By the time of the Jack the Ripper murders in 1888, the Metropolitan Police force, under the command of the Chief Commissioner, Sir Charles Warren, was coming under constant criticism in the newspapers.
Several high profile cases – such as the events of Bloody Sunday, in November, 1887, and the Miss Cass case, of June, 1887 – had proved to be absolute public relations disasters; and, by February, 1888, the force and its Commissioner, were receiving an extremely bad press.
One accusation that was made against them was that Sir Charles Warren, being a soldier, had militarised the London police, so much so that the force was perceived as seeing itself as being beyond reproach.
The Bristol Mercury, on Wednesday, 8th February, 1888, published the following article which raised several criticisms of the police force and of the way in which it was governed by its leadership:-
THE LONDON POLICE
“The attitude of public opinion at the present time towards the Metropolitan police is one which is on the highest and most impartial grounds eminently unsatisfactory.
Their apologists defend them from purely partisan motives, which is in itself a grave evil, for the duties of the guardians of the peace should be so clearly and equitably defined that they should be able to discharge them without appearing to take sides in any of the great controversies of the day.
There is also a strong feeling that under the present Commissioners there is a strong disposition to defy public feeling, and to imitate the worst features of Dublin Castle administration.
THE POLICE CAN DO NO WRONG
For the sake of discipline and authority the London constable is to be regarded as like the King, in that he can do no wrong, and whatever excesses he may commit are to be screened and justified.
We dissent from that view altogether.
The police have difficult and delicate duties to perform, everyone admits, and they are bound to incur much unpopularity with certain classes of the community.
But their moral force is much greater than their actual physical strength and they are dependent for success in their responsible undertaking upon public opinion, as well as upon the goodwill and sympathy of the mass of the population.
SIR CHARLES WARREN
They are, in fact, the servants and not the masters of the public, and, at the risk of offending some who think any criticism of constituted authority high treason, we would indicate the direction in which an exceedingly able officer, Sir Charles Warren, has blundered into his present difficulties.
TOO MUCH OF THE MILITARY MINDSET
In the first place the military headship of the police is a mistake, however successful a general may be selected.
The military mind is too apt to treat free Englishmen in the same way as the natives of South Africa, and naturally turns to an overawing display of force, and hence the ridiculous, offensive massing of constables in Trafalgar Square last November, many times outnumbering the knots of amused idlers wondering what they were going to do.
A crowd or a community of civilians is exasperated by being bullied, and while, as Sir Edmund Henderson found to his cost, an adequate force should be in readiness to cope with any apprehended disturbances, it should be kept out of view as much as possible, lest it create the mischief it is designed to deal with.
THE CONTROL OF THE LONDON POLICE
The second cause of the bad administration of the London police is also the explanation of the indifference of provincial radicals to the sufferings of their cockney brethren.
In all the large towns, except London, the police are under the control of the municipal authorities, and therefore there is no risk of metropolitan tactics being reproduced in Bristol or Birmingham.
If London has much to endure, the experience will be a blessing in disguise, for it will quicken the demand for local self-government, which, among other things, would transfer the control of the police from the Home Office to a municipal authority.
We have no particular affection for the present effete Corporation of a small section of London, known as the City, but we observe that few scandals arise in connection with its force of police, which it controls itself and which is a fine body of men.
THE MISS CASS CASE
The way in which public opinion is flouted and the people of London placed at the mercy of the police has received more than one unpleasant illustration lately. P.C. Endacott got off before a jury, and we are not concerned to question the accuracy of the decision.
But he was clearly wrong in the character he gave to Miss Cass, and in several of his statements regarding her, yet at no stage of the proceedings did he withdraw his aspersions, but stuck to his story with the well-known stolidity of the professional witness.
That man, who deserved a severe rebuke, was reinstated with full honours, and was taught to regard himself as a martyr.
Is that the way to teach the police to be careful in their assertions, and to make it safe for respectable women to pass along the streets?
POLICE CONSTABLE BLOY
But the Bloy case is infinitely worse.
Here a constable, who is appealed to by a young woman, turns round and traduces her character, and lets a man whom she charges with theft walk away, instead of taking all parties to the station, where the story could be sifted.
In court, he impudently stuck to his story, and said he had known the young woman as a bad character in the neighbourhood for more than twice the time, as was afterwards shown, that she had lived there.
The magistrate, Mr Baggallay, expressed his strong disapproval of the constable’s conduct, and marked the sheet for the matter to be investigated by the Commissioners.
It seems incredible, but these individuals have, without any reference or communication to the magistrate whatever, resolved to whitewash the policeman, and have read out in orders a censure on the magistrate’s conduct.
THE TOTTERING FABRIC OF LAW AND ORDER
How is the tottering fabric of law and order to be maintained if the police thus take upon themselves to treat their superiors, the magistrates, with ridicule and contempt?
It is impossible to see how Bloy can be exonerated, and even if he can, the facts should be laid before the magistrate.
Sir Charles Warren is getting a little too much like the Czar of Russia to be enjoyable when he begins to trample on the authority of the magistrates as well as the rights of the people by his irrepressible edicts.
The present weak and vacillating Home Secretary is worse than useless, and we are glad, therefore, that a committee of residents in West Ham are going to take the question up to see if the feeling of the community cannot obtain some sort of recognition.”