The Colonial Police Service was created in 1936 in order to standardise all imperial police forces and mould colonial policing to the British model. This book is the first comprehensive study of the colonial police and their complex role within Britain's long and turbulent process of decolonisation, a time characterised by political upheaval and colonial conflict. The emphasis is on policing conflict rather than the application of British law and crime-fighting in an imperial context. The overlapping between the Irish-colonial and Metropolitan-English policing models was noticeable throughout the British Empire. The policing of Canada where English and Irish styles of policing intermingled, in particular after 1867 when Canada became a nation in its own right with the passage of the British North America Act. Inadequate provisions for the localisation of gazetted officers within most colonies prior to independence led to many expatriates being asked to remain in situ. Post-war reform included the development of police special branches, responsible for both internal and external security. From the British Caribbean to the Middle East, the Mediterranean to British Colonial Africa and on to Southeast Asia, colonial police forces struggled with the unrest and conflict that stemmed from Britain's withdrawal from its empire. A considerable number of them never returned to Britain, settling predominantly in Kenya, South Africa, Australia and Canada. Policing the immediate postcolonial state relied on traditional colonial methods. The case of the Sierra Leone Police is revealing in a contemporary context.
Understanding policing models is particularly frustrating for historians. In the case of the colonial police model, the colonial population varied considered from colony to colony. It has been argued that accounts of the emergence of policing in Britain in the nineteenth century must take stock of the wider context of British colonial policing. The overlapping between the Irish-colonial and Metropolitan-English policing models was noticeable throughout the British Empire. The Indian Police was the first and largest colonial police force to be shaped by the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC). Both the Indian and the Ceylon Police provided officers for colonial police forces up until their disbandment in 1947. The 'Irish model' was transported to India and Ceylon as it was throughout the 'old' Empire. Yet the number of officers who took their policing traditions to other colonial constabularies is limited when compared to the numbers of Palestine Police officers.
This chapter focuses on the policing of Canada where English and Irish styles of policing intermingled, in particular after 1867 when Canada became a nation in its own right with the passage of the British North America Act. The first professional police force in Canada, the Toronto Police, appropriated Metropolitan Police practices as well as drawing on the experiences of former members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC). Overall, there were real links between the RIC and the North West Mounted Police (NWMP) in terms of the export of officers, the organisation and role of the force. In 1869 a military-style constabulary was felt to be the most appropriate way of securing control of the north-west, a vast swathe of territories that had been under the jurisdiction of the Hudson Bay Company since 1660. Rural areas became a provincial responsibility and led to the development of provincial police forces.
Defending the British Empire became part of the bread and butter of colonial policing, alongside crime prevention and detection. Having considered the evolution of nineteenth- and twentieth-century British policing models, this book turns to the history of post-war colonial policing. Following the inauguration of the Colonial Police Service in 1936, concerted efforts were made to bring standardisation to all colonial police forces. In explaining the origins of professional policing in Britain, it is possible to reach a greater understanding of the wider imperial dimensions. Certainly, the Irish model spread rapidly throughout the Empire, from India to Canada and on to Palestine and so on. In the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia, the British Government was pressured into police reform as a result of the end of the Empire.
In British Colonial Africa throughout the post-war years notions of crime prevention became overshadowed by the need to maintain order. A broad consideration of the policing of British colonial Africa at its grassroots level provides some insight into the policing of the end of the Empire. Colour and cultural-social bars naturally touched the police, with forms of racial discrimination particularly evident in colonies with large European settler populations, Kenya and Southern Rhodesia being prime examples. The operational independence of some units meant that Kenya Police Reserve (KPR) opertives were perceived as more akin to cowboys than to policemen, indulging in their own private vendettas against Mau Mau. Attempts at civil policing were frustrated, on the one hand, by the need for containment of public disorder and civil disobedience and, on the other, by a serious shortage of manpower and resources.
Post-war reforms within the Colonial Police Service
Bringing reform to the Colonial Police Service during the post-war era, prompted by the onset of colonial conflict, was simply a matter of too little, too late. On a much broader level, 1948 marked the start of the Colonial Office's attempts at bringing standardisation to the Colonial Police Service, through reform, with the appointment of its first official Colonial Police Advisor (CPA), William Johnson. A measure introduced shortly after Johnson's report was the Conference for the Colonial Commissioners of Police. In terms of the colonial police, the Gold Coast riots prompted a government enquiry, which untimely led to the despatch of Arthur Young of the City of London Police to enact reforms. Unifying the police forces of the British Empire was the first real attempt at implementing any degree of standardisation. A fundamental difference between colonial and British policing lay in the structure of accountability.
Threatening the survival of the British Empire during the post-war years was the spread of communism and the growth of the cold war. Southeast Asia appeared to be the immediate communist target, with British rule in Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong coming under threat. For the purpose of policing, Hong Kong was divided into three: the island of Hong Kong, Kowloon and the New Territories. Within the urban centres of Hong Kong and Kowloon, there was greater emphasis on civil policing, while in the New Territories colonial police practices prevailed. In the case of both the Malayan Police and the Royal Hong Kong Police (RHKP), colonial practices were strengthened during the post-war years. The Malayan Police played a crucial role during the ensuing conflict that spanned over a decade. Improvement to practices of policing public disturbances came about after the Star Ferry riots in the 1950s.
Policing the end of the Empire in the British Caribbean was as fraught with difficulties as it was in the rest of the Empire. In the aftermath of the Second World War, British Guiana faced regular public disturbances and civil unrest, as did many of the islands of the British Caribbean. There was no exception in the British Caribbean, where the first glimmers of independence came with the extension of adult suffrage to women in British Guiana, and the adoption of limited self-government in Jamaica and Trinidad. In contrast, the creation of the West Indies Federation comprising Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad, and the Windward and Leeward Islands between 1958 and 1962 was perceived as a means of minimising the cost of Empire. During the post-war years, British Honduras and Anguilla stand out as cases where the British Government's policy approached the farcical.
The concept of 'political policing' took on a more important role as colonial governments attempted to maintain control throughout the end stages of decolonisation. Political policing encouraged a closer surveillance of public organisations and prominent political figures ostensibly to ensure that appropriate individuals gained centre stage at independence. In this way, the colonial police became pawns in the imperial endgame. After 1948, policing procedures acquired a different momentum indicating that the very nature of the colonial state had changed. The Special Branch emerged as an alternative and additional source of information-gathering and processing, dedicated to the pursuit of political and security intelligence, once the domain of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). Intelligence-gathering within the colonies seems to have muddled along until the onset of the Second World War, when a real opportunity for change and modernisation occurred.
Police officers who had been recruited into the Colonial Police Service from the home police forces had their years of service at home discounted from the calculation of their overall pension. As the number of police forces in the Colonial Police Service diminished at the end of Empire, so the role of the Inspector-General of Colonial Police (IGCP) was brought into question. Imperial traditions were maintained to some extent within the policing of the postcolonial state, and can still be observed today, reflected in the work of Colonial Police Advisors (CPA), in the export of personnel, and in police training and procedures. In 1983, an agreement was reached between Association of Chief of Police Officers (ACPO) and the Royal Hong Kong Police (RHKP) to permit regular 'formal' exchanges of operational officers.