Academic journal article Urban History Review

Most Assuredly Perpetual Motion: Police and Policing in Quebec City, 1838-58

Academic journal article Urban History Review

Most Assuredly Perpetual Motion: Police and Policing in Quebec City, 1838-58

Article excerpt


This paper examines the evolution of the structure and function of Quebec City's police force. Originally conceived as an instrument of British authority, it was remodelled along Utilitarian lines. Provincial and municipal authorities disputed its control; both levels of government, however, shared the same professional and disciplined model of a force detathced from the people. This ideal did not become a reality. The structure of Quebec society and the limitations of municipal power ensured that the police force was more concerned with routine 'service' functions than with social control. The conditions in the city played a larger role in shaping the force than the theories of police reformers.


L'auteur retrace l'evolution du corps de police de Quebec, de ses structures et de sa mission. D'abord concu comme un instrument du pouvoir britannique, il se reorganisa selon des principes utilitaristes. Le gouvernement provincial et les autorites municipales s'en disputaient le controle, mais l'envisageaient tous deux comme un corps de professionnels bien prepares, separe de la population. Ce projet ne se concretisa pas. Etant donne l'organisation de la societe quebecoise et les limites du pouvoir municipal, le corps de police fut accapare davantage par les taches quotidiennes de <> que par la fonction de controle social. Il fut ainsi modele par la ville elle-meme et par les conditions qui y prevalaient, plus que par les theories des reformateurs de la police.


In 1981, Victor Bailey identified two major themes in the study of nineteenth century policing. The first of these is the debate over the motive for the creation of formalized bodies of policemen in the first half of the century. In Bailey's view two distinct schools of thought have shaped this debate. The first emphasizes the widely-perceived need for an improvement over the antiquated local constabularies. Sir Robert Peel, Edwin Chadwick and the Benthamites are perceived as "statist Utilitarians" and "farsighted reformers acting with a benign regard for the public interest." The second school of thought emphasizes the increasing social conflict of an urbanizing and industrializing society. For this group, "conflict" rather than "consensus" was the principal force leading to the creation of London Metropolitan Police in 1829. (1)

Bailey's second theme is "the organization and day-to-day activities of the reformed police." (2) The institutional structure of policing is indeed one of the oldest issues in the field. Again, there are two traditionally opposed models, first defined by Sir Charles Keith. They are that of the "'kin-police'; that is the police under local control" and the "'ruler-appointed' police, or police under the control of the central government." (3) While this distinction was originally formulated to oppose the British police ideal with the French state and political police, it has been used more recently to contrast British and American police development. (4) Eric H. Monkkonen has described a "change in the nature of the police from an informal, even casual, bureaucracy to a formal, rule-governed, militaristic organization" as part of the general evolution of policing in the United States from 1800 to 1920. (5)

The routine operations of the police have also produced different interpretations in Britain and America. Stanley H. Palmer has commented on the near-unanimity of British historical opinion on the fact that "early police emphasis was on preventative maintenance of order, whether by patrolling or baton charging." The authorities' major concerns were "riots and demonstrations, workingmen's crowds, and radical politics." (6) In contrast, Monkkonen has argued that while "riots or perceptions of rising crime and disorder may have been precipitating factors, "the American adoption of uniformed police on the London model was simply a part of the growth of urban service bureaucracies. …

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