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The earliest days of crime prevention

On the face of it, outsiders could argue that crime prevention has always been the number one goal for policing the streets of Britain and that is certainly why the police were formed. 

In 1829 the first commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in London, Sir Richard Mayne, said The primary object of an efficient police is the prevention of crime: the next that of detection and punishment of offenders if crime is committed.  To these ends all the efforts by police must be directed.  The protection of life and property, the preservation of public tranquillity, and the absence of crime will alone prove whether those efforts have been successful and whether the objects for which the police were appointed have been attained”.  

It’s worth noting that crime prevention was the primary object of the police; everything else comes after that. 

In these very early days of modern policing preventing crime was mainly achieved through uniformed and plain clothes patrols; there wasn’t any crime prevention service as we would recognise today.  Very soon measuring crime became the norm and the police and government became obsessed with counting crimes committed against crimes being solved as the only measure of police effectiveness.  Measuring crimes prevented was not even attempted and so purists would argue that the crime prevention function of the police went within the first few years of the modern police without ever really arriving!  It was to be another 135 years before the police service began to appoint officers dedicated to preventing crime using techniques other than uniform patrolling.

It would be a mistake to think that crime prevention wasn’t practiced during these early times, but by and large it was only the wealthy householder and trades people that could afford to take any effective measures. 

By the 1920s crime prevention posters, produced by the police, started to appear and these became commonplace by the late 1950s when the police service started meeting with the insurance industry to consider ways to tackle rising property crime.  I still have a leaflet from 1961 advising the public to ‘bolt’ the front and back doors when watching television.  Apparently there was a spate of house burglary through unlocked front and back doors whilst the family were sitting together watching television!  At this time in the UK it was normal practice for residents to leave their doors unlocked until they went to bed at night. Next Page