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STATE OF THE POLICE
BY GEORGE B. MAINWARING, Esq.
Preventive justice is upon every principle of reason, of humanity, and of sound policy, preferable in all respects, to punishing justice.
Printed erclusively for the Pamphleteer.
The frequent outrages and depredations which have recently been committed in the metropolis, and the alarm and consequent dissatisfaction which have been thereby excited, will, I hope, justify the attempt to call the attention of the public to the moral and political evils of our present police system, and induce the Government and the Legislature to make it the object of their early and most serious consideration.
To those who have been long observing the progress of criminal association in this town, our present state cannot be a matter of surprise ; but it is in the very nature of police to attract but little observation till the want of it be felt ; and few consider the damage or injury which is sustained by others, till they are themselves the sufferers, and the notoriety and general prevalence of crime awaken all to the apprehension that they may be its next victims ; when they begin to look to the causes whence this state of things has proceeded, and to exclaim against a system under which so much mischief prevails.
To this state of society, and of public feeling, we are now arrived. It is, however, in moments of strong excitement, that a judicious consideration of its causes is most essential; and there are few properties more valuable in those who direct our affairs, than to discriminate between the transient mischief arising from the accidental occurrences of society, and those permanent evils which proceed from latent and deep-rooted sources; in short, to distinguish between the errors and the vices of mankind; between that which time will generally abate, and that which requires a more active agency to extirpate. Perhaps, there is no subject in which this principle should be more strictly preserved than in that of police regulation and enactment.
These observations are the more necessary, because there is such a decided and well-founded attachment to old systems in this country, that it must be a strong necessity indeed, which will produce the desire, or encourage the attempt to alter them. But the necessity is not now so much the question, as the practicability of improvement; and the difficulty will be to satisfy those, in whom the failure of former systems of police, has created a distrust and jealousy of all attempts to introduce beneficial alteration. Of this difficulty I am fully sensible, and it is the importance of the subject alone, which could embolden me to an undertaking in which the highest attainments and best powers would not be unworthily engaged.
It will be sufficient, for the purpose of the present inquiry, to direct our attention to the existing state of the Metropolis; to the sources from which it has proceeded, and to the consequences which it is bringing upon us. Inasmuch as police being mere local regulation, the society upon which it is to operate, need alone constitute the object of its attention.
The most superficial observer of the external and visible appearances of this town, must soon be convinced, that there is a large mass of unproductive population living upon it, without occupation or ostensible means of subsistence; and, it is notorious, that hundreds and thousands go forth from day to day trusting alone to charity or rapine ; and differing little from the barbarous hordes which traverse an uncivilized land, except that with us the milder influences of benevolence contribute to the unprovided wants of some; but, with a great part, the principle of action is the same; the life is predatory, it is equally a war against society, and the object is alike to gratify desire by stratagem or force. This, too, in the midst of a wealthy, highly civilized and refined city, the capital of a country blessed with the best Constitution upon earth; a Constitution, whose laws have been said to provide a remedy for every wrong. It would seem then, that there must be disorder somewhere; some acquired and misunderstood disease, the sources of which have hitherto eluded discovery. But I fear that we know the disease too well, and many of us are fully sensible of the causes which have been long working to bring it to its present height; and the aggravation of the mischief is, that we find it to have taken such deep root, that no permanent relief can be expected without exploring the very elements of our national system; an attempt so fearful that the best intentioned politicians would rather bear with the ills which we have, and apply temporary palliatives in the hope that some self-renovating power will operate, than attack those parts of our institutions which have been the causes and consequences of our wealth and greatness, but which have at last become to numbers, the sources of their suffering and depravity.
It will be obvious, that I allude to our finance and poor laws; these, however, would lead to a larger range of observation than belongs to the present inquiry, but their operation so forces itself into every subject connected with political economy, that it is impossible not to feel their pressure whenever the view of any part of the people, whose interests have been affected by them, fall under our consideration. I know their power, and the obstacles and grounds of argument which they present against attempting to create any corrective system of police, without the removal of the causes which render such a system necessary.
But, in urging the necessity of a change in our police system, and in endeavouring to show the means by which it may be safely and constitutionally effected, I entertain a sanguine hope, that the very operation of a better system will so change the manners and habits of the people, upon whom it is to act, as to drive them to the pursuits of industry; or if, under existing circumstances, the means of industry be not open to them, that it will show such a deranged and disordered state of society, as finally and irresistibly to impel the Legislature to resort to some decisive and effectual measures, which shall deliver the country from the dreadful alternative of knowing, that it has a large portion of its inhabitants who must either live by plunder, or die from starvation.
Unsatisfactory as these reflections must be, it would be unworthy of a faithful advocate of the public interests, to shrink from the investigation of truth, especially when such investigation affords the most likely means of averting the evils which it brings to our view. Whatever the Legislature or the Government may do, the effects of the present state of things must necessarily be felt for a considerable time. The chasm which has taken place in society, and the separation which has existed between the employers and employed from the want of labor, and other co-operating causes, have begotten such insurmountable idleness, and idleness has been so extensively followed by crime, that habits have been acquir
ed which the force of law will not very shortly change, and which require the power of actual restraint to control. A. large portion of the community must be left in this condition, and upon that portion it is that nothing but police can operate. How it is to operate without violating the Constitution and affecting the character of the country, becomes the question for inquiry
Police must necessarily possess a power and efficiency commensurate with its object; and, considering the various difficulties with which the police of London has had to contend, I conceive that its failure has arisen from the want of this power and efficiency, and from the mistaken principle, or rather, the erroneous practice, upon which it has been conducted; namely, to make the apprehension of offenders, upon the commission of offences, the almost exclusive ground of police operation. This fallacious principle of action has tended most extensively to aggravate the evils which the predisposing causes of society had originally produced. The desideratum therefore, is (if the causes cannot be removed,) at least to mitigate their effects. We cantot eradicate crime, or extirpate criminals; but we may, by a pervading, vigilant, discreet, and well-regulated system of police, make the pursuit of crime so irksome and harrassing, so full of apprehension and so unprofitable, that any other life, when contrasted with it, would be one of comparative enjoyment.
If then the principle of police be regulation, prevention, to check, and not to punish, the offender; if a system can be devised which in its administration will leave the country free, and at the same time improve the morals of the people, what objection can there be to the adoption of the means which shall contribute to so desirable an end? Is it wise, is it expedient, to resist even the discussion of those means, opposed, as it can only be, by mistaken views of finance, or by abstract notions of liberty, when the consequences of those views and notions upon this subject are contributing daily to the demoralization and depravity of the people, and necessarily to the ultimate subversion of liberty ?
Police, as I have just observed, cannot be maintained without power, but as power of all other possessions is most susceptible of abuse, extreme caution and foresight are necessary in the constitution, composition, and organization of a body to whom the lives and liberties of our countrymen are in a great measure committed ; the character, however, of police jurisdiction till of latter years, was certainly not favorable