Sammelrezension: Geschichte der Polizei in Großbritannien

Archer, John E.: The Monster Evil. Policing and Violence in Victorian Liverpool. Liverpool : Liverpool University Press 2011 ISBN 978-1-84631-683-8, 281 S. € 25,99.

Beattie, J. M.: The First English Detectives. The Bow Street Runners and the Policing of London, 1750–1840. Oxford : Oxford University Press 2012 ISBN 978-0-19-969516-4, XIII, 272 S. € 85,59.

Klein, Joanne: Invisible Men. The Secret Lives of Police Constables in Liverpool, Manchester, and Birmingham, 1900–1939. Liverpool : Liverpool University Press 2010 ISBN 978-1-846312-36-6, 334 S. € 26,99.

Shpayer-Makov, Haia: The Ascent of the Detective. Police Sleuths in Victorian and Edwardian England. Oxford : Oxford University Press 2011 ISBN 978-0-19-957740-8, XIII, 427 S. € 39,50.

Rezensiert für H-Soz-Kult
Timo Luks, Institut für Europäische Geschichte, Technische Universität Chemnitz

Police history is becoming a subject of interest to cultural as well as social historians. Integrating this history into broader frameworks such as modernisation, bureaucratisation, professionalisation and state building can lead to fascinating new insights into general history. Despite the outstanding studies in police history in the context of German historiography – for example the works of Alf Lüdtke, Wolfram Siemann, Peter Nitschke and Ralph Jessen[1] – a lot remains to be researched in the field of German police history. The United States and Britain share a richer tradition of innovative and inspiring police histories, a topic frequently researched at least since the 1970s. Police history, in these studies, serves as a means to arrive at a better understanding of processes like industrialisation and urbanisation, the formation of the working class, but also in answering questions regarding the implementation of civic values and the reaffirmation of gender relations. The variety of approaches to and perspectives on police history in Britain is obvious from a look at the recent works on the topic that are portrayed in this review. Each book to be discussed below is tackling its own distinguished set of questions, discussing different periods, using different evidence and building up different, but often complementary arguments.

John Archer’s study “The Monster Evil” is not so much a police history in a narrow sense but rather a history of violence. Archer reconstructs Liverpool’s reputation as the criminal capital of Britain during the nineteenth century. Of course, this includes the history of the Liverpool constabulary force that was established along the lines of the (London) Metropolitan Police in 1836. Archer examines the process of administrative integration that merged the privately organised dock police and the separate day and night police into a unified police body. But the most impressive chapters of his book and, clearly, its main concern deliver an in-depth analysis and typology of violence and violent behaviour. Archer discusses not only police and anti-police violence, but also fenian activities, sectarian tensions and riots resulting from the presence of a strong Irish migrant community in Liverpool. Beyond these highly politicised conflicts, one can learn a lot about the characteristics and performance of male-on-male violence in urban everyday life. Archer provides an outstanding analysis of the public debates on fighting styles, the use of weapons and the distinction between an acceptable “fair fight” and inacceptable “brutality”. The chapter dealing with these aspects can be considered a masterpiece in the study of national and ethnic, social and gender stereotyping. Furthermore, drawing inspiration from the labelling approach in sociology, Archer analyses the social construction of the so called “Liverpool roughs” as “folk devils” and necessary evil to legitimize a certain style of policing and to reassure moral standards. Archer completes his study with thoughtful chapters on racist violence faced by Liverpool’s early black community, on violent women, domestic and sexual violence and juvenile criminals.

