The origin of early policing traces its roots back to Anglo-Saxon times in
England. There, the early Kings demanded complete loyalty and obedience
from each of their subjects. In exchange for this security, the Kings
provided protection from attack from outside invaders or from overzealous
lords under the King's control.
It was under King Alfred the Great that a type of internal police force
evolved. Alfred decreed that the various "thanes" or landowners throughout
his kingdom were responsible to police his territory, deliver criminals to
the King and to settle civil litigations. The people or "freemen" under
each thane became concerned that the thane mighty abuse or even exceed his
power, and banded together in a "tything" which consisted of 10 families.
This group would meet regularly to discuss common concerns and mutual
protection. But more importantly, the tything served as a "surety", or
guarantee, that criminals within the family units would be delivered to
the thane for disposition. They served as a guarantee that those who
committed criminal acts would be brought forth. In addition, the tything
often set in place neighborhood-watch type of patrols in which they kept
an eye on each others' properties as a method to guarantee that no damages
would occur. The head of this group was referred to as a "tythingman".
As the concept spread, the process evolved to the point that 100
tythingmen set up an organization known as the "hundred". The hundred met
once a year and elected one tythingman who was called a "reeve". The reeve
was responsible for the organization of a court which handled complaints
from within the shire and handled civil matters or disagreements between
two or more people. Later the reeve of the shire became known as a sheriff.
Under this system, there was a very close bond established between the
"laws of the land" and the local people. This whole notion of "grassroots"
justice would continue throughout the evolutionary process of English law.
After the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, it became apparent to the
invaders that the Anglo-Saxon system of justice was good and worthy of
maintaining. They used the model with a few modifications.
Firstly, the Sheriffs were appointed by the Kings, not elected from the
Tythingmen. This placed the Sheriff in a superior role, responsible for
local law enforcement to the King, not the local people.
Secondly, the "Hundred" was maintained, but renamed the "Court of the
Tourn". This Court heard a range of cases, more often dealing with petty
offences and civil matters. From the Court, 12 tythingmen were selected to
hear cases of a serious nature. It is from this point that the early
concept of the 12 member jury of today originates.
Thirdly, to handle local legal matters in some, but not all, communities,
the Normans established the "Court Leet", which looked after matters of
purely local interest and petty village nuisances. The head of the Court
Leet was the "Comes Stable", which was a term that means "Master of the
House". Over a period of time, this word became "Constable" which is still
used today by members of our modern police forces. The Comes Stable was
often appointed by the King but was also responsible to keep the peace and
order in a specific area. This appointee was responsible to local
officials who could petition to have him removed if he did not do his job
properly. However, many villages did not have this system and continued to
send their cases to the Court of the Tourn for settlement.
This system worked up until the late 1700s, but as the population grew,
cities began to expand, and crime increased, it became apparent that
changes were needed. The constables became corrupt, and fewer and fewer
took the job seriously. Often, the job of constable fell to drunken
derelicts who often abused their powers. To make matters worse, justices
of the peace often took bribes to either lay or to drop charges. The
salary of the judges was based on the number of cases they heard.
Entrepreneurial justices became eager to create as many cases as they
possibly could. Many charges were often "trumped-up" and "fictional". It
is estimated that thousands of innocent people were tried on fictional
By the mid-1800s, many people began to eagerly press for reforms. The most
notable was author Henry Fielding, who wrote about various crimes and
published descriptions of known criminals. In addition, Fielding set up
the "Bow Street Runners", who actively sought out known criminals and
brought them to justice. This concept was continued after Henry Fielding's
death by his brother, John.
Finally in 1785, William Pitt presented a bill in the British Parliament
calling for the creation of a police force in London. This proposal met
with instant opposition. Pitt argued that this new force would be
responsible for the apprehension of criminals (a formal continuation of
the mandate of the Bow Street Runners) and crime prevention (it was argued
that their presence would be a deterrent).
Many elements in society argued that such a force would be like the dreaded
force in Paris, France: the "Gendarmes". This force was full of spies and
informants who constantly reported violations to the nobility. The
nobility, in turn, placed thousands of people in prisons such as the
Bastille. Historically, it has been argued that the Gendarmes were one of
the key factors which led up to the French Revolution.
After considerable opposition to the proposed police force for London, and
charges that it would be used to strengthen what was considered to be a
very centralist authoritarian government, William Pitt's bill was withdrawn.
However, this setback did not end reform efforts. The Bow Street Runners
expanded in number, and came to include mounted patrols which policed the
rural areas outside of the City of London in an effort to curb the increase
in highwaymen. In addition, unmounted patrols became commonplace in London.
However, the actual number of this early pre-police force was only 450 men
in a population of about 1.5 million.
The next phase came about as a result of increased shipping on the Thames
River. Merchants were concerned about the safety of their ships and cargoes.
They started a private police force designed to patrol and guarantee the
safety and security of the waterfront. By 1800, this force was so
successful in the "clean-up" of the crime-infested waterfront that the
City took it over in 1800. This, coupled with the rapidly expanding
industrial revolution and the growth in the "middle-class" which demanded
an end to thieves, beggars and prostitutes paved the way for the modern
police force and the work of Sir Robert Peel.
The modern concept of police was born in 1829, when Sir Robert Peel brought
forth legislation in the British Parliament setting out the terms of a
police force which was to operate within the City of London. At the time,
London was besieged by criminal elements and the safety of many citizens
was uncertain. Pickpocketting, gambling and theft, along with countless
other crimes, were commonplace.
