A nostalgic look at bobby on the beat
The Bow Street Runners were formed in 1750 and, along with the Bow Street Horse Patrol, were used to help clear the London streets of highwaymen.
Sir Robert Peel changed policing forever when the Metropolitan Police Act of 1829 established 95 constables, 88 sergeants and 20 inspectors to be a politically neutral force for the maintenance of social order, protection of people from crime and to act as a visible deterrent to crime and disorder.
So when did you last see a ‘visible deterrent’ walking down your street or in your town centre? Me neither.
Between 1955 and 1976 the late Jack Warner appeared as Sergeant George Dixon in 432 episodes of Dixon of Dock Green and all the kids used to shout “Hello Mr Dixon”. What happened?
The transition from bobby on the beat to police responders, police interceptors, community support officers and CCTV cameras has been a gradual, but pervasive process over several decades.
Modern day policing faces many new challenges, not least increased counter terrorism efforts, cyber crime, an increase in anti-social behaviour and gun, knife and other violent crime, offences committed on social media and time-consuming enquiries into historical offences – all at a time when it faces swingeing cuts to budgets.
Productivity can be improved in any organisation, but don’t let the politicians bamboozle you. Listen to those on the frontline – these cuts have had a detrimental effect on the levels of service the police can provide.
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, I was an old-time copper, detective mainly, when officers walked the beat, checked every commercial property at night, responded to every crime, attended every road incident, directed traffic and recorded lost and found property.
They had a relationship with every shopkeeper on their ‘patch’ (note for Frederick Forsyth, only villains have “manors”), knew every local criminal, when someone did not fit or something was out of place, were an invaluable source of intelligence and their presence discouraged social disorder – the visible deterrent.
The decline of the bobby on the beat probably began in the 1980s, but was accelerated in 2002 when the then Home Secretary David Blunkett introduced non-warranted Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) as a cheaper version.
We have always had Special Constables. They were introduced in 1831 and are now a source of unpaid training and recruitment. We even have members of communities taking over from traffic officers and ‘grassing up’ their neighbours with hand-held speeding devices. I jest a little here because speed does kill. The point is that we should not be doing it on the cheap.
The Government provides statistics showing that crime has declined. I think people perceive a lack of interest from the police, probably because they have so many other priorities, that they have given up reporting crime unless required to do so for insurance purposes.
I may be a grumpy old man, but I am not a grumpy old copper. It’s no good looking backwards, you have to work with what you have, deal with the challenges of today and plan for those yet to come. Police officers today do a far more difficult and dangerous job than I ever did so if you are sleeping peacefully tonight, remember why.
This article is not about wanting to go back in time – that will never happen. It is merely a nostalgic remembering of that time when the bobby walked his beat and had an almost heart-to-heart connection of trust with the public they served – a song of regret for something that has gone forever.
Best of luck lads and lassies – more power to your elbows.