The new police were a central element in the evolving criminal justice system. After many debates spread over much of the previous century, there was a flurry of legislation in the second quarter of the nineteenth century which established the framework within which they would develop. Peel’s Metropolitan Police Act of 1829 had been followed by the 1835 Municipal Corporations Act, which required the establishment of a police force under the control of a watch committee, the 1839 Rural Constabulary Act and, finally, the 1856 County and Borough Police Act, which required the creation of police forces in all counties and boroughs and established an inspectorate to ensure efficiency. This bald summary of legislative change, which itself simplifies a more complex process of development, obscures a fierce debate that has surrounded the advent and impact of the so-called ‘new police’.1 There are three major issues to be considered. The first centres on the novelty of the new police, the second on the arguments about policing that shaped the legislative changes, and the third on the role of the new police and their impact upon early Victorian society.
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