A brief history of law enforcement – Part 2

As I mentioned in part 1 of this series, the Bow Street Runners were the beginning of modern policing, and they operated from 1750 – 1839, finally being made redundant 10 years after the police act of 1829 established the Metropolitan Police. This brings me to Part 2.

The Metropolitan Police

220px-Robert_Peel_Portrait.jpgIn 1829, Sir Robert Peel, Home Secretary in the cabinet of Lord Liverpool, gained Royal assent for the Metropolitan Police Act, which came into effect on September 29th, establishing what is considered to be the first modern and professional police force in the world.

In creating the Metropolitan Police Force, Peel intended to established a centralised police force that would both investigate crimes and arrest those responsible, and act as a visible deterrant to crime. The intent was also for it to be politically neutral, and to operate as an organ of the judicial system, rather than as an organ of the government, which was the situation on the continent.

Initially three main groups remained separate from the Metropolitan Police, they were:

  • The Bow Street Patrols (both foot and mounted)
  • The Police Office constables, who operated under the control of magistrates
  • And the marine police, who handled the policing of London’s waterways

By 1839, however, these groups had been integrated into the Metropolitan Police and a new force, the City of London Police, had been established to deal with police matters within the City of London proper, which is a 1 mile² 2.9km² area covering most of what is considered to be the original city from ancient times.

This map is from 1939, 100 years after the establishment of the City of London Police, but the territory remains the same.

The Metropolitan Police are responsible for all policing matters, excluding the City of London, within a radius of 16km from St Paul’s.

Bobbies or Peelers

The Metropolitan Police was established with a force of 1000 officers, known affectionately as ‘Bobbies’ and less affectionately as ‘Peelers’, both names coming from the man responsible for their founding. They wore blue tail-coats and top hats, which were intended to distinguish them from the red-coated soldiers and convince the populace that the army was not being deployed to handle civilian matters, and were armed with a wooden truncheon and a rattle with which to signal a need for help.


To further separate the police from the army in the eyes of the populace, they were given differently named ranks, the only exception being that of sergeant. Additionally, Sir Robert Peel published publicly what were known as his Peelian Principles, which stated

  • Every police officer should be issued an warrant card with a unique identification number to assure accountability for his actions.
  • Whether the police are effective is not measured on the number of arrests but on the lack of crime.
  • Above all else, an effective authority figure knows trust and accountability are paramount. Hence, Peel’s most often quoted principle that “The police are the public and the public are the police.”

Primary sources



Coming in part 3, the establishment of detectives.

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