibilities. These left them open to
allegations that they were so targeting sections of the community that they were
creating this criminal class from within the casual poor and those already known to
As the period progressed the police were given wider powers to deal with the
changed situation as well as extra responsibility for the compilation of criminal
records and the supervision of released convicts. As a result of these changes
allegations were made that the police so harassed those on tickets of leave and under
supervision that it impossible for many to obtain employment. In order for this to
have the case it would have been necessary for the police to be able to identify those
with previous criminal convictions and to target their resources against them.
The way in which resources were to be used had been established in 1829 with the
objective of preventing crime, by way of uniformed officers patrolling beats and
concentrating on night duty. Police resources were not efficiently used and failed to
adapt to changing circumstances. In particular, whilst the available evidence
especially for the early years is not complete it will be argued that, despite the
allocation of considerable resources, the police were very poor at a very important
part of their role, that of the identification of criminals.
The concept of a criminal class has been examined in two ways. There was a
‘subjective’ public perception of the situation which included all those committing
offences but it is argued that in reality what happened was that there were a series of
legislative changes focussing on a gradually reducing group of habitual offenders
which can properly be called a criminal class. This small group was responsible for
the majority of serious crime during the period. As a result the police came to be
targeting a very narrowly defined group and they as the agents, the public face of the
changes, were the ones against whom complaints were most commonly made.
This research shows that the Metropolitan Police were very poor at some important
aspects of their role and that they were given additional responsibilities without
always having the proper backing of the legislative framework. It also shows that
the police were very aware of the difficulties they faced in dealing with released
convicts and took great pains not only to allay public fears but also made
contributions to the well being of many of those released from prison.

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Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Additional Information: © The Author
Uncontrolled Keywords: metropolitan police harassment criminal class
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Schools: School of Music, Humanities and Media
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Depositing User: Sara Taylor
Date Deposited: 19 May 2008 12:46
Last Modified: 28 Aug 2021 23:24


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