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

By Clive Emsley; Barbara Weinberger | Go to book overview

Descriptions of the progress and transformation of the police in the press, and in popular songs, can be multiplied by the hundred. The final, inadvertent consequence of this transformation and higher standard was the growth, from 1905 onwards, of trade unionism among the police--but that is another story. 33 It is, however, worth noting that the desire among police trade unionists to improve their conditions and status was accompanied by a broader moral and political purpose. The more the police were professionalised and 'technicised,' the more they regarded themselves as autonomous vis-a-vis non-professionals, in particular the politicians.3 4

On the other hand, it is quite possible that this professionalisation through a bias towards a 'scientific police' was an illusion and a myth--as some older police were not afraid to call it. The police had everything to gain from a general belief in the infallibility of such a 'scientific police:' prestige, fear, respect, admiration, and power. This is not to question or minimise the role played by fingerprinting, biology, chemistry, and psychoanalysis in police work and criminal investigation. But one must not be led to believe that policing thereby became a science. 35 Science gave new means to the police, and they were advantageously placed to experiment with new scientific methods, but the average intellectual level of the police leads one to doubt their mastery of all that was deemed necessary knowledge for the 'new' police. The police and public authorities wanted the public to believe in a 'science of policing;' the public also wanted to believe in it. Does this not have the makings of a myth? Is there such a thing as a specific body of knowledge for a job whose boundaries are unlimited and which demands competence over such a wide a varied range? And if such a knowledge exists, can it be taught?

The scientific content of the 'new' police seems in large part to be a mystification for the purpose of creating a belief in a much better armed and more powerful police than really existed. As Fouché said long ago: 'the power of the police lies in the general belief in its omnipotence and omnipresence.' After 1900, we can add the word "omniscience."


Notes
1.
'In France, there is no police service in the true sense, there are only police sections without any sort of interconnection, which never join together in a common purpose and which each aims at conserving its precious autonomy.' L. Pelatant, "De la Organisation de la Police," Thesè de Droit, Dijon, 1899, 2628.

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