An important element in Peel's plan was the separation of policing and the
judiciary. Peel and law reformers of the day felt that the police should
be responsible for one facet of the law, up to the prosecution phase, while
the trial, conviction and punishment phase should placed be in the hands
of another body, the judiciary. This concept remains virtually unchanged
In his legislation, Peel suggested nine principles for his police force:
In Canada, the law enforcement system originated from the colonial nature
of the country. In the beginning, colonies such as Nova Scotia, New
Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario relied upon the military to patrol the towns
and cities. Since most of the early communities were military fortresses,
the military naturally assumed this role. The Governor and his Council
adopted both law-making and law-enforcement roles in that they were
responsible for the making of laws and also were in charge of the military
force responsible for administering and enforcing the law.
However, with the arrival of responsible government in the early 1800s, as
well as a decline in the necessity of large military forces, a demand for
an independent democratic police force, similar to the structures that
were being suggested in England, was called for. In some parts of Canada,
constables were elected from within the community and were charged with
the responsibility of apprehending criminals and offering some form of
protection for citizens in the area. This concept was particularly common
throughout the United States. In the U.S., as the forces grew, so too did
the election concept, in which sheriffs and police chiefs were regularly
elected, as they are today. This required local law enforcement agencies
to be truly answerable to the people. However, it also meant that the
police force had to take a more political role, especially if the sheriff
or police chief was eager to be elected every two or three years.
However, it was not until the late 1800s that the early police forces
would become established in Canada. Sheriffs, police chiefs and constables
were initially responsible to local elected government officials such as
the mayor and the councilors/aldermen. Thus, these positions were
appointments at the mercy of local politicians. Again, the suggestion of
politics arose, in that councilors might favor one police candidate over
In some parts of Canada, more notably Ontario, the provincial government
stepped in and created Boards of Commissioners of Police, which consisted
of a majority of provincial appointees. This sparked resentment from
municipal officials who resented having to raise taxes to pay for policing
over which they had no control. This controversy continues until today. In
other provinces, such as Nova Scotia, the Police Commissions still exist.
Life in rural Canada was different. In areas far removed from military
centers, neighbourhood "Watches" were established and early patrols of
villages by volunteers were common. In essence, rural Canada especially
in the Maritimes was a prime example of Robert Peel's concept: "The People
Are the Police and the Police are the People." In many parts of rural
Canada, policing did not come about until the creation of the Royal
Canadian Mounted Police as a federal force.
However, this was not the case in western Canada. Originally, western
Canada was seen as a large corporate entity known as the Hudson's Bay
Company. Under this configuration, the administration of law and order
was left in the hands of the traders located in forts or posts scattered
throughout the region. In the beginning, there was an effective justice
system in place which governed the native peoples in the western and
northern parts of Canada. In addition, there was a relatively low number
of Europeans moving into the area. As a result, the crime rate was quite
That soon changed. Traders quickly realized that the Indians had little
use for gold or money. What they wanted was alcohol and weapons. As a
result, the former trading posts which boasted "good Christian character"
and were often complete with priests, now became the fortified centers of
vice with names such as "Slideout", "Standoff" and "Whoop-Up". These
centers sold "fire-water" or "bug-juice", which was made from cheap whisky
brought in from the east, and mixed or cut with other ingredients to
increase both the profit margin and the effect.
One recipe used at "Fort Whoop-Up", for example, called for: (a) 26 ounces of whisky, (b) one pound of chewing tobacco, (c) one bottle of ginger (size not given, assumed to be about eight ounces), (d) a handful of red pepper, (e) a quart of molasses and believe it or not (f) a dash of red ink. Mixtures such as this became increasingly popular among the Indians, who became so addicted that they would trade all of their possessions for a cup or bottle.
As a result, addicted Indians lost their independence, pride and their way
of life. After they ran out of things to trade, the Indians turned to crime
in order to raise more items for trade. As a result, the crime rate in the
west soared. Murder, robbery, theft, and other crimes became commonplace.
The traders, who at one time maintained order, became greedy and sought
only profits, not justice. Most crimes were ignored and the guilty went
unpunished. It was truly a society in which the strong excelled and weak
After the Hudson's Bay Company sold the west and northern areas to the new
Dominion of Canada in 1870, the federal government became keenly concerned
with law and order in the region. Canada's first Prime Minister, Sir John
A. Macdonald, established an Act on May 23, 1873 for the creation and
establishment of a "Mounted Police Force for the North-West Territories."
The size of this force was 300 men, each of whom who was to possess sound
constitution and the ability to ride a horse. Each man was to be "active,
able-bodied and possess good character." Upon joining the force, each man
entered into a three year commitment with a starting pay of 75 cents per
day. During the next three decades, the North West Mounted Police cleaned
up the west and terminated the illegal activity. Members of the force
played a key role during the Second Riel Rebellion, the building of the
Canadian Pacific Railway and the Klondike Gold Rush.
The involvement of members in activities such as the celebration of Queen
Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, the coronations of King Edward VII and George
V, as well as the South African War, resulted in the word "Royal" being
prefixed to the name of the force, and it became known as the "Royal
North-West Mounted Police".
After the First World War and the bloody Russian Revolution, the federal government became concerned that there should be only one police force across the country. In the case of the Russian Revolution, various agencies of law enforcement had taken sides and contributed to the deaths of thousands of innocent people. So in 1920, the RNWMP became a force responsible for all of Canada, through the absorption of the "Dominion Police", and the name changed to the "Royal Canadian Mounted Police"; it remains unchanged to this day. The headquarters of the force was moved from Regina and force was empowered to enforce federal laws from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. It should be noted, however, that the training center for the RCMP was retained at its original home, Regina.