How Bow Street Runners work effective in preventing crimes and why they were precedent of Peelian Police


Student: Poganescu Diana Lucia

Formal detection in England began in mid-eighteenth century London with the Bow Street Runners. Begun by Bow Street magistrate Henry Fielding and continued under his blind halfbrother John, the Runners were part of Fielding’s innovative approach to combatting crime. Since there were no centralized or professional police in England, the Runners were the first to systematize criminal investigation through information gathering. They investigated crimes for the government, helped private individuals, and even protected the royal family. Bow Street also had a series of mounted and foot patrols to police the city on regular beats. By the 1820s, however, the Runners’ reputation was in decline. Their legacy was tarnished by their association with thief-takers and they were known to collude with criminals to ensure the return of stolen property. Although effective, their methods were not as wholesome as the government would have wished and they were disbanded in 1839. Similar to the unofficial 'thief-takers' (men who would solve petty crime for a fee), they represented a formalisation and regularisation of existing policing methods. What made them different from the thieftakers was their formal attachment to the Bow Street magistrates' office, and that they were paid by the magistrate with funds from central government. When John Fielding took over Bow Street following his half-brother's death, he further developed these practices by establishing Bow Street as a central collection point for information about serious crimes which occurred all over the country. An alphabetical register was kept of all crimes and prosecutions, along with a register of stolen goods. Information about stolen goods and wanted criminals was widely circulated, leading eventually to the creation of the Police Gazette. By the late eighteenth century the Bow Street Runners, as they came to be called, were essentially full-time policemen who served for many years. They were well known to the public through reports in the papers and their testimonies at Old Bailey trials.It is possible that their detailed testimonies, and regular cross-examinations by defence counsel, changed the nature of the criminal trial.

as the Bow Street Officers were known because they generally undertook the higher profile cases. in particular when the initiative that began in Bow Street in the 1750 s was broadened by an act in 1792 that created seven police offices on the model of Bow Street. the Bow Street Runners were rivals. Even if the methods were applied. in contrast to the Bow Street Runners. it did serve as the guiding principle for the way policing was to develop over the next eighty years: Bow Street was a manifestation of the move towards increasing professionalisation and state control of street life. The new Metropolitan police was deliberately a preventive and not a detective force. That force was based on the night watch and constabulary. this was stopped in 1839 by the Metropolitan Police Act that separated the judicial from the executive functions of the Police Office magistracy in London. detection and prosecution played no part in the policing schemes of the new commisioners of the Metropolitan Police in 1829. and abolised their forces. Still. both of which has undergone considerable changes over the course of the eighteenth century. Although the force was only funded intermittently in the years that followed. The new police took up the policing tasks. beginning in London. Their success explains why in 1792 seven similar police offices were created in the metropolis in which all criminal prosecutions were concentrated. Even if for the general story these men remain outside. Still. there was a rivalry and jealousy. apprehension and prosecution in the changes taking place in London policing in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. These developments have yet to find their place in the modern history of London policing most important because they played little part in the development that has been at the centre of policing history which is the creation of the Metropolitan Police by Robert Peel in 1829.It is worth reflecting on the place of the Runners and the place of the work of detection and pursuit. . In the first years. they has in fact played a crucial role in the policing of London and so we can underline the presence of two parallel policing practices that developed in the eighteenth century. each presided over by paid magistrates and each with a group of fulltime paid constables. The Bow Street Runners need to be seen as the outcome of a process that began in the late eighteenth century as a response to particular policing problems that were dominant then and remained dominant for more than a century.

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