‘Every week furnishes fresh proof of the tendency of police constables to abuse the power they possess…’
This statement that starts an investigation into Metropolitan police abuses could well have been written recently in light of the increased concerns of police abuse of powers.
Fact is, this statement was written in February 1846!
No doubt the police have been abusing their powers ever since the beginning. There is every clear history that officer misconduct, fabrication of evidence, assault, blackmail, running protection rackets and so on is nothing new. These are clearly ingrained police practices, not so far off from the very criminal fraternity they claim to be fighting.
As Sporting Life reported in 1846, this story of police abuse of their powers relates to two London Met officers, Roberts and Parsons, who entered an occupied house because its inhabitants were somewhat suspiciously sitting up late in the night…
‘and without giving much time either for remonstrance against such an inquiry or for answer to it, they began beating the people of the house with their staves.’
‘The gratification which vulgar minds feel in the exercise of power, wrongfully as well as rightfully, is that alone which accounts for this gross act of misconduct. The excuse set up by the policemen was that one of them (Roberts) heard through the shutters and closed windows of the house a declaration made by one of the party that he would throw a brickbat at Parsons whenever he should have the opportunity…’
The amazing thing about this case is that the house windows and shutters were closed – and yet these two officers were bizarrely claiming the house’s occupants were threatening the police…
Clearly the two police officers had sought to make up a story in order to justify their ill-attempt to enter a house unpurposefully and beat up its occupants. (Perhaps like a lot of officer misdeeds in our modern age, and reported elsewhere on this blog, the police were doing it just for fun…?)
‘Two ‘peace-officers’ ought to have known that a breach of the peace could not be excused by a vague threat, however violently uttered. As persons appointed to keep the peace it was their duty to go before a magistrate and swear the peace against the threatener’
In court on the first week of February 1846, Roberts and Parsons were questioned by the magistrate as to why they entered a house and beat up its occupants, especially when the inhabitants posed no danger of any kind.
‘People sitting in a room could hardly be charged with obstructing two police-men standing in the street in the discharge of their duty… Still men accustomed to turn accusers when they ought to be defendants, were not to be entirely stopped from resorting to their accustomed practices.’
The charge of obstruction that the officers had brought up was out of the question. The magistrate was not going to accept it. The two rogue officers then attempted another wheeze. They claimed the house was said to be one ‘of bad repute.’
The court magistrate found this new charge most interesting. The house’s posh occupants who stood before him, accused of such frivolously claimed matters, were taken aback at the two officers’ new accusation.
The following question was asked of these police officers by the magistrate:
‘Did you, according to your duties, report this house of ill-repute to your superiors?’
The two officers immediately knew they were caught. Either they knew their accusation was false or they had grossly neglected their duty. The ‘knaves were caught in their own trap.’
The officers were fined 20 shillings each and informed by the magistrate that their conduct had been ‘most reprehensible.’
The report sums up by saying it was clear the actions of Roberts and Parsons was enough to ensure the officers’ dismissal. However the officers were clearly allowed to continue duties despite their gross misconduct. The report concludes:
‘Many policemen will commit inferior offences that might fitly be punished by fines; but if the fine invariably draws with it dismissal, the fine will very rarely be inflicted, and the offender, unless in a very bad case, will get off with a mere reprimand, for which he cares nothing. This rule of the police commissioners, supposing it to exist, defeats the purpose for which it ought to have been made. It is another proof that these gentlemen, though perhaps very fit to be the executive, are quite unfit to be the legislative authority of the police.’
**Sounds very much like our current police complaints system! Letting officers off for misconduct is clearly no different to that of our police forces today, who simply let officers get away with all sorts of misdeeds.
Source: ‘The Police – its errors and mismanagement.’ Sporting Chronicle 8 Feb 1846