The Crime Prevention Website


Here's the first of what I hope to be a collection of historical crime prevention messages issued by the police service. I can just imagine the frustration of the author of this first notice from the Police Commissioner of the City of London Police


Recent occurrences having shown that an impression somewhat extensively prevails in the City that the duty of protecting house property at night is one which belongs exclusively to the police, it is desirable to point out what the true functions of the police are with respect to the guardianship of house property, inasmuch as the proprietors of houses, when distinctly informed as to the nature and extent of the protection which they may reasonably expect to receive from the police force, will be in a better position to determine what those additional safeguards should be which ordinary prudence makes it incumbent on them to provide for themselves.

Under the influence of the impression above referred to a practice has sprung up in the City, and is gradually increasing, of leaving shops and warehouses, stored with goods of great value, entirely untenanted at night, and throughout the whole of Sunday. Numerous buildings are let out in separate rooms to separate tenants, who require them only for purposes of business during the day; the street-door, during business hours, is left open, in order to give ready access to every part of the house; and thus, in the case of houses which are habitually deserted at night, not only have thieves great facilities for entering them, and secreting themselves there by day, but they may do this with the knowledge that they will, almost certainly, be left for many hours at night in the undisturbed possession of the abandoned premises.

These risks are, moreover, greatly aggravated by want of due care in thoroughly searching the house before it is finally closed for the night, by the defective condition, in many instances, of the external fastenings, and by neglect in making even these fastenings secure.

It has, indeed, been supposed by some persons that if, during their absence, they leave lights burning in their shops, and openings in the shutters through which the interior of the shop can be partially inspected, the property within may be safely left to the exclusive guardianship of the police. This practice has never been approved by the head of the force, and is itself open to serious objection, as tending to encourage reliance on a contrivance which is not only untrustworthy, but which may be used by dexterous thieves to further their own plans.

Nor must it be imagined that a policeman who is in charge of a beat can, without manifest neglect of his duty to the householders generally, devote to the shops where the practice in question is followed, the special supervision which seems to be expected from him. If a constable on duty were bound, each time he passed, to make a careful inspection of the interior of shops through the several apertures which individual shopkeepers may please to make in their shutters, he would obviously be unable to complete the circuit of the buildings under his charge within the time appointed for that purpose, and the majority of houses on the beat, as well as passengers in the streets, would be left without that protection which the police should properly afford.

Under these circumstances it is most important to bear in mind that the special watching over particular premises, which it is sought by the adoption of the custom referred to to exact from the police, is a duty which the police cannot undertake to perform.

The chief functions of police in connection with the protection of house property at night are to prevent, as far as possible, a forcible entry being made into any building from without; to afford protection to all houses equally; to be vigilant in detecting the first indications of fire, and to exercise a general supervision throughout the night over the doors, shutters, and other external defences of the houses.

These functions the police can discharge, but they cannot be responsible for what may be occurring out of their sight, within deserted buildings to which they have no access—they cannot keep stationary guard over the doors of unoccupied warehouses unprovided with any locks or outer fastenings but such as are of the most worthless description—they cannot prevent robberies being effected in premises to which thieves are admitted during the day and secured from all interruption when locked in for the night by the owners of the premises themselves—nor can they, in justice to the legitimate claims which the majority of the ratepayers have on the protection of the police, employ the greater portion of their time in watching over the property of a few individuals, who invite attacks from thieves by omitting to take the precautions which common prudence enjoins. 

The above is an extract from eBook ‘Protection from Fire and Thieves (1875)’ available from the website of The Project Gutenberg