Bernard Hogan-Howe on Sir Robert Peel

Bernard Hogan-Howe, Metropolitan Police Commissioner. “Social historians are divided on what was the true extent of the crime wave prompting Sir Robert Peel and Parliament to set up the Metropolitan Police in 1829. With no official crime statistics we can only rely on eye witness accounts and news articles, and that painted the streets of London at that time to be lawless, and a dangerous place to be. Policing before the Met. was carried out by the likes of Watchmen, stationed in wooden huts right across London, thief-catchers, and parish men. Some of those were seen as successful crime fighters, bringing criminals to justice, while others were perceived as either corrupt, or ineffective. Peel became Home Secretary in 1822, and set to work arranging a select committee to review the policing arrangements for the capital. The committee was not convinced by the new Home Secretary’s arguments, and rejected the concept of a professional police service. However, undeterred by this setback, Peel set up another select committee in 1828, and that finally approved the introduction of the Met., led at that time by two Commissioners, a colonel and a barrister. They had eight hundred and ninety-five constables, eighty-eight sergeants, twenty inspectors, and eight superintendents. Officers were commonly referred to as Peelers and Bobbies, which is still used today, after Sir Robert Peel. They wore uniforms, to emphasise the civilian nature of the role, and they were paid one guinea a week, the same as a farm labourer, to ensure that officers didn’t feel that they were above the rest of the community. What would Sir Robert Peel make of today’s Metropolitan Police Service? Well in many ways it’s changed beyond comparison. In terms of size, the number of officers in London has grown from under one thousand to more than thirty thousand, we now cover some six hundred and twenty-five square miles compared to the seven mile radius in 1829, and London has become far more diverse, with three hundred languages spoken. However I believe the bedrock of policing hasn’t changed in one hundred and eighty three years. Walking the streets, and communicating with people remains key to policing with consent, reducing crime, and the fear of it. Sir Robert Peel’s best quality was he made a clear analysis of the problem; there was to much crime. He developed a simple solution; a police force. He won a debate by communicating his idea clearly, and standing his ground, even when it became difficult. He was a leader.”

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