Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer Chapter XXII page 3

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Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer by Sup John Sadleir

(full text transcription)


Now that these subordinates were set to work again, it became necessary to devise means to keep them going. Here, again, I had to face a fresh difficulty - this time from the Chief Commissioner of Police himself. It took his breath away when I proposed a large increase of junior officers to the city and suburban staff. The existing staff provided only for office and court duties, while there was no effective oversight of the most important branch of all - the working of beats, a duty on which probably eighty per cent, of the entire force is always engaged. However, after the matter was made plain to Mr Chomley, the additional officers were appointed and a fresh start made. Most of these officers were recently promoted, and proved efficient, for at this time the head of the department was free to select men on their merits, and was not tied down by that injurious system of promotion by examination that later came into use. On the merits and demerits of this system I shall have something to say later on.

Many persons think that a policeman’s lot is an easy one. It really is nothing of the sort, and especially trying and uncomfortable is the work of a constable on night duty, for not only is he on his feet nine hours at a stretch and in all weathers, but a large share of his time is spent in walking through empty streets - a very dreary form of toil.

The work of the sub officer supervising his batch of, say, ten constables, is perhaps more exacting still, for he has to move about more quickly, to keep the record of the night’s events, to instruct his men in their duties if needed, and to bring them before his superiors if their mistakes are such that he cannot deal with them himself.

No one need suppose for a moment that the average man will do work like this if the rule is to be--- Go as you please. The disastrous effects of such a system were too painfully manifest at the particular time I speak of, to allow any mistake on this point. Therefore it was, now that a sufficient staff of junior officers had been provided, that a method of supervision was enforced that extended right down the line to the ordinary constable on his beat. This particular method, like almost everything else that was good in city police work, had been derived from S E Freeman.

Freeman had introduced a system of daily reports that showed how officers and men doing duty in the streets were employed. It is not necessary to describe here in detail these reports; but they were of such a kind that a complete safeguard was provided against any serious or continued neglect of duty. The effects of these simple measures were all that could be desired. A few inept junior officers might occasionally give trouble, but the old difficulties with the sub officers and constable had ceased altogether, and the uniform police of the city returned to the highwater mark of its best days.


Amongst the many strange things that occurred in ‘The Boom’ period - 1888 to 1891 - there was nothing stranger than the appearance of a number of young women - hawkers of trinkets and such like wares - going about from one place of business to another. They were got up in the attire of nurses, and were exceedingly pertinacious and forward. Complaints even of improprieties of a serious kind reached me, but there was a difficulty in getting evidence. Inspector Joe Brown was at this time doing uniform duty in the city, and all licensing business was in his charge. I desired him to announce that all hawkers should provide themselves with the necessary license from the Court of Petty Sessions. There was immediately a long list of applicants. Brown was instructed to oppose them all on the ground that it was reported that the applicants were not genuine traders, and that in any case the police required time to make inquiries as to character, etc. I remember that Brown did not quite like the job, but he carried out his part so well that there was a sudden stampede from the court of all applicants, and the trouble came to an end.

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