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ART. II.-RURAL POLICE.
First Report of the Commissioners appointed to Inquire as to
the best Means of Establishing an efficient Constabulary Force in the Counties of England and Wales. Presented to both Houses of Parliament by command of Her Majesty.
London. 1839. This Report abounds in enlightened views, ingenious suggestions, valuable information, and amusing details. Moreover, it proves incontestably the main conclusion at which the commissioners have arrived : that a police, similar in all its main features to the metropolitan, should be established throughout the whole kingdom with as much expedition as the nature of such an establishment will allow.
When we compare the actual state of the streets of London with their state in the good old days of Charleys and watch boxes, the only wonder is, how the old system could have been endured so long; ten years hence, when provincial depredators are reduced to a fourth of their present number, and the farmer can leave his orchard, haystack or turnip-field, the labourer his cottage, the village shopkeeper his window, and the squire his copses or trout streams, without a guard, the only wonder will be, how people could have lived so long under a state of things affording the strongest encouragement, by securing comparative impunity, to crime. Fortunately, however, for most of us, there is hardly any thing to which custom fails to reconcile ; and when we assure the mass of county rate payers, who are said to entertain the most appalling apprehensions on the subject, that they are at this very moment subjected to a heavier tax by irregular appropriators than any measure founded on this Report could entail upon them, and that hundreds of the lower class are annually reduced to poverty
and consequent dependence by losses which a well ordered constabulary force would prevent, we shall probably be regarded in much the same light as the possessor of the solar microscope, who proves, to the horror of the teetotalist, that every drop of water we swallow contains myriads of ugly animals ready to tear and gnaw away at our vitals, or the author of “ Death in the Pot,” who discovered that some subtle poison or other is mixed up with every thing we eat. Yet the Report before us demonstrates, that this estimate of the actual state of the rural population is correct, and that a numerous class of persons engaged in commerce are also suffering largely from the same want of protection.
The commissioners begin by an attempt to ascertain the extent of depredation to be guarded against; no easy task in the absence of all sound data to reason from. So habitually, it appears, is the calendar of prosecutions regarded as the index of the amount of crime, that a large proportion of the magistrates answer the queries submitted to them, by statements of the number of prosecutions, or references to the clerks of the peace as the proper sources of information. Yet this is probably about the most deceptive criterion that could be adopted, and the slightest reflexion might have suggested that the infrequency of punishment is a very different thing from the infrequency of guilt, and that crimes will oftener be found in an inverse ratio to prosecutions than in a corresponding one. The commissioners mention two instances where the judges were presented with white gloves as emblems of the purity of districts in which crime was remarkably rife, because, from the defective state of the constabulary force, pursuit and apprehension were impracticable, and the gaols were all empty at the time. General Marriott, chairman of the Pershore Union, Worcestershire, puts this fallacy in its proper light :
“ From the Magistrates' answers to questions third and fourth, it might be doubted whether any police was required or not in this division, there appearing only one conviction for felony (stealing a loaf), and one for misdemeanor (night poaching), in a district extending from north to south about sixteen miles, and from east to west nearly twenty miles, in the course of a whole year. I fear, however, this is very deceptive, and that there is a great deal of crime (not heinous, perhaps) which is not brought to light, from the want of police, and the unwillingness, under such circumstances, of the injured to prosecute. The River Avon winds through the whole extent of the district (eighteen miles), and the number of barges employed upon it gives great facility to plunder in the night time, and to escape detection, many of the bargemen being of the worst character. Since the magistrates have been engaged in answering these queries, the skin and entrails of a fresh-killed sheep were taken out of the river in an eel-net, close to the town of Pershore, and although notice has been sent to all the neighbouring farmers, not one will own to having lost a sheep, for fear of being obliged to prosecute. They call it, throwing away good money after bad. If reluctance to prosecute prevailed so much before, it has now been strengthened in this neighbourhood by the late act of parliament allowing counsel to prisoners. Mr. Tidmarsh, a large farmer, having at different times lost four fat sheep, succeeded at last in discovering the offenders, and the evidence was so strong against two persons charged, that they made a confession before the committing magistrate, and implored the mercy of the prosecutor. The ingenuity of counsel, however, at the last quarter sessions prevailed, and the prisoners were acquitted. The farmers say, “ After this, what use is there in prosecuting ??"
