No Sign Of The Police

Throughout the saga of the Jack the Ripper murders, the people of the East End were often commenting on the inadequacy of the policing in the area.

A common complaint, that was mentioned at the inquests into the deaths of several of the victims, as well as in the pages of the newspapers, was that if these murders were occurring in the wealthier West End of London, then the police would have gone all out to catch the perpetrator and bring him to justice.

However, the question of police inadequacy – not only in the East End but also across the whole of the Victorian metropolis – was a question that had been occupying the pages of many newspapers for several decades prior to the onset of the Whitechapel murders; and a perusal of the daily papers, from the 1860s to the 1880s, throws up an alarming number of articles that asked the simple, though vexing, question – where are the police?

A point that was often made was that people were being charged for policing of London through the money that handed over in their rates, and yet there was precious little evidence to suggest that the majority of them were getting anything like value for their money.

The Punch Cartoon Blind Mans Buff showing a blind-folded police officer being taunted by criminals.
Blind Mans Buff – A Punch Cartoon From 1888.


The East London Observer, on Saturday, 11th August, 1860, published the following article which highlighted the problems posed by burglars and house breakers to the residents around Whitechapel Road:-

“Whitechapel is abandoned to thieves.

Detectives nowadays are exceedingly acute in tracing occurrences to their source after the event, that the science of prevention is entirely overlooked.

The consequence is, that the tradespeople of Whitechapel go to bed at night without the slightest security, but that they will rise to find their premises cleared of all portable valuables the next morning.


Within the past month, robberies have been most numerous on the South side of Whitechapel Road. There is scarcely a place at which burglary has not been attempted, and many have been actually robbed.

On Tuesday night the shop of Mr. Upsall, the pawnbroker, was broken into. The front shutters perforated, the glass broken, and the window stripped.

Where are the Police?


The amount paid in police rates by the East End parishes is something enormous. But, where are the men?

At the West-end of London, they are as plentiful as blackberries; but Sir Richard Mayne [the Metropolian Police Commissioner] has either a high notion of the honesty of all the people hereabouts or is supremely indifferent to the safety of property.

Parliament is voting with a lavish hand fabulous sums of money to protect life and property from foreign rogues.

The people themselves have volunteered to assist in the operation.


But who is to protect us from internal thieves?

Again we ask the question, where are the Police?

The Whitechapel Road is a well-lighted and much-frequented road, even in the middle the night, yet it was from the front shutters that this robbery was perpetrated.

It is a disgrace upon the efficiency police regulation.

It is high time that one of our members moved for a return showing the amount paid by the East-end parishes in police rates, and the number of men apportioned to them.

We are greatly mistaken if it would not appear that the proportion was grossly unequal.”


The Cirencester Times and Cotswold Advertiser, Monday, 2nd December, 1867, in an article that was reproduced from The Daily Telegraph, reported that things were as bad across the whole of the Metropolitan Police district, with not enough officers available to adequately police the area :-

“Few know the extent of the area guarded, or supposed to be guarded, by the police, and the relative weakness of the force for the duty which it has to discharge.

One sentence will bring the facts home to the public.

The area of the metropolitan police district is 700 square miles; the total strength of the police is 6,999, in round numbers 7,000; and since not more than half can be on duty at once, these figures give five constables per square mile.

Some deduction should be made for men sick, wounded, on furlough, and in reserve; but, taking the figures as they stand, we ask how can the subjects of Queen Victoria and their property be adequately protected by so small a force?


The mystery is, how Sir Richard Mayne obtains his reserves for critical occasions alone, and how he is able to set apart men for special duty? We can only suppose that he accomplishes the feat by robbing Peter to pay Paul – partially weakening the watch in some districts to accumulate strength in others.

No wonder that we hear of audacious robberies in the public streets, and of predatory bands perambulating our thoroughfares with comparative, and sometimes absolute impunity.

“Where are the police?” is a common cry. The answer is everywhere and nowhere. The homoeopathic system offers but a meagre safeguard, and it is time that Parliament should cast a vigilant eye on the defenceless state of the metropolis.”


On Monday 25th July, 1881, the following letter appeared in The Islington Gazette in which a reader complained that there had been no improvement, and wondering whether householders should arm themselves to defend their houses against the criminal brotherhood that infested the area:-


For the past few weeks, the inhabitants Caledonian-road and its vicinity have been subjected to daring and continuous robberies. The police have been communicated with, and two arrests have been made, but night after night, within an area of a few acres, peaceful slumberers are disturbed and women scared, a considerable amount of property being meanwhile “confiscated” by the cowardly burglar brotherhood.


This was likely to become monotonous, until on the night of Sunday, 17th inst a second attempt was made to enter a bouse in which I am interested.

It was, for the time, occupied by unprotected females. Police were called for, but screams were answered mockingly by confederates below.

Where were the police? Ay! there’s the rub. And to the disgrace of a well-organised police division, I write these details.

A young girl ran for five minutes along one beat, and back along another, in search of one of our night guardians, unsuccessfully, and this at two o’clock in the morning.

I am in a position to prove that the premises were left for one hour without protection.


Of course, we met with every civility at the police-station, and our ears were calmed by the assurance that rats, cats, or fancy, were the cause of our alarm.

I have, however, yet to learn that rats can smash roof slates, and cats assimilate the footsteps and footprints of a man, unless it be in one of Artemus Ward’s amusing tales. Fancy never yet left “jemmy’” marks on doors, even at the dictation of a blue coat.


No less than thirteen attempts at burglary have taken place to my knowledge within three or four weeks, and inside the radius of a hundred yards of the Offord Arms.

I ask you, sir, do we pay police rates for this? Or shall we be compelled to arm ourselves and label our houses with the warning, “Burglars will be promptly shot!”

I am, &c,