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Art. V.—Report from the Select Committee on the Police of the Metropolis, ordered, by tlie House of Commons, to be Printed Uth July, 1828.
ID Very one remembers the short dialogue between M. de Sar■" tine and the culprit whom he reproached with habitual thieving. The poor man's modest answer:—' II faut que je vive!' was by no means satisfactory to the Lieutenant of Police, who wittily replied, • Je n'en vois pas la necessite!'
This controversy, wc fear, can never be reconciled. The respective situations of the parties will keep it alive while society endures. The rich will always entertain doubts, whether there is any need for the existence of those who contribute nothing to their comfort and enjoyment: while those who do exist will have their own views of the matter, and help themselves to the means of remaining in the world, as some of their superiors have amassed riches,—honestly if possible, but somehow.
In other words, while the increase of population outstrips that of employment, the number of offences against property cannot well be stationary. But the public authority cannot connive at these irregular proceedings: they must be punished and prevented. And how is this effected? The offender is brought before the Police, convicted, and sent to gaol. But here he is clothed and fed better than he was at home; and the gaol, under the name of a place of correction, becomes in truth a workhouse, where he is relieved out of public rates. If young, he receives there, in addition, such an education as his parents never could have given him, or, perhaps, he is apprenticed to some honest trade, and respectably settled in life. The attempt, then, to deter from crime by such inflictions seems much more likely to promote it; for the costly and circuitous machinery designed to discourage, has ended in securing great advantages to the individual; and yet his ticket of admission to them was an act of felony!
The operations of the preventive Police are shorter, and for the moment more effectual. Former Committees recommended the establishment of various descriptions of patrol, which, we believe, have fully answered the purpose. Yet the evil is supposed to have been increasing; and many defects in the system might account for such a result. The watch is appointed by the different parishes, which hold no correspondence together: they are assigned to separate beats, and scrupulously adhere to their limits. They may report to their respective Police Offices; but these have no necessary intercourse with them, or with each
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other. Persons, too, arc selected as watchmen, who will bring the lowest expense on the parish—the labourer, who has worked all day, and must sleep in his box at night, or the aged pauper, whose infirmities would make him an object of relief. The partial exceptions, which prove the efficacy of wiser measures, do not diminish the mass of evil, perhaps they augment it. St George's becomes a kind of preserve for the night-brawlers, who are driven out of St James's: Acton and Kensington are well guarded, at the expense of Ealing and Brentford; and the Association that protects Edgware, drives depredation into the adjoining district.
The Committee, besides proposing specific remedies for a variety of particular defects, strongly recommend the adoption of one general system—a central and responsible police under the control of Government, to which every parochial authority should be directly amenable. The recommendation is supported by cogent, and, to us, convincing arguments; and wo fully agree in the opinion, that such a system would be a great and decided improvement, and that it might be adopted probably at a Icsb expense, and with no new restraint on the liberty of the subject.
Wo would farther suggest the propriety of dividing the powers now vested in metropolitan justices. The common name of Police is given to duties essentially different, and frequently clashing. The detection of criminals should be entrusted to different hands from those engaged in putting down minor annoyances. The investigation of some enormous offence should not be suspended for hours, while the magistrate's clerk is drawing up a conviction against an apple-woman for placing a wheelbarrow on the flags, or against a hackney coachman for ill-breeding. Such powers ought to be kept distinct, and perhaps the latter class ought to be still considerably extended.
The curious and important subject of Compromising crimes by money paid through the medium of thief-takers, occupied a large portion of the Committee's labours. The evidence 'is 'for obvious reasons not annexed.' We beg leave to doubt the propriety of this reserve; being of opinion that the public have u right to full information as to the conduct of all official persons, and knowing too that forbearance towards the guilty has often thrown suspicion on the innocent. The result is highly disgraceful to the inferior agents of the London Police.
• A great majority of these cases have taken place where large depredations have been committed upon country bankers. Two banks, that had separately been robbed of notes to the amount of L.4000, recovered them on payment of L.1000 each. In another case, L.2200 was restored, out of L 3200 stolen, for L.230 or L.240. This bank having called in their old circulation, and issued fresh notes immediately after the robbery, the difficulty thus occasioned was the cause of not much above L 10 per cent being demanded. In another case, Spanish bonds, nominally worth L.2000, were given back on payment of L.100. A sum not quite amounting to L.20,000 was in one case restored for L.1000. In another, where bills had been stolen of L.I6,000 or L.17,000 value, but which were not easily negotiable by the thieves, restitution of L.GOOO was offered for L.300. The bank in this case applied to the Home Office for a free pardon for an informer, but declined advertising a reward of L.1000, and giving a bond not to componnd, as the conditions of such grant. In another case, L.3000 seems to have been restored for L.19 per cent. In another case, where the robbery was to the amount of L.7000, and the supposed robbers (most notorious "putters up," and "fences,") had been apprehended, and remanded by the magistrates for examination, the prosecution was suddenly desisted from, and the property subsequently restored for a sum not ascertained by your committee. In the case of another bank, the sum stolen, being not less than L.20,000, is stated to have been bought of the thieves by a receiver for L.200, and L.2800 taken of the legal owners, as the price of restitution.'
