Policing in Great Britain: An Overview

Great Britain is the home of civil policing. Although police organisations have existed for many centuries throughout the world, they were predominantly paramilitary forces which existed primarily to enforce the government’s will on the populace and suppress banditry and civil unrest. In Britain, however, all that was to change. London’s Metropolitan Police, established in 1829, is generally accepted as the world’s first modern-style, full-service civil police force. It was soon followed by other forces throughout the country and the concept later spread across the world.

There are many police forces in England, Scotland and Wales in the 1920s and 1930s, but all share a similar organisation and ethos. All police forces are jointly funded by the local rates and by a government grant from the Home Office or Scottish Office.

Every county in Great Britain (apart from London and Middlesex) has its own police force, known as a county constabulary, which polices all areas not covered by a borough force.

Most county boroughs and Scottish large burghs, and some larger municipal boroughs and Scottish ‘small’ burghs, maintain their own police forces which are independent of the county constabularies. These forces are known as city or borough/burgh ‘police’ and not as ‘constabulary’. Towns without their own forces are policed by the appropriate county constabulary.

Largest of all is the Metropolitan Police, which covers the entirety of the counties of London and Middlesex as well as some parts of neighbouring counties. This force, colloquially known as Scotland Yard, is what most people think of when they think of the British police. A separate force, the City of London Police, is responsible for that entity at the heart of the capital.

Finally, there is a variety of special police forces throughout the country responsible for the security of railways, docks, waterways, parks and markets.


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