Joanne Klein is eager to point out that her book “Invisible Men” is not “a history of police headquarters, criminal investigation departments, and specialized units, or an exploration of government criminal justice policies and legislation” (p. 1). Rather, Klein is interested in the work and domestic lives of police constables in Liverpool, Manchester, and Birmingham between 1900 and 1939. She explores how ordinary working-class men became policemen. “Due to force age minimums, applicants had held jobs for five to ten years already and so were working class through their work experience as well as by upbringing. Policing was usually a second or third job” (p. 14), she concludes. Klein’s book displays a formidable sense for the difficulties and challenges faced by the new constables: the impertinence of senior officers intruding into private and family lives; the strict but often confusing and rather abstract rules and instructions; the need to explore the meaning of ‘good police work’ by oneself. “Probationers found it challenging to endure supervision from sergeants and other senior officers. Small problems turned into large ones if they over-reacted to inquiries about their work. […] But what could seem like a harmless wisecrack elsewhere could get a man disciplined for insubordination, particularly if said in front of witnesses” (p. 31). Klein discusses the need to balance multifarious duties, often rather dull ones, and to decide how to spend finite working hours and limited energy. It was not always easy to know what was expected by senior officers and, more generally, what was considered good judgment and adequate police work. Constables had to balance public opinion, official requirements and their own personal notions of justice. Klein dedicates some convincing chapters to the interaction among policemen, their networks of friendship, patronage and factions and, more importantly, the interaction between the police and the public. She is not only concerned with mutual animosities, but also sensitive to different modes of fraternization. Especially after World War I, Klein writes, one can witness civilians offering their assistance to one policeman or another, for example in arresting a drunk rough. The 1920s and 1930s were marked by two developments: decreasing working class-hostility towards the police on the one hand, and increased middle class-animosities on the other. In her well-executed analysis of police-public-relations, Klein puts an emphasis on the interaction between policemen and women: “Women created a particular strain between the strong male culture fostered in police forces which reinforced working-class male chauvinism and force expectations that men behave with the utmost civility. This culture created a tendency to treat women as subordinate at the same time that it created indignation when senior officers meddled in courtships and other consensual relationships. Forces tried to restrict contact with women as much as possible, realizing that the police image was particularly vulnerable when it came to how policemen treated women” (p. 222).

John M. Beattie’s “The First English Detectives” is a detailed study on the famous Bow Street Runners, a private-public institution established by novelist and chief magistrate of the City of Westminster Henry Fielding and, later, headed by his half-brother John Fielding. Beattie’s book can be read as a case study on the history of public administration and institution building via private-public-partnership. Moreover, Beattie analyses how the concept of police work as a practice of detecting and prosecuting developed since the middle of the eighteenth century and over time became just as important as preventive patrolling on the streets. The Bow Street Runners became the first detectives, “whose main mission was to investigate offences and to seek to arrest and prosecute serious offenders” (p. 2). Supported by government funds, the Runners gradually crowded out various forms of profit oriented, reward hunting thief-taking-business. Fielding built an administrative machinery to collect information in support of “investigating offences, catching and prosecuting felons – and in some circumstances preventing felonies from occurring. This is what [Fielding] meant when he used the word ‘police’ to describe the forces he assembled at Bow Street and the activities in which they engaged. Such usage had not been common in England. […] The idea of police as a professional group of men carrying out peace-keeping duties under the control of magistrates entered the language with Fielding” (pp. 28–9). Fielding fostered the idea that any effective enforcement of the law requires an improved circulation of information. This included bringing offenders and suspects to justice or bearing witness and presenting evidence in court. Bow Street became something of a clearing house for crime-related information. “After years of investigating and record-keeping, Bow Street had a store of information about suspects, their lodgings and hangouts, the whereabouts of known receivers, and descriptions of stolen goods, that led to arrests and supported numbers of prosecutions” (p. 65). Beattie unfolds a panorama of the history of this very special policing style and unique institution. He also shows that the 1829 Metropolitan Police Act made the Bow Street Runners redundant through its reorganization of the London police and denied the need for a detective department as part of police work.

In a way, Haia Shpayer-Makov carries on the story told by John M. Beattie. In her book “The Ascent of the Detective” she asks how detection gradually evolved as a new practice within police institutions in Edwardian England. “In the main”, Shpayer-Makov writes, “the modern police network, which spread throughout England by the mid-nineteenth century, was founded as a preventive police. However, while uniformed policemen symbolized this priority most overtly, plain-clothes detectives gradually emerged as the key instrument in the fight against crime. Their tasks were essential in a society whose elite was increasingly intolerant of crime and social disorder, yet also sensitive to public opinion and anxious to retain the legitimacy of its political authority” (p. 1). “The Ascent of the Detective” not only offers a detailed analysis of detection as a profession and detectives as workers, but also links these topics to changing social norms and the rise of the mass media. As mentioned above, the 1829 Metropolitan Police Act did not consider detection as a significant part of police work. Focussing on concepts of uniformed and preventive policing, it did not lead to the introduction of a detective department. This reflected traditional English reservations against centralised state authority. Not having or wanting a detective department was an explicit statement against what was considered continental European despotism: the French, Austrian, German or Russian networks of spies and secret police. Only in 1842 was a small detective department established. Shpayer-Makov is very interested in questions of recruitment and training. She argues that the police was among the first employers to develop internal labour market techniques. “Significantly, police detectives themselves did not start their careers as detective trainees; they generally had to spend a substantial period of time as uniformed policemen before being considered for permanent plain-clothes work” (p. 62). Shpayer-Makov offers a convincing analysis of how the police tried to ensure compliance of police employees, to inculcate police norms and goals and to promote a long-term commitment to the workplace. Furthermore, the second part of her book deals with the public image of the police detectives. Beyond the massive rise of detective fiction, as Shpayer-Makov indicates, a symbiosis between detectives and journalists can be detected. Both professions had to offer something to the other: Journalists who tried to make a name for themselves as experts in reporting crime were dependent on detectives leaking information. Detectives, on the other hand, welcomed journalists who improved the department’s public image or promoted a particular detective’s career by highlighting his skills or successful work.

