Police Commissioners Report On 1888

Sir Charles Warren had been the Metropolitan Police Commissioner during the period when the panic and press sensationalism over the Jack the Ripper murders had reached a zenith.

However, he had resigned his position in November 1888, and his replacement was James Monro.

In July 1889 Monro presented his report on the policing of London and on overall crime in the Victorian Metropolis.

These Commissioner reports are intriguing for us today as they provide an insight into the type of crime that the police had to deal with in the 1880’s, as well as into the general problems that beset the police at the time; the reports also give us an idea of the sheer magnitude of the task faced by the force in trying to maintain law and order London-wide in the wake of the Whitechapel Murders.

A portrait of James Monro.
James Monro. From The Illustrated London News, 8th December 1888. Copyright, The British Library Board.


Several newspapers carried articles, providing their readers with a breakdown and synopsis of what Commissioner Monro had to say about the evident challenges that had faced his men during 1888.

The following article appeared in The Illustrated London News on the 27th of July 1889:-


“The Annual Report of the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis indicates increasing crime, and shows that the authorised strength of the Metropolitan Police Force, which does-not include that of the City, is not equal to the duties imposed upon it.

“Crime during the year,” says Mr. Monro, “has shown a decided tendency to increase.”

He accounts for the circumstance partly by the manner in which the attention of the force has been drawn off from its usual duties by such events, for example, as the Trafalgar-square agitation and the murders in Whitechapel.


The Commissioner asserts that there has been no relaxation of effort on the part of the police for the suppression of crime, but he declares the force to be “overworked,” the consequence being that crime cannot be coped with in a satisfactory and efficient manner.”

A total force exceeding 14,000 men seems formidable; but nearly two thousand have to be deducted as employed on special duties for various Government departments, including the dockyards and military stations, and “special protective posts at public offices and buildings.”

There are also the services required and paid for by public companies and private individuals.

More than 2000 men are employed on station duties and on particular duties under various Acts of Parliament.

In addition, some are on leave and some are sick; so that at last we come down to just about 9,000 police available for duty in the streets.”


The greater portion are required for night duty, and “during the day the ordinary beat duty of the whole of the metropolis” devolves on less than 1600 men.

To these, however, must be added above 500 at fixed points, and nearly 100 at hackney-carriage stands. The area of the Metropolitan Police District is enormous, “extending from Colney Heath, Hertfordshire, in the north, to Mogadore, Todworth Heath, in the south; and from Lark Hall, Essex, in the east, to Staines Moor, Middlesex, in the west.”

Mr. Monro goes on to say, concerning the numerical strength of the police, “It will be seen that there is great need for a very considerable augmentation, and this has been so reported by the superintendents.”


Of the development of crime in the metropolis, the evidence is only too conclusive.

The number of criminal offences reported to the police in 1887 was just under 22,000.

Last year there was an increase on this number of 2700.

It is observable that, while the cases of murder have more than doubled, there being thirteen in 1887, as compared with twenty-eight last year, the convictions have fallen from eight to six.

Attempts to murder show an advance, both in the crimes and the convictions.

Burglary and house-breaking have been increasingly prevalent, together with the various descriptions of larceny.

Embezzlement shows a slight decline, and so does horse-stealing.

The increase of arson is remarkable, the cases last year being thirty-five, as compared with seventeen in 1887.


A pleasant feature in the report is furnished by the numerous cases in which members of the police force have received special commendation for deeds of bravery or other exceptional service.”


The Pall Mall Gazette, meanwhile, felt compelled to express concern that Commissioner James Monro had broken with tradition and had not included the reports of  the local, divisional superintendents of the Metropolitan Police in his annual return.

In its edition of Wednesday the 17th  of July 1889 it questioned:-

“Will Mr, Cuninghame Graham ask Mr. Matthews why Mr. Monro has departed from the hitherto invariable rule and omitted the reports of the superintendents from the last report on the Metropolitan Police?

Is it because the superintendents told home truths which Scotland-yard and Whitehall thought it better the public should not know?”