Policing Western Europe: Politics, Professionalism, and Public Order, 1850-1940

By Clive Emsley; Barbara Weinberger | Go to book overview

Urban Policing and its Objects: Comparative Themes in England and France in the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century

Jennifer Davis

Throughout the nineteenth century, police forces in much of Western Europe and the United States acquired new powers to fight crime and suppress disorder. In England and France, not only did their numbers grow more or less steadily in proportion to the population, but so too did the amount of money which underwrote their efforts. In both countries, the police came under increasingly centralised direction, which enabled the national government, counties or depart&ments to co-ordinate their efforts across wider areas. New sorts of police were created to deal with particular crimes: the special branch in England or the police mobile in France. Police forces were subject to stricter discipline and given more sophisticated equipment and training. A proliferation of statutes gave both forces a growing range of legal weapons to attack major and minor crime: from drunkenness to 'recidivists' in France; from suspected felons to habitual criminals in England.

Yet the problems of crime and disorder did not disappear. Even if we take at face value the official crime statistics which did indeed dip in the second half of the century in both England and France, nonetheless, they would still be only a pale reflection of the real distribution of law breaking in both countries. Furthermore, the dip was not continuous. Particular law breaking activities, garotting in England or gang fights between apaches in France, showed an alarming ability to increase at various times. More critically, perhaps, despite the apparent decrease in the incidence of crime, popular anxieties about its existence did not necessarily abate and, in the face of the garotter or the apache, at times reached heights scaled during the first major period of police reform and expansion between the 1820s and the 1850s.

In particular, in both England and France, in the second half of the nineteenth century, these anxieties came to focus on the casual

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