Social Control, Martial Conformity, and Community Entanglement: The Varied Beat of the Hamilton Police, 1895-1920

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The aim of this inquiry into the composition and conduct of the Hamilton police force in the early twentieth century is to indicate the merit of certain historical criticisms of policing while modifying them with evidence about inefficiency and inconcistency in the performance of social control measures as well as evidence of positive activities in the area of social services. The city police were called upon to enforce moral order by religious and elite groups; they were asked to be domestic missionaries. However, their working-class origins and the temptations encountered on the beat made them inconsistent if not indefferent enforcers of morality. When required to protect private property during strikes, they did so but lacked the resources to be an effective complement to the strike-breaking measures of large concerns. Although their very presence may have deterred crime, their actual crime prevention and detection activities were ineffectual. They performed other urban functions: enforcing bylaws and statutes that dealt with everything from the regulation of trade to public health, looking for missing persons, returning lost children, operating a hostel for the homeless, and dealing with assorted situations of potential and actual violence. The police had the most varied and sensitive duties of all urban-service professionals, but were the least well trained and educated.


Cette etude porte sur la direction et la composition du corps de police de Hamilton au debut du XXe siecle. Elle vise a nuancer certains jugements d'historiens sur la police en montrant tout a la fois que l'action policiere manquait d'efficacite et d'esprit de suite sur le plan de la mise en oeuvre des mesures de controle social, et comportait une dimension positive de service social. Pour les elites sociales et religieuses, il incombait a la police municipale d'assurer l'ordre moral, et ses membres etaient des <>. Mais les soumettait leur travail faisaient d'eux des defenseurs de la moralite peu consequents sinon mal convaincus. Lorsqu'ils avaient a proteger la propriete privee a l'occasion d'une greve, ils s'acquittaient de la tache, mais n'avaient pas les ressources necessaires pour etre un complement efficace aux mesures anti-treve a visees plus larges. Bien que leur presence meme ait pu limiter la criminalite, leurs activites de prevention et de detection du crime etaient sans effet. Mais ils accomplissaient d'autres taches suscitees par la realite urbaine: ils veillaient a l'application de lois et relements touchant tous les domaines, du commerce a la sante publique, cherchaient les personnes disparues, ramenaient les enfants perdus, entretenaient un refuge pour sans-abri, et devaient faire face a toutes sortes de situations de violence, reelle ou potentielle. De tous les fonctionnaires municipaux, ils avaient la mission la plus vaste et la plus delicate, en meme temps que la formation la moins poussee et le niveau d'instruction le plus bas.


On the surface, urban police in the early 1900s embodied and enforced order. During a previous half century, police forces in North America had begun to evolve from haphazardly-organized civic departments into bureaucratically administered agencies with codes of conduct. In the larger Ontario centres, the police had been placed under the authority of appointed commissions in 1858, a half century before the progressive-era enthusiasm for government by commission. In Hamilton by 1900, the uniform and drill, the "telephone signal boxes" enforcing specified beats, (1) the many publicly stated missions for the police, and the statistics selected for annual reports contributed to an impression of the force as an exemplar and enforcer of civic order. This was what the elite expected from the police and, in the half century after the founding of the Hamilton force, the force itself had been moved toward outward compliance with standards of moral conduct. …