Page images
PDF
EPUB

always be exposed more or less to the objections which I have stated as a means of preventive police.'

In reverting to the foregoing observations, and in carrying forward the view to which they lead, I am aware that many who approve the object may, upon constitutional grounds, question the political expediency of a widely-extended police, from a consideration of the means by which it must be made effective. But, plausible as the general principles may be upon which such apprehensions are grounded, they will be found wholly inapplicable to the practical administration of justice in this country. The rigor of police is only felt where the execution of the law is derived from a despotic influence, and where the Constitution opposes no resistance to the abuse of the power which it has itself created. But where the constitution is free, and its principles liberal and tolerant, the practice will not be oppressive.

Be it admitted for a moment, that the officers of a new system of police, might, in their zeal and indiscretion, occasionally outstep the line of duty, and exercise a power not warranted by the Constitution; will any man believe that in this country, such a practice would be repeated ? It could not take place without being instantly known to the public; in a few hours every thing would be before them. Our police offices are open, and their daily occurrences (if worthy of notice) are communicated to the whole country; besides, with our free press, is not every error in judgment subject to revision, and every unwarranted act of power the object of immediate animadversion? It cannot be otherwise. Whilst the people preserve their Constitution, they need not fear a police; for it cannot be formidable where the Constitution invites the review of its whole administration. May not, then, all be done which has been previously described, with certain benefit and without any possible injury to the public? But above all the eminent advantage of police is, that instead of straining or increasing our existing laws, it supersedes their operation; it is restraint, but it is restraint which works by moral influence rather than legal power.

We must further observe, that if principle did not warrant, necessity would now demand an efficient police; for looking to the present state of society, and the mild administration of our laws (which in this country cannot be otherwise,) it must be obvious that law will not prevent, as experience has taught us that it has not lessened crime. The criminal knows the operation of the laws as well as the legislator, and he apprehends little or no punishment from them, save in the sentence of death; against which he calculates that the causes heretofore stated will produce such innumerable chances in his favor, as to make it a subject but of little apprehension or alarm. Does not every consideration, then, confirm the policy of an incipient control ? will the innocent man fear it? will the hopest artisan care who knows whence he comes, or whither he goes? Vigilance is the consequence of suspicion ;-where there is no ground to suspect, there will be no inducement to watch, and those who have no reason to fear, will never be harrassed by observation.

remarks upon this body, I mean not to undervalue their services as useful anxiliaries to the general regulation of the metropolis; but they must not be relied upon for duties, from which the very nature and course of their office exclude them,

"In my

It has been said by some, is the thief then to have no dwelling-place ? are the highways forbidden to him ? I answer that if the one be selected, and the other used for criminal purposes, means should be at hand to prevent their fruition. Such, and such only is the restraint even upon him.

But, extending our views to the condition of man in a more civilized state of society, may it not be said that the whole course of human life is a course of restraint ? Either religion, or law, or some moral influence produces it. From the first infant evidences of our inborn corruption, through every period of after-life, there is something to operate as restraint upon all well-regulated minds. A sense of right, character, interest, or necessity, are more or less restrictions upon human conduct. And shall they who openly renounce and defy all those obligations, which are the preventive guards to ourselves and to society, and who set at nought all laws, human and divine, alone go on unheeded and with impunity in the prosecution of their criminal career ?

Upon abstract principles, most men must acknowledge that they should not; but some may ask, whether it be policy in our present state to establish a system, the effect of which would be almost as formidable as that of our existing evils ! I have already adverted generally to this view of the subject; and I distinctly pointed out the alternative to which the legislatare might be exposed between the tolerance and removal of our grievances.

In the view of this alternative, it may be asserted that our poor cannot work; that labor is not to be found; they must not beg; and is it not more than an overstrained severity, because they can neither work nor beg in a state of society of which they are not the cause, to create a physical impossibility of their obtaining subsistence. Again, if it be said that charity will be the transient corrective in such a case, and that we have asylums without number to which they can resort, the apprehension of such an extremity must be an irresistible obstacle to the attempt in question.

But we are surely much overrating the danger. Criminal life is divided principally into two classes; namely, hardened and dexterous thieves, and a recently designated race, called "juvenile offenders.” The former, generally speaking, are persons of quick intelligences and enterprising spirits; and if it be possible to obstruct and divert their pursuits, it will be equally possible for them to find others suited to their characteristic energies; therefore, this description of persons is not likely, for any length of time, to crowd our workhouses, or to submit to the torpor and comparative inaction of parish paupers; and the probability is, that they would betake themselves to labor, or gradually disappear by emigration or other causes.

