Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

Exclusive of these political considerations, this force has its practical uses, and might be made highly conductive to the general regulations of the metropolis. Amongst its more active members, a practical knowledge and familiarity with the general objects of police would necessarily be produced. They might form an effective aid to the public offices in the minor objects of common warrant-serving, leaving the weightier responsibilities to the regular officers of the establishment: this supplementary force would thereby become available to supply the occasional demands of the regular official service. The more independent part has also its peculiar advantages. There is a political as well as a moral destination of police. Exclusively of the ordinary objects to which these observations are directed, circumstances must occasionally occur, which require the accession of an additional strength. Tumults and sudden disturbances may arise, in which a large civil power is beneficial, not only as a source of protection but of social influence; inasmuch as it produces an observance of good order through a very considerable part of the middling classes of society. It goes farther; it keeps the disorderly in check, from the conviction that there is always a large body of their countrymen ready to put themselves in voluntary array against them, whenever their excesses actually endanger the peace of society.

In the review of our several means of protection, there is another very extensive establishment, namely that of the nightly watch, which may be urged as an argument against the necessity of resorting to the increase which I have recommended. This establishment has now acquired a prescriptive usage; it has identified itself with the feelings, and almost with the prejudices of our citizens; it gives an imaginary comfort if not real protection to thousands; and many would hardly lie down in their beds in peace, without knowing that these their guardians are abroad, and in the dead of the night are moving to proclaim the hour, to say that all is well, and that they may rest in security. Even these considerations must plead most powerfully against the dissolution of this establishment; but at present, though it may incidentally aid the minor objects, it cannot be available for the main purposes of police.

It must have occurred to the most unobserving passenger in our streets, and have been strikingly apparent to our police magistrates, that the vigilance of watchmen contributes little to the diminution of the higher class of offenders ; it is to broils and affrays, and the sallies of intemperance, to which

their services are principally called. Very large sums of money are annually expended upon this description of duty, the whole of which, even when it reaches a higher class of offenders, has entirely an er post facto operation. A man who walks a given space of ground, and that at intervals, can only come in contact with those who pass whilst he is upon it; and will the lurking and secretly-contriving felon or burglar execute, or attempt to execute his purpose, when he knows that the watch is in the way, and will be soon out of the way? will he not so contrive his means as to effect his object unseen? In such case the watch, therefore, facilitates rather than frustrates his purpose. Besides, the known prescribed course of a watchman's duty, his lantern, his paraphernalia, and his half-hourly cries, are positive signals against approach: he is a common crier who, in fact by his presence, denotes his succeeding evanescence, and he acts as a moving light-house to warn off all advances till it disappear, which becomes the notice that all is clear and every thing safe. That this is a real and no figurative description, must be obvious to the most common understanding. There is besides in the watchman's life that which must prevent his being an effective police officer; up by night, to do his duty properly, he should be in bed by day; he cannot therefore, have the opportunity of becoming to any degree acquainted with the bad characters upon the town (a knowing indispensable to an effective officer). From the confined limits within which he acts, he acquires a sluggishness of movement, and torpor of character, and is deprived of that ubiquity of action which gives opportunity of watching or of pursuing the felon or the fugitive. But, it may be said, there is a watchman every where; granted that it is so, but can every succeeding watch know the preceding movements of the criminal; a knowledge, perhaps, indispensable to frustrate his ulterior purpose: so that, in fact, upon every fresh ground the criminal is a new man, and so on, through every succeeding space that he reaches. Such cannot be the case with a police of unseen and unconfined action. It must also be obvious, that the dull monotony of a watchman's occupation is extremely adverse to the right composition of their body. It has ever been, till of late years, the pis aller of society; and since the days of Shakspeare, has preserved the same characteristic features. From the laudable efforts of some parishes, a beneficial change has taken place in the appointment of these officers; but I am still persuaded that the institution has within it those inherent defects which must

always be exposed more or less to the objections which I have stated as a means of preventive police.'

In reverting to the foregoing observations, and in carrying forward the view to which they lead, I am aware that many who approve the object may, upon constitutional grounds, question the political expediency of a widely-extended police, from a consideration of the means by which it must be made effective. But, plausible as the general principles may be upon which such apprehensions are grounded, they will be found wholly inapplicable to the practical administration of justice in this country. The rigor of police is only felt where the execution of the law is derived from a despotic influence, and where the Constitution opposes no resistance to the abuse of the power which it has itself created. But where the constitution is free, and its principles liberal and tolerant, the practice will not be oppressive.

