The Police In London

The Jack the Ripper murders not only drew worldwide attention to the districts of Whitechapel and Spitalfields in the East End of London, but they also focussed the attention of newspapers across the globe on the Metropolitan Police, the force tasked with attempting to bring the perpetrator of the heinous crimes to justice.

As press coverage of the crimes intensified, ti was deemed necessary by many newspapers to explain the make-up of the Metropolitan Police to readers who, probably, had only read about the detectives of Scotland Yard in novels.

How were the detectives chosen? What were their duties? What was their chain of command? How did they go about conducting their investigations?

These were all questions that the world’s media strove to answer as the interest in the case intensified throughout October, 1888.

One newspaper that sought to enlighten its readers, was Burlington’s Daily Gazette, which published the following article on Saturday, October, 13th, 1888:-


Some Facts In Regard Thereto Are Rendered Timely By The Terrible Murders In Whitechapel, One Of The Lowest Slums In The Great Metropolis Of The World.

London has been more stirred up by the Whitechapel murders than by any crime committed in many years.

The fact that so many women could be slaughtered, evidently by the same hand, and the murderer for so long a time elude the London, police is a surprise to Londoners, who believe that they have the best police force in the world.


However, it is the London detective force, rather than the police force, whose especial duty it is to seek out the authors of crime, though detectives are really but a higher grade of police.

In 1877 the London detective force was reorganized, since when it has been regarded as remarkably efficient.

Previous to that time, the force consisted of several detectives in each district, under the direction of the superintendent or captain of the district, and of thirty men at the central office at Scotland Yard.

There were, therefore, a number of independent detachments.


On April 8, 1878, a reform went into operation, the object of which was to consolidate the force, and to centralize the authority under which it worked.

As reformed, the control of the force is in the hands of a new department, that of criminal investigation, which is under the charge of the director of Scotland Yard.

In each city division, there is a local inspector, who has charge of the detectives of his division, and who is supposed to be a representative of the director, though really under the control of the superintendent.

Whether the system is too cumbersome or too systematic for practical detective work, investigation is carried on pretty independently by divisions, but the idea of Scotland Yard being the centre from which all detective work is guided is still kept alive among the people.

The inspectors meet there from time to time; local superintendents send there reports of crimes which have been committed during the previous twenty-four hours every morning, and the director is supposed to issue the instructions regarding them, but practically the inspectors are independent, for the matter of any crime is usually remanded to them.


The detective force of London consists of 400 men in summer and 700 in winter. They are chosen from the police for their ingenuity in tracking criminals, so far as this is apparent. The Scotland Yard force consists of eighty men, nearly all of whom rank as inspectors.


This force has so long been the focus of observation in criminal investigation, it has been called upon so often to assist the novelist, especially one whose plot covers a crime, or one who writes detective stories, that its reputation has become worldwide from this source alone, without considering the many remarkable criminal cases with which it has had to do.

Novelists, however, have often taken great liberties with Scotland Yard rules.

The force is used for London alone, a London detective being scarcely ever sent anywhere else.

Yet many a storyteller has summoned a Scotland Yard detective to help him out with his plot, to go where his chief would not think of sending him. But with the novelist all things are possible; the inspector arrives, and if the ingenuity of the real detective and his luck were a tithe of what they are in the novel, no guilty man would ever escape.

An illustration showing detectives looking at suspects.
The illustration that accompanied the article.


The force is under the direct orders of the assistant commissioner.

It investigates notable crimes, like the Whitechapel murders, but its principal business is embezzlements, forgeries and other similar matters. It also does a great deal of government work, both for the British crown and for the governments of foreign countries.

The force also is expected to investigate all applications for naturalization and attend popular gatherings, besides keeping an eye on all professional criminals who may be at large.

Once a week, a Scotland Yard detective goes to the city prisons to look at the prisoners awaiting trial and see if any are known to him.

The foreign correspondence is an important item. Formerly this work was done by a force of civil service clerks. Now it is all done at Scotland Yard, and each letter received is replied to in the language in which it is written.


There is, doubtless, much variety and excitement in the work of a detective.

He must take what clew he has, if any, and follow the dictates of his own ingenuity.

Often he ingratiates himself into the confidence of the suspected criminal, and detectives have been known to live with a criminal for months before getting the proof required for conviction.


Recently in Chicago, at an anarchist trial, one of the prisoners, who was being pressed too hard by the questions of a lawyer, stepped aside from among the criminals and began to chat familiarly with the prosecuting attorney. He proved to be a detective who had been so familiar with the accused as to be arrested and tried for the offense they had committed.