The Best Police Officer in the Force: Chief Constables and Their Men, 1900-39

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During the early twentieth century, police views shifted on who made the best Chief Constables. In the nineteenth century, most policemen were from the lower working class and not sufficiently educated to rise to the top ranks. As highlighted in previous chapters, forces recruited Chief Constables from the military, the colonial police, and the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC). The passage of the Police Act 1890 granted pensions to policemen, a rare benefit for working-class occupations at that time. This attracted a better quality of policemen with better educations. Constables now could have strong enough credentials to support ambitious goals. By the 1910s, constables began to insist that only career policemen understood policing well enough to lead forces. The Police Act 1919 introduced even higher standards, creating a supply of internal Chief Constable candidates which were eventually relied on exclusively. Complicating this transition were 'clerk constables', men who spent most of their careers behind desks at head-quarters. They might have risen from the ranks but the men who walked the beats viewed them with suspicion. Many policemen insisted that education alone was not enough; only Chief Constables who had 'tackled the rough side of his work' understood the realities of policing. By the 1940s, hiring Chief Constables who had risen through the ranks of British police forces became the new standard.

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