Monday, January 18, 2010

The Role of Private Individuals Before the Police

Throughout the period 1674 to 1829 many victims of crime were able to identify and apprehend the culprits before contacting a constable or a justice of the peace to secure their arrest. Those who witnessed a felony were legally obliged to apprehend those responsible for the crime, and to notify a constable or justice of the peace if they heard that a crime had taken place. Moreover, if summoned by a constable to join the "hue and cry", inhabitants were required to join in the pursuit of any suspected felon.

Although these legal obligations were rarely enforced, Londoners continued to help apprehend suspected criminals. As the Proceedings frequently illustrate, cries of "stop thief!" or "murder!" from victims often successfully elicited the assistance of passers-by. This sense of individual responsibility for law enforcement was eroded over the eighteenth century, however, as increasing numbers of men were paid to carry out this task. For example, victims frequently paid thief-takers to locate and apprehend suspects. Moreover, the difficulties the authorities had in identifying and apprehending criminals led them to offer rewards to those whose arrests led to the conviction of serious criminals, and pardons to accomplices who were willing to turn in their confederates. Increasingly, ordinary Londoners left the task of securing criminals to people who were motivated to do so by the prospect of financial or other rewards.