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The Twilight of Amateur Law Enforcement, 9 L. & Hist. Rev. 398 (1991) (reviewing Policing and Prosecution in Britain, 1750-1850, by Douglas Hay and Francis Snyder, eds.)


By the middle of the nineteenth century, professional policing of a recognizably modern character was being put into place in England and in major American cities, where the English developments were surprisingly influential. But the event lagged the need by more than a century. The inadequacies of the inherited system of amateur policing and prosecuting had become apparent in the early eighteenth century. Institutions of law enforcement rooted in the communal life ofmedieval agricultural villages could not survive the transition to urban life. Impersonal social relations, especially in London, facilitated crime, especially property crime, and exacerbated the shortcomings ofamateur law enforcement.

Many of the essays in this admirable collection are devoted to the question of what the English did about policing and prosecuting before they had real police and real prosecutors. The answer, familiar in a general way since Radzinowicz mapped out the field in his great book, is that the authorities attempted to patch up the inherited system. If parish constables now lacked adequate incentive, then rewards and fee payments could motivate them. If squires could not be found in raw urban areas to shoulder the prosecutorial duties ofthe office ofjustice ofthe peace, then "trading justices" and hirelings would have to be tolerated-at first, the "court justice" sitting at Bow Street, later the stipendiary magistrates called forth under the Middlesex Justices Act of 1792. If the burden of voluntary private prosecution fell too heavily upon some citizens, then subsidies would be devised to shift some of the costs to the ratepayers.

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