From the ‘old’ to the ‘new’
Corruption and the police, c. 1750–1910
in The many lives of corruption
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The chapter examines how the problem of corruption evolved within the context of police reform, from the mid-eighteenth century, amid the first systematic attempts to redefine the nature and organisation of policing in London, through to the birth and institutionalisation of the ‘new police’ during the Victorian and Edwardian periods. It seeks to historicise what became – and remains – an established mode of posing the problem of police corruption – that is, corruption as the result of the actions of a handful of malign, negligent officers on the one hand, and corruption as the result of more systemic defects of professional culture and institutional organisation on the other. This emerged during second half the eighteenth century, when it was argued that new forms of organisational ‘system’ would overcome the corruption and inefficiency of what became known as the ‘old police’. At this point, however, the problem was still entangled with more degenerative conceptions of corruption inherited from earlier centuries. Only with the advent of the ‘new police’ from the 1850s did the form of debate change decisively, coming to focus more clearly on problems of individual agency versus the corrupting aspects of institutionalisation itself and the effectiveness of organisational controls for preventing it. Ultimately, as a number of scandals from the late Victorian and Edwardian periods suggest, though the problem of corruption was now posed in recognisably modern, office-based terms, it could appear just as entrenched and opaque as it had been under the ‘old police’.

The many lives of corruption

The reform of public life in modern Britain, 1750–1950

Editors: Ian Cawood and Tom Crook


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