Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer Chapter XXII page 2

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Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer by Sup John Sadleir

(full text transcription)


The reader will observe that in all that has been said there is no suggestion that these men were corrupt in the sense that the police - say, of New York , U S A - are often said to be corrupt. I really do not think they were built that way at all; they were negligent and idle, so idle and negligent that the classes most open to be preyed upon held them neither in respect nor fear.

Had the police been really corrupt, the only remedy would have been to make a clean sweep of them. But they were worth saving; they had started on the downgrade, probably not considering whither it led. The best of them, as I had come to know, and probably the whole lot, had learned to regret their faults, for the way of transgressors is hard always. My chief concern, therefore, was to win the sub officers back to the collar again, knowing that in due course all else would come right.

The situation was really very serious, but matters could not be allowed to continue as they were. I sent for some of the principle sub officers separately. My earlier interviews with them were somewhat barren of results, but, step by step, they made a clean breast of their faults, hoping that I should find for them some way out of their difficulty.

I do not know whether any of my readers will be interested in these details, but they were full of interest to me, and to Mr Pewtress, who was my willing helper all through. But the difficulty - how to find a way out for these sub officers - since what they feared most was that counter-charges might be made against them - still remained. It was not in my power to refuse any such charges by any constable on his defence if he wished to make them. However, it might, I thought, be possible to place difficulties in the way by making it risky for men taking this line.

It was at this point that the Chief Commissioner, Mr Chomley, was approached, and a definitive proposal made. Mr Chomley had been made aware, all along, of the trouble that existed, but had not been able to suggest a remedy. Now, however, that something practicable was suggested, his good sense at once approved. It was this - That a new regulation should be issued, making it punishable for any member of the force to bring a counter-charge against a superior, relating to facts that had been within his knowledge for a certain time - three days, if I remember aright. This had been the unwritten law for years, so far as the higher ranks were concerned, one, Inspector D D Chambers, having felt its lash many years before; but the rule had never been applied to the lower ranks.

The new regulation duly appeared in the Gazette, but in an obscure corner of it, and seemed to have been unnoticed except by those on the look-out for it. The results were admirable, the sub-officers went back straightway into the collar again.

I remember the first cases brought before me. There were some four or five constables concerned. To their infinite astonishment the sub-officer had followed them into the brewery, or wherever else it was they were enjoying their dolce far niente on the previous night, and, taking down the names, ordered all the men to appear before the superintendent next morning.

The first constable of the batch walked into my room with the air of one who was going to provide some good fun. He did not take the trouble to defend himself from the charge against him. He asked the sergeant whether he remembered last Cup night, a month or two before. The sergeant turned towards me, looking as if he were about to faint. He thought, no doubt, that now had come upon him the very trouble that he feared. He was told not to answer the question just yet, and I then asked the constable what the question had to do with the present inquiry. He insisted on his right to put the question, and added that he and others could prove certain facts which they themselves had witnessed. The new Regulation was then read out to him, and I proceeded to add a fresh charge against him. He saw that the case was going against him and straightway took his punishment without another word. As he rejoined his fellows waiting their turn he was heard to say - ‘Boys, plead guilty; the game is up.’ These took his advice. So came in sight the end of the trouble, all the more speedily since these sub-officers and men were, for the most part, well-meaning fellows in spite of all their past faults.

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