The latter class is, in a moral view, more fearfully alarming than the former, from its daily increase and growing influence upon society. But to this branch of younger criminals, the consequence must be, to be driven back to their homes, if homes they have; or if they have them not, that the state must furnish them. Reduced, however, in numbers as these persons may be by the foregoing means, still it is said, that such a mass will be left upon society, as to occasion a very heavy burden upon our parishes and poor-houses, and a consequent exhaustion of their finances, producing at once a re-action upon the public more terrible than all the evils which are now suffered in detail.

By those who have been little conversant with miscellaneous society, and whose minds are formed upon abstract principles of moral reasoning, it will not be very easily credited that such assertions can be made; but reasoners there are, who maintain that bad as things have been, much as all individually may have been exposed to hazard and peril, still every one had his chance of escape; and they consider it better to leave the risk as it is, and to suffer a predatory race to live upon the public, than to load our local institutions with the weight of those who are the objects of punishment, and not of pity : and they say, that if our sources of charity be not sufficient for the good, shall we force them still more for the supply of the wicked ?

Such views, even if they were correct, can only be answered by opposing the moral obligation of the state to these political or financial apprehensions. But will either bear the test of a strict investigation? If the evils be acknowledged, will their consequences be denied ? and, if the present state of society have a certain tendency to the gradual increase of crime, can delay lessen the shock which its overwhelming influence must ultimately produce? what rational expectation then can there be that the mischief will abate? will the self-working principle upon which we so generally rely in this country, avail against so powerful a counteraction ? a principle to which so full a trial has been already given! Let, then, our maxim be principüs obsta ; and if we wisely organize our means to this great end, we need not doubt or fear its accomplishment.

Keeping in mind this principle, it behoves us to direct our attention most carefully to the execution of a system by which it may be maintained; and the composition of the subordinate agency of the police must thence become a consideration of no slight importance. A large addition to its numerical force must materially augment that weight of power which the law gives individually to our officers. Confidence in this body is therefore the more essential, and the only source of this confidence must be, the constitutional security which the perfect fitness for their trust is calculated to inspire. The judicious selection of these persons becomes then imperatively necessary. Properties are indispensable in them, which are not to be found in every promiscuous candidate for a given provision : courage, activity, and bodily strength are, doubtless, primary requisites to the due execution of a constable's duty; but they are very far from all, and perhaps from those which are most essential. A judicious mind, a peaceable temper, a reserved demeanor, with the necessary resolution in extremity, are the qualities which, in their general exercise, will be most valuable in an officer, and constitute that true influence and power over criminals, which are to prevent the sellowship necessarily consequent upon an inferior composition of the body. Such an organization is, by some, treated as chimerical, but if it be practicable to a small, it may be to a greater, extent; and our police already furnishes exemplary instances in favor of the trial. The state of the country is, at this time, peculiarly favorable to the supply of persons fitted for this service; the genius, the habits of the people, the succession to authorities, and the in terest in the administration of the laws, amongst the middling classes of society, seem almost designed to furnish a description of persons suited to our police establishment, if attracted thereto by adequate inducements. The want of encourage

to bad

ment to this service, either as original invitation or from subsequent reward, has been extremely adverse to the composition here recommended; and from the absence of all other excitements, there are some who are still favorable to the policy of the repealed statute of the 401, rewards, I cannot however, but deprecate its revival : though its object was in appearance salutary, its application was subject to abuses, from which Englishmen must shrink with horror. It was moreover vicious in principle; it was a reward upon punishment, and not what reward should also be, a bounty upon prevention. I therefore, most warmly concur in the acknowledgments which are so generally due to the author of the repeal of the act alluded to, and, as an earnest advocate for the amelioration of our police, I feel that the country is most truly indebted to him for having excited many to the consideration of a subject, which had been before comparatively disregarded. But though an obnoxious system bas been destroyed, and the temptation withdrawn, which mightinstigate

purposes, we are still without a sufficient stimulus to supply its place; and this can only be obtained by liberal encouragement to the police service, founded upon the principles before adduced. Now the consideration of the officers' provision must be made with reference to the character and competency of the persons who may be engaged in the occupation in question: upon this principle, can their present pay be said to be adequate ? or does it bear any proportion to the gains of many in the ordinary avocations of the subordinate classes of society? Police officers live, or should live abroad; they must necessarily be withdrawn from their homes and their families; whilst so separated they are maintained every where at double cost. Besides, their pursuits produce unavoidable extra expenses; they must frequently seek information, they must go into public-houses and places of general resort to find it, and may be out nights and days in preventing offences or in detecting offenders. Seeing then that this limited allowance is subject to such incidental deductions, what is it, in fair comparison, with the profits of a very large portion of the laboring classes in the metropolis ? When we know that an artisan, whose operations are merely manual or mechanical, who requires little of mind in his act, whose pursuit is certain as the day, and whose labor, food, and rest, are as regularly distributed as the hours which compose it, who, therefore, may calculate to an absolute certainty the application of his means, and proportion his expenses to his earnings; when such persons with these advantages, and with the quiet and

« PreviousContinue »