Two Opinions Of The Police

On Wednesday the 19th of September 1888, Eddowes’s Shrewsbury Journal provided its readers with two very different views about the efficiency of the Metropolitan Police in London:-


The Spectator does not see that society, or the Home Secretary, or the police, or anyone else except the criminal, is guilty in this horrible Whitechapel affair.

The crime was not due to the poverty of the neighbourhood, for there are dark courts and narrow passages, and small lodging-houses and low “unfortunates” everywhere in every great city; and the murderer might have committed his crime in the small streets of Westminster or Marylebone, as well in Whitechapel, and in the riverine boroughs more easily than in either.


As to inadequate protection, no conceivable number or organisation of the police can enable them to protect every wretched woman in this vast city who, by the very nature of her evil trade, is driven to run the risk of hide-away places and dangerous companionship.

It would take a hundred thousand men to patrol all of London for any such purpose, and they would be baffled in their inspection at every turn.

There are limits to the possibilities of watchfulness, and one of them is that industrious men will not pass their whole lives in earning pay for policemen numerous enough to see everything that occurs, and intelligent enough to watch for forms of crime which are rare earthquakes or meteorites in a great city.

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 Saturday Review thinks it is scandalous that protection for life should be practically withheld from a populous and turbulent district of the East End.

The police in Whitechapel and Spitalfields – but not in Whitechapel and Spitalfields only – are notoriously undermanned.

Whether, if the ratepayers could legally be consulted, they would consent to any appreciable increase of the force may perhaps be doubted.


The Local Government Act, however, has not altered the law in this respect, and the Metropolitan Police remain under the direct control of the Home Office.

Mr. Matthews is responsible to Parliament for securing and maintaining their efficiency.

This duty he has hitherto discharged by no means adequately, and the inhabitants of London, especially of its poorer districts, have good reason to complain of his neglect.


The ordinary London constable has quite as much work to do as human nature will endure, and adding to its amount would certainly diminish its effectiveness.

Unfortunately, there is another fault to be found with Scotland-yard besides its lack of numerical strength. The quality of the English detective has seriously declined.


The London police have many excellent qualities.

They are brave, well-disciplined, and forbearing.

In the pursuit and capture of armed burglars, themselves unarmed, they display that cool, determined, two-o’clock-in-the-morning courage, which is among the highest merits of the professional soldier.

Nothing could be better than their treatment of disorderly mobs, and perhaps the best tribute to their services in this respect is the rancorous abuse of those journalists and agitators who habitually encourage riot.


But, in the detection of criminals, they have fallen below their old standard, below the standard of foreign countries, especially France and America, and even below the level attained by the police in the great provincial towns.