To ascertain the average amount of crime, therefore, it became necessary to resort to other sources, and most important information has been derived from a quarter where it was least to be anticipated, the confessions or boasts of the criminals. It was only those who had been engaged in burglaries or the larger depredations, say the commissioners, who could enumerate the offences committed by them. The common answers of those who had been engaged in petty depredations, were “hundreds," many hundreds, "too many to remember ;' and according to Mr. Chesterton, the governor of Cold Bath Fields prison, pickpockets ought to steal at the rate of six pocket handkerchiefs a day “ to live,” i. e. in such a manner as to render their profession worth carrying on. It is moreover satisfactorily established by independent evidence, that the average duration of the career of delinquents of this class is five or six years; it must consequently comprehend many hundreds or even thousands of offences, yet previously to ultimate conviction and removal, the chances are that it would not be interrupted by more than two or three prosecutions at the most. This part of the inquiry is well illustrated by a table showing the number of forged notes presented or returned to the Bank of England, contrasted with the number of prosecutions for forging or uttering such instruments. In 1821, the last year during which one pound notes were in circulation, the number of forged notes presented was 18,126 ; of convictions, 134; average, one in 135. In 1837, notes presented, 267; convictions, 3 ; average, one in 89. On the average of the whole period included in the table (from 1805 to 1837 inclusive,) it will be found that the chances in favour of escape in each individual instance are 167 to 1; and this in a career generally and justly regarded as the most dangerous that a criminal can pursue, because the offender or an accomplice must unavoidably run the risk of being marked and recognised in the commission of the offence, and has an active, wealthy, and practised prosecutor (the solicitor of the Bank,) to deal with in case of detection, instead of an individual, naturally though perhaps culpably anxious to avoid vexation and expense.
“ The extent of the career of impunity of any class of delinquents (it is well observed in the Report) may, where the crimes are known, be regarded as evidence that nearly all the persons injured during the career, were indisposed or averse to avail themselves of the remedy which the law has provided. The causes of that indifference or aversion, whether arising, as already indicated, chiefly from aversion to the trouble or expense of the legal procedure, or from a repugnance to the law itself, or otherwise, will be subsequently examined. A career of between one and two thousand known offences committed by one delinquent upon distinct persons, of which offences no information has been received, is to be regarded as evidence that between one and two thousand injured persons have, from the operation of certain causes, abstained from the performance of the duty of a subject in giving the information to lead to the arrest and punishment of the offender."
The attempt to estimate the number of habitual depredators in rural districts, is rendered hopeless by the absence of any class of persons bound to make or register observations of the kind; the attention of the magistrates, like that of the judges, being almost exclusively limited to the cases brought before them on discovery. But some highly interesting statistical details have been procured as to the number of habitual depredators, and disorderly or suspicious houses, in London, Liverpool, Bristol, Bath, Hull, and Newcastle, where a regularly organised police has been established. Within the metropolitan police district, for example, there are known to be 227 houses for the reception of stolen goods, (131 having been suppressed since the establishment of the police,) to each of which 17 thieves resort daily on the average ; 933 brothels where prostitutes (averaging four for each) are kept; 848 houses where prostitutes resort; 1554 houses where prostitutes lodge; 32 gambling houses; and 221 mendicants' lodging houses. In Liverpool, there are 2071 houses for the resort of thieves, including 520 brothels and 55 public houses. In Bristol, 109 houses for the resort of thieves ; 150 houses where prostitutes are kept; and 174 houses where they resort. For Bath, the numbers under these three heads are 38, 24, 44; Hull, 9, 88, 46; Newcastle, 8, 71, 46. The proportion of known bad characters to the population is as follows; Metropolitan police district, 1 in 89; borough of Liverpool, 1 in 45; city and county of Bristol, 1 in 91 ; city of Bath, 1 in 37; town and county of Kingston-on-Hull, 1 in 64; town and county of Newcastle-upon Tyne, 1 in 27. The average career of a metropolitan offender is stated to be four years; and out of a total of 16,901 habitual depredators, 2712 are set down as migratory.
“We have reason to believe that the proportion of depredators and vagrants returned as of migratory habits, is understated; which we account for on the supposition that as the constables in general only see those characters at intervals, there can be no means of knowing whether within those intervals many who, from the absence of positive information to the contrary, are not entered as migratory, have not made incursions into the surrounding districts. From the confessions of prisoners in the country goals, it would appear that a far greater proportion of them are of migratory habits than is stated in the returns.
“ But, after all allowances are made, these returns tend to establish several important results.
“As to the number of the persons found at large, these enumerations serve to show the extent to which the legislature and the public have been misled, by mere hypothetical estimates. For example, Dr. Colquhoun, the magistrate of the Thames police, in his work on the police of the metropolis, estimated the number of prostitutes in the metropolis at 50,000 The whole male population of London, Westminster, and the parishes within the bills of mortality was, according to the actual enumeration of 1801, the period to which he referred, only about 400,000. But after deducting the children and the