A Chapter from Scotland Yard, by George Dilnot.—CHAPTER IX. The School of Police.

A chapter from a book first published in 1915. Here is a link to the EBook in its entirety:  http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/31629?msg=welcome_stranger#Footnote_1_1






The School of Police.

In the long chain forged for the preservation of law and order in the metropolis the constable is the chief and, in some ways, the most important link. The heads of Scotland Yard have to make it certain that at moments of unexpected strain or heavy stress no link will fail. To that end every candidate for the Metropolitan Force is rigorously tested and prepared, physically, morally, and mentally, before he becomes an accredited member of the service.

For, to vary the simile, the constable is the foundation on which all the rest is built. Every man in grades right up to the superintendent has begun at the bottom of the ladder. You will have seen the constable, placid and unemotional, pacing the streets at the regulation beat of two and a half miles an hour—do you know how much he has to know before he is trusted alone on his duty?

He has to be ready to act decisively and firmly at an instant’s notice, to solve on the spur of the moment some intricate problem of public order, to know the law, so that he may arrest a person on one occasion, and let him go on another, to act as guide or consultant to the public, to aid at a fire, or capture a burglar.

He must know everything out of the common that comes in his sphere of duty, enter the particulars fully in his note-book, and be prepared to swear to the accuracy of his notes at any time. It would be easy for a man less carefully selected and trained to make a slip of judgement, to succumb to a temptation.

It would be futile to pretend that there are twenty thousand plaster saints in the Metropolitan Police—there are not. Yet, man for man, in efficiency, in honesty, there is not their equal in the world in any profession.

The Metropolitan Police is a business body, controlled by business men, and run on business methods. But it is a specialist business, and so it has to train its recruits, making sure, first of all, that they are of the right material.

Before Sir Edward Henry’s time a candidate had only to fulfil a medical qualification and a test of character, and then, after a few weeks’ drill at Wellington Barracks and a few days’ watching the procedure in a police court, he was turned out into the street to get on as best he could. A veteran detective officer told me how he was treated twenty years ago.

“I was pretty raw,” he said. “I came straight out of a Bedfordshire village, and was boarded out at a sergeant’s house. He put fourteen of us in a back room with a tiny window, and charged us 14s. 9d. a week out of our pay of 15s. The food! I should smile. In case we overdid our eating, meals were never placed on the table until just before we had to parade at Wellington Barracks for drill.

“Then we were sent to the old Worship Street Court. We were glad enough at last to get out on the streets for a breath of air with all our troubles before us. The very first day, I was called on to arrest one of a gang of men in Whitechapel. His friends had knives, and they threatened to ‘lay me out’ if I touched him. I didn’t know whether I was justified, but I drew my truncheon and swore I’d brain the first man who came near me. But I was in a cold sweat all the time. They didn’t coddle us in those days.”

That was the old system. The wonder is that the police did so well. But now all that is changed. A policeman is prepared for his responsibilities by a thorough course of training, as scientific in its way as that of a doctor, a lawyer, or a school teacher.

Instead of going on his beat redolent of the plough, with a thousand pitfalls before him, the young constable now has a thorough theoretical acquaintance with his duties before ever he dons a helmet. More than that, he has been shrewdly observed for weeks to see whether his temperament is fitted to his calling. If it is not, be he ever so able in other respects, he is of no use as a police officer.

In a big building, hidden away in a back street at Westminster, the embryo policeman learns the first principles of his trade. Peel House, as this school of police is called, was established by the present Commissioner a few years ago, and since then has trained thousands of men.

Always there will be found two or three hundred young men gathered together from the remote corners of the British Isles, being gradually moulded into shape by a corps of instructors under Superintendent Gooding.

They have two characteristics in common—a character without flaw, and a good physique. For the rest, there are all types, with the agricultural labourer predominating—a country-house footman, an Irishman from some tiny village near Kilkenny, a sailor, a clerk, a provincial constable hoping to better himself, and, more raw than the rawest, men from Devonshire, Yorkshire, Wales and Scotland.

It is said that a good Irishman makes the best officer, while perhaps the least teachable is the Londoner. A countryman is fresh clay to the potter’s hands, the Londoner has much to unlearn before he can be taught.

While these men are undergoing their training, they are not uncomfortable. Peel House has all the comforts and conveniences of a big hotel and club. Each man has his own cubicle; there are a billiard-room, a library, gymnasium, shooting gallery, scrupulously kept dining-rooms and kitchens, and, for the primary purpose of the school, a number of class-rooms.