Be it admitted for a moment, that the officers of a new system of police, might, in their zeal and indiscretion, occasionally outstep the line of duty, and exercise a power not warranted by the Constitution; will any man believe that in this country, such a practice would be repeated ? It could not take place without being instantly known to the public; in a few hours every thing would be before them. Our police offices are open, and their daily occurrences (if worthy of notice) are communicated to the whole country; besides, with our free press, is not every error in judgment subject to revision, and every unwarranted act of power the object of immediate animadversion ? It cannot be otherwise. Whilst the people preserve their Constitution, they need not fear a police; for it cannot be formidable where the Constitution invites the review of its whole administration. May not, then, all be done which has been previously described, with certain benefit and without any possible injury to the public? But above all the eminent advantage of police is, that instead of straining or increasing our existing laws, it supersedes their operation; it is restraint, but it is restraint which works by moral influence rather than legal power.

We must further observe, that if principle did not warrant, necessity would now demand an efficient police; for looking to the present state of society, and the mild administration of

remarks upon this body, I mean not to undervalue their services as useful auxiliaries to the general regulation of the metropolis ; but they must not be relied upon for duties, from which the very nature and course of their office exclude them.

i In my

our laws (which in this country cannot be otherwise,) it must be obvious that law will not prevent, as experience has taught us that it has not lessened crime. The criminal knows the operation of the laws as well as the legislator, and he apprehends little or no punishment from them, save in the sentence of death; against which he calculates that the causes heretofore stated will produce such innumerable chances in his favor, as to make it a subject but of little apprehension or alarm. Does not every consideration, then, confirm the policy of an incipient control ? will the innocent man fear it? will the honest artisan care who knows whence he comes, or whither he goes? Vigilance is the consequence of suspicion ;-where there is no ground to suspect, there will be no inducement to watch, and those who have no reason to fear, will never be harrassed by observation.

It has been said by some, is the thief then to have no dwelling-place ? are the highways forbidden to him ? I answer that if the one be selected, and the other used for criminal purposes, means should be at hand to prevent their fruition. Such, and such only is the restraint even upon him.

But, extending our views to the condition of man in a more civilized state of society, may it not be said that the whole course of human life is a course of restraint ? Either religion, or law, or some moral influence produces it. From the first infant evidences of our inborn corruption, through every period of after-life, there is something to operate as restraint upon all well-regulated minds. A sense of right, character, interest, or necessity, are more or less restrictions upon human conduct. And shall they who openly renounce and defy all those obligations, which are the preventive guards to ourselves and to society, and who set at nought all laws, human and divine, alone go on unheeded and with impunity in the prosecution of their criminal career?

Upon abstract principles, most men must acknowledge that they should not; but some may ask, whether it be policy in our present state to establish a system, the effect of which would be almost as formidable as that of our existing evils ? I have already adverted generally to this view of the subject; and I distinctly pointed out the alternative to which the legislature might be exposed between the tolerance and removal of our grievances.

In the view of this alternative, it may be asserted that our poor cannot work; that labor is not to be found; they must not beg; and is it not more than an overstrained severity, because they can neither work nor beg in a state of society of

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

which they are not the cause, to create a physical impossibility of their obtaining subsistence. Again, if it be said that charity will be the transient corrective in such a case, and that we have asylums without number to which they can resort, the apprehension of such an extremity must be an irresistible obstacle to the attempt in question.

But we are surely much overrating the danger. Criminal life is divided principally into two classes; namely, hardened and dexterous thieves, and a recently designated race, called "juvenile offenders." The former, generally speaking, are persons of quick intelligences and enterprising spirits; and if it be possible to obstruct and divert their pursuits, it will be equally possible for them to find others suited to their characteristic energies; therefore, this description of persons is not likely, for any length of time, to crowd our workhouses, or to submit to the torpor and comparative inaction of parish paupers; and the probability is, that they would betake themselves to labor, or gradually disappear by emigration or other causes.

The latter class is, in a moral view, more fearfully alarming than the former, from its daily increase and growing influence upon society. But to this branch of younger criminals, the consequence must be, to be driven back to their homes, if homes they have; or if they have them not, that the state must furnish them. Reduced, however, in numbers as these persons may be by the foregoing means, still it is said, that such a mass will be left upon society, as to occasion a very heavy burden upon our parishes and poor-houses, and a consequent exhaustion of their finances, producing at once a re-action upon the public more terrible than all the evils which are now suffered in detail.

By those who have been little conversant with miscellaneous society, and whose minds are formed upon abstract principles of moral reasoning, it will not be very easily credited that such assertions can be made; but reasoners there are, who maintain that bad as things have been, much as all individually may have been exposed to hazard and peril, still every one had his chance of escape; and they consider it better to leave the risk as it is, and to suffer a predatory race to live upon the public, than to load our local institutions with the weight of those who are the objects of punishment, and not of pity : and they say, that if our sources of charity be not sufficient for the good, shall we force them still more for the supply of the wicked?

Such views, even if they were correct, can only be answered by opposing the moral obligation of the state to these political or financial apprehensions. But will either bear the test

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »