A police man and a police woman walking in a crowd - a history of the police force

The police force as we know it today has come a tremendous way from its early stages, here we explore how the police force we know today came to be.

Hue & cry

In 1361 the Justice of the Peace Act came to be, in which three or four men were conscribed to police each county, they were to arrest or chastise those that they believed to be or witnessed offending.

Much of early policing, however, within the UK came in the form of ‘hue and cry’, this process relied on men joining the effort to apprehend a criminal if the alarm was raised by fellow civilians; this was abolished in 1827.

18th century

Policing in the 18th century was not organised on a national scale, but rather communities would appoint constables to patrol the streets at night. In 1750 the ‘Bow Street Runners’ was formed in Bow Street, London. The force was under the control of the magistrate, and alongside novelist Henry Fielding, in 1753 it was recommended that more forces were formed throughout London.

Sir Robert Peel

We often hear the term ‘bobbies’ in relation to the police force, however they were originally known as the ‘peelers’, both nicknames refer to Sir Robert Peel.

In 1822 Peel became Home Secretary, and in 1829 he had successfully introduced the Metropolitan Police Act, subsequently forming the first modern police force. In an effort to highlight the difference between the military and the police force, officers wore blue tail-coats and tops hats, in order to appear like an ordinary member of the public.

Patrols of the London streets began on the 29th September 1829; officers were armed with a wooden truncheon, handcuffs and a wooden rattle, which was replaced by a whistle in the 1880s. In order to become a police officer at this time you had to be aged 20-27, be at least 5ft 7ins, physically fit, literate and have no criminal past. By 1856 there were over 200 police forces across England and Wales.

Women in the police force

Women were not initiated into the police force until 1914 during World War One as many men were away fighting during this time. The first policewoman with powers of arrest to join the force was Edith Smith in 1915.

Present day policing

The police force has gone through many transformations over the decades, with new laws introduced, further regulations with regards to how suspects can be arrested and questions, and new types of crime appearing all the time. Recent years have seen the emergence of cyber crime to which police forces throughout the UK are striving to tackle.

Learn more and improve your investigatory skills used by present day police forces with one of our many training courses.