Mr. Gooding holds no light responsibility. His duty is to see that no man leaves the school to be attached to a division who is in the faintest degree lacking in all that goes to make an officer of the Metropolitan Police.

Tactful and sympathetic, a shrewd judge of character, able to discriminate between nervousness and stupidity, a disciplinarian, with a gift of lucid exposition, an organiser, and a man with a fixed belief in the honourable nature of his calling. That is Superintendent Gooding, and his characteristics are reflected in his staff.

As the corps d’élite of the police services of the world, the Metropolitan Police is careful in the selection of its men. Before a candidate is admitted to Peel House he must prove that he is of unblemished good character, be over twenty and under twenty-seven years of age, stand at least 5 ft. 9 ins. in his bare feet, and be of a strong constitution, free from any bodily complaint.

Then he is passed on to the school, which will be his home for at least eight weeks—unless before that time he is shown to be obviously unfit for the service. There he will work from nine in the morning till half-past seven at night, learning the thousand and one laws, written and unwritten, that a policeman has to obey. In cold black and white the curriculum, of which even a summary would occupy many thousand words, looks formidable. But so minutely, so lucidly is everything taught that a man of average intelligence finds no difficulty in grasping it.

Every contingency that a constable may have to face, from dealing with insecure cellar flaps to the best method of stopping a runaway horse, to action in cases of riot, and the privileges of Ambassadors is gone into. Nothing is omitted. And day after day the instructors insist: “Remember, the honour of the service is in your hands; you are to serve, not to harass, the public.”

That is dwelt upon and reiterated until it is indelibly impressed upon the memory of the most dull student.

A candidate begins in the fifth class. He is supplied with an official pocket-book and a thin paper-covered book called “Duty Hints” wherein is set forth, carefully indexed, a mass of concise information as to laws, regulations, addresses of hospitals, and so on. Should he ever, when a fully-fledged constable, be in a difficulty he has but to refer to his “Duty Hints” to have his course made clear. It is, in fact, a precis of the “Instruction Book,” which deals with everything a police officer should know and be.

He is told the difference between a beat and a fixed point. He is shown how to make a report, and warned of the perils of making erasures or tearing leaves from his pocket-book. The unobtrusive marks to be placed on windows, doors, walls, shutters, and padlocks so that he shall know if they have been disturbed are made clear to him. He is told what to do should there be a sudden death in the street, should the roadway subside, should a street collision occur, should a gas explosion occur, should he be assaulted. He is initiated into the mysteries of the Dogs Act, the Highways Act, the Vagrancy Act, the Aliens Act, the Lottery Act, the Licensing Act, the Larceny Act, the Motor-Car Acts, the Locomotive Acts, the Children’s Act, and others.

Nor is he merely crammed with these things. He has to know them, to be able to make a plain report, to answer an unexpected question.

As he passes upwards to the first class his instructor reports as to his progress and prospects of becoming an efficient police officer. It is a tedious process, this hammering raw countrymen—for most of the candidates are from the country—into serviceable policemen. Yet it is worth it.

Very craftily a candidate is instilled with the self-reliance and confidence so necessary in a police officer. He is not bullied or badgered. The staff patiently discriminate between nervousness and stupidity. The ordeal of giving evidence for the first time, for instance, is feared by a raw countryman, and for that reason a practical object-lesson is given to the senior classes at Peel House once a week.

Three of the instructors play the part of shopkeeper, thief, and constable. Little strain is put on the imagination of the men. They see everything for themselves, from the actual robbery to the procedure at police station and police court. In quiet, level tones Mr. Gooding gives the reason for every action taken. Then the men are called upon, one by one, to take charge of the case. Mr. Gooding explains:

“Now take hold of your prisoner. No, no, you must not use ju-jitsu except in self-defence. Take hold of your man firmly, so that he is in custody. That’s it. Bring him to the station. You will let him stand by the dock and outside. In no circumstances must a person be put in the dock unless he is violent. Now I am the inspector on duty. What is this?”

Candidate: “At 2.40 this afternoon, Sir, I was on duty in the Strand, when I heard loud cries of ‘Stop thief!’ I saw this man running towards me, closely followed by prosecutor. I stopped him till prosecutor came up, who said (referring to official pocket-book): ‘This man has stolen a gent’s gold wristlet watch from my shop 1,009 Strand. I wish to charge him.’ The prisoner then said: ‘This is monstrous. I really must protest.’ I then took him into custody and brought him here, Sir.”