The Committee add, 'it is evident they have not been in
* formed of any thing like all the transactions that must have oc
* curred under so general a system; yet they have proof of more 'than sixteen banks having thus sought indemnity against their
has been p"d by bankers only, accompanied by a clearance from . ev ry risf, and" perfect impunity.' No Gov=t can receive proof of so intolerable an abuse, which identifies the joSorrof property with its plunderers, and not resolve upon its
immediate extirpation. f nmmitteo
Besides the diligence and sagacity shown by TM ^^'"J" in their projects for detecting crime when perpetrated, or preX U when planned, they have displayed a praisewor by Tesirei annihilate it, by removing all ^b Pred^posing cau s A main object of their inquiry has therefore been, whcthei ^crTe^prevailed t0 a gUr extent of ^ ^^J*
dar exhibiting an increase in the annual average of committals of 48 per cent, this cause leaves 29 per cent unaccounted for.
Crimes, however, do not of necessity bear a direct proportion to committals; for a quickening impulse was lately given to prosecutions by an enhanced rate of allowance for the expenses. The arresting officer, and all the witnesses, are now liberally paid Bo much a-day for their attendance at the sessions, which possibly may last a fortnight; and the officer may even ingratiate himself with Mb fraternity by multiplying witnesses. Dogberry hands the stolen watch to Verges, and he to Oatcake; and the three-orfour-deep officers, all coming to trace and identify the property, receive the like liberal compensation. Without here dwelling on the two-fold tendency of this practice to increase crime,—first, by making it the officer's interest rather to see a starving man steal a loaf from a baker's shop, than warn him off the premises; and secondly, from the streets being left unwatched, while the preventives attend the trial,—we find in it a natural explanation why many offences, which would formerly have been left Unpunished, should now be brought to light.
The inference of crimes from committals is subject to another deduction, from the allowance of costs, formerly granted to felonies only, being now extended to misdemeanours of a lower de
ree. Hence, every person who has a squabble with a neigh"before the. Granil.Turv with, a bill of indictment, ^V^prttSecltte at the public expense. The evidence of Mr Serjeant Pell (whose attention to this interesting subject does him the highest honour,) shows other causes for the increase of committals.
« I find in the two gaols for the county of xMiddlesex, one of which is called the New Gaol, the other the House of Correction, that in the year 1827 up to the 25th of March 1828, there have been committed to the gaol 3306 persons. Those 3306 persons are made up in this way: There have been committed for not being able to find sureties until the Sessions, comprising cases of assault, 2105 persons. That was in the year 1827. The same year for sureties for good behaviour, oil; and for sureties of the peace, 182.
'The first 2105 were committed for trial. They are stated in the return here as being for sureties until the Sessions, and they would be (when the Sessions came) discharged of course, either by the verdict ot the Jury, or from there being no prosecution. Then in the present year, up to the 25th of March, there have been committed for sureties to keep the peace until the Sessions, 367; for good behaviour, 56 ; for sureties for the peace, 25; making, for the last year, and up to the 25th
.ia[0h th? year' S306 Person8- I naturally asked myself how that could be, and upon inquiry, found that the greater part of them were tor assaults, until the Sessions. Undoubtedly, a good deal, as the
Committee must know, must depend upon the discretion of the magistrates ; such as the case of a man who comes with an idle complaint of an assault, which, if it went on to trial, no prudent man, sitting as a judge, would do more than fine the man 6d., and discharge him. But if a case of that description is brought before a magistrate, he is bound to require bail, and if the man has no bail, which probably is the case in a majority of instances, the gaol is overflowing, and it is in my judgement a disgrace to the country, to see the gaol full of persons of this description. Now, there is another class of instances, which is still stronger, and which, if the Committee would permit me, I would, as shortly as I can, state to them the exceeding impolicy as well as illegality of it. They are persons committed in the year 1827; I take that year only to give the instance; they amount to 571, and they are described in the list which has been returned to me by the gaoler, as persons confined because they can find no sureties for good behaviour, not because they have menaced any person, which would require sureties to keep the peace.'
No precise conclusion, we admit, can be drawn from these premises; but they greatly weaken the proof of the increase of crime, and leave us indeed very doubtful of the fact.
These must not be censured as idle speculations; since they may throw light on the practical question, how the amount of crime—certainly always greater than it ought to be—can be reduced? In the first place, then, we say, let all the incentives to it, which are supplied by the actual administration of the laws, be carefully done away. Of the most malignant of these we have often spoken,—the moral contagion of our crowded gaols. The magistrates' power to commit should be materially curtailed, and his disposition to do so watched with the utmost jealousy. Above all, especial care should be taken that the period of imprisonment, before trial, do not exceed what would be awarded by a prudent judge upon conviction.
Sir John Hawkins, himself a police magistrate, takes some. whimsical opportunity (either in his Life of Dr Johnson, or in his History of Music,) of cataloguing the chances of escape, which our law provides for every guilty person. He makes the number thirteen, consisting principally of technical forms, by which justice was embarrassed and disfigured, till Mr Peel set about reforming the Criminal Law. Some, indeed, still survive; and as all other sources of crime are barren, when compared with Impunity to Guilt, we boldly venture to attack some of the strongholds, which will be most obstinately defended.
It is not without fear and trembling that we pronounce the word Jury, in connexion with our general argument,—a word so musical to English ears. The open trial by equals indifferently chosen, where the law is publicly laid down by a responsible judge, and the fact decided by a full hearing of the evidence