Chief Constables as ‘moral heroes’ and guardians of public morality
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This chapter examines the role of Chief Constables from the late nineteenth century to the early twentieth century in policing behaviour perceived as immoral and the initiatives they employed to enforce the law and tackle low-level offending. It analyzes their relationship with the local community, magistrates’ bench and Watch Committees to examine the extent to which these individuals sought (and were able) to impose their own moral perspectives and values on the local populace as ‘moral guardians of the law’. The chapter begins with a brief prosopographical profile of the personal characteristics and career experience expected of Chief Constables who would serve as such moral figureheads of the local community and their men. In illustration the chapter draws on a case study of the Chief Constable of Plymouth, Joseph Sowerby, who was particularly pro-active in targeting behaviours perceived as immoral such as gambling, drunkenness, prostitution and publishing and promoting indecent literature. It is suggested that he was an early proponent of a form of zero tolerance policing albeit some of the tactics introduced such as new surveillance techniques and the use of agent provocateurs to secure convictions proved controversial.
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