Mr. Gooding (suddenly): “Suppose he had been a well-dressed man and had said, ‘You’re a fool, constable, I am Lord So-and-So, and I shall report you to the Commissioner for this stupid insolence’?”

Candidate: “I should have still brought him to the station, Sir.”

Mr. Gooding: “Why did you refer to your pocket-book for what he said? Couldn’t you remember it?”

Candidate: “Yes, Sir, but it is necessary to give the exact words as far as possible. I am not to put my own construction on what is said.”

So the case goes on, with now and again a little lecture in the law of evidence or the police regulations.

“Remember, the only evidence you may give is as to the prisoner’s actions, your own actions, things said by the prisoner or in the prisoner’s presence—not things heard. In a court you swear to speak the whole truth—all you know in favour of, as well as against, a prisoner. It matters not a jot to you whether a man is convicted or discharged. You are not to judge. Every person whom you have to take into charge must be considered as innocent, and is innocent in the eyes of the law, until proved guilty. Don’t forget that.”

After which the prisoner is searched, makes some remarks, and the charge sheet is signed. Then there comes another little hint—one of vast significance in view of the misapprehensions of many of the public of the police system.

“You must never take your own prisoner to the cells unless directly ordered to. A constable in reserve will see to that. A man may bear you ill-will and may assault you in the corridor or he may say that you have assaulted him. If you only bring him to the station such a charge can be easily refuted.”

It is in this manner that the constable is shown not only the purpose of the regulations but how easily a little thing may trip him up.

Following the charge-room procedure, the case is brought before a magistrate. Each man is warned to state exactly what took place. The evidence is the same as at the station, but, in addition, the result of the search has to be stated, and what the prisoner said on being charged.

A great trap this last. Many of the men omit it altogether, and again and again the importance it might have as bearing on the guilt or innocence of the accused is pointed out. But always the instructors are kindly, forbearing, tactful. A man blunders.

“Perhaps you feel a bit nervous,” says Mr. Gooding. “Go to the other end of the room. The rest of the class look this way. Now.”

And so the candidate gets through, without the disturbing effect of twenty or thirty pairs of eyes fixed on him.

I cannot refrain from emphasising the manner in which the relations between police and public are dealt with during the training—a matter of greater importance, to my mind, than anything else taught in Peel House. A course of lectures is interspersed with lessons and drill on, among others, the following subjects:

Truthfulness, Civility,
Command of temper,
Inquiries by public,
Complaints by public,
Constable to readily give his number on request,
Tact, Discretion, Forbearance,
Avoidance of slang terms,
Necessity of cultivating power of observation,
Liberty of the subject (unnecessary interference, etc.),
Offences against discipline (drunkenness, drinking on duty, etc.)

To familiarise the men with the surroundings, they are taken sometimes to a real police court while a magistrate is not sitting, and lectured on the surroundings. Everything is done with the idea of wearing away their rough edges, of smoothing the path for them when they should come to have only their own knowledge to rely on. All that takes place at Peel House is aimed to that end. There are classes on such subjects as reading, writing, grammar, composition, the use of maps, drawing plans. There is foot drill, Swedish drill, revolver practice, and ambulance classes—all these in addition to an acquaintance with police law and the routine work of the force.

As they progress they are taken to the Black Museum at Scotland Yard, where they are given a practical demonstration of the kind of tools criminals use—from scientific and complicated oxygen and acetylene apparatus, used to break into safes, to the simple but efficacious walking-stick to which may be attached a bird-limed piece of wood for lifting coins off a shelf behind a shop or public-house counter.

So for eight weeks the candidate is taught the manner of work he will have to perform. He is given every opportunity to prove himself capable, but at any time he may be courteously told that he is not fitted for the work; 15 or 20 per cent. of the candidates are rejected for one reason or another before their term is over.

But, thorough as the training is, no constable is considered fully qualified when he is drafted from Peel House to a division. Tuition, both theoretical and practical, still goes on while he is a unit in the station. He goes out with an older man to see how things are done, to learn his “beat” or “patrol.” There is a class-room at the big police stations where his education is carried on. For a period too, he must attend an L.C.C. evening school. And at last he becomes a unit ranked efficient in the critical and criticised blue-coated army of which he is a member.


Peel House during the war has been temporarily converted into a club for overseas soldiers.

Office clerk.

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