The Metropolitan Police, which is often considered to be the first modern police force, began operating in London.
Informally known as ‘the Met’, the Metropolitan Police Act 1829 established the first structured system of law enforcement. Policing had previously been the responsibility of unpaid parish constables, although paid ‘thief-takers’ were sometimes employed by the victims of crime to catch criminals.
The appointment of Sir Robert Peel as Home Secretary in 1822 brought about the reinvigoration of a committee tasked to investigate the current system of policing. Peel immediately acted upon the committee’s findings, distilling the key aspects of his approach into a series of ‘Peelian principles’ that involved the payment of police officers who were organised along civilian lines.
Peel’s ideas for the system of policing were approved by Parliament in the Metropolitan Police Act with Royal Assent being granted on 19 June 1829. The 895 constables of the new force, nicknamed ‘Peelers’ or ‘Bobbies’ after their founder, were responsible for law enforcement and public order within a seven-mile radius of Charing Cross. They were overseen by a progressing hierarchy of Sergeants, Inspectors, Superintendents and two Commissioners who reported directly to Peel himself.
Deliberately given blue uniforms to distinguish them from the red used by the military, the first police officers were equipped with only a wooden truncheon and a ratcheted rattle to raise the alarm. Despite these attempts to avoid the image of a totalitarian police force, some members of the public argued that the Met was a threat to civil liberties. Within a decade, however, the force had begun to prove itself and its powers were increased.