This review has illustrated the potential of police history as social and cultural history as well as the broad range of approaches to the topic. A focus on different branches of police work, at the moment, seems to be an especially fruitful strategy. While we already know a lot about the institution in terms of legal and administrative histories, microstudies on police work are necessary to get an adequate picture of police history. The much discussed tension between prevention and prosecution, between detection and patrolling raises questions about how police work was actually done, which strategies, instruments and technologies were developed and so on. This can enable scholars to analyse the police as a particular modern way to cope with ‘social problems’, and to situate police history within the framework of a history of modernity. Recent historical studies on modernity usually stress the modern belief in man’s ability to transform or ‘make’ society and discuss a rich variety of instruments that have been developed in order to ‘design’ or ‘maintain’ social order, e.g. planning or (social) engineering. It is an open question whether or not policing can be discussed in a similar way. Especially, the police’s role in pioneering or fostering certain techniques of observation, obtaining information and so on can be linked to some main topics of modern societies. By studying police history, historians can trace the genesis of modern interventionist state practices.

The studies of Haia Shpayer-Makov or Joanne Klein show how promising such an approach that combines social and labour history with police history can be. Analysing the social history of policing as work, the policeman as worker, and the police as workforce can provide insights into the variety of modern practices of work beyond the well-known worlds of artisan or industrial work. The integration of sociological concepts like ‘doing police’, ‘police culture’ or ‘police habitus’ offers a promising way to gain new insights into this topic.[2] Further research could analyse the complex processes of self-fashioning that led to the formation of modern policemen.

Police culture, this is also persuasively demonstrated by the studies reviewed above, was a male culture. On the one hand, this meant that an unwritten code of being a policeman was established, “a camaraderie of supporting your mates, of getting in the first punch in difficult situations, of lying in court to back up colleagues’ evidence, of being disciplined behind closed doors and so on” (Archer, p. 45). On the other hand, police work took place on the streets and was under constant surveillance by the public. Therefore, many cases of police violence can be read, as John Archer indicates, as policemen’s efforts to create an image of being a ‘tough guy’ and ‘real man’. Beating up a well-known rough in public could make patrolling much easier the next time. Joanne Klein’s discussion of police-public-interaction points in this direction as well. Many conflicts, she argues, must be interpreted as a mutual challenge of one’s masculinity.

The reviewed studies offer examples of how to analyse networks of different players, interests, discourses, perceptions and expectations, that is, a complex setting of negotiating the concept and practice of modern ‘police’ and ‘policing’.

[1] Cf. Ralph Jessen, Polizei im Industrierevier. Modernisierung und Herrschaftspraxis im westfälischen Ruhrgebiet 1848–1914, Göttingen 1991; Alf Lüdtke, “Gemeinwohl”, Polizei und “Festungspraxis”. Staatliche Gewaltsamkeit und innere Verwaltung in Preußen, 1815–1850, Göttingen 1982; Peter Nitschke, Verbrechensbekämpfung und Verwaltung. Die Entstehung der Polizei in der Grafschaft Lippe 1700–1814, Münster 1990; Wolfram Siemann, “Deutschlands Ruhe, Sicherheit und Ordnung”. Die Anfänge der politischen Polizei 1806–1866, Tübingen 1985.
[2] Cf. Rafael Behr, Cop Culture – der Alltag des Gewaltmonopols. Männlichkeit, Handlungsmuster und Kultur in der Polizei, Wiesbaden 2008; Janet B. L. Chan / Chris Devery / Sally Doran, Fair Cop. Learning the Art of Policing, Toronto 2003.

Timo Luks: Rezension zu: Archer, John E.: The Monster Evil. Policing and Violence in Victorian Liverpool. Liverpool 2011 / Beattie, J. M.: The First English Detectives. The Bow Street Runners and the Policing of London, 1750–1840. Oxford 2012 / Klein, Joanne: Invisible Men. The Secret Lives of Police Constables in Liverpool, Manchester, and Birmingham, 1900–1939. Liverpool 2010 / Shpayer-Makov, Haia: The Ascent of the Detective. Police Sleuths in Victorian and Edwardian England. Oxford 2011, in: H-Soz-Kult, 17.12.2012, <>.