Policing the Great Exhibition 1851

This blog was originally posted in August 2012

The fiasco created by G4S that has resulted in the military and police being called in to ensure security may be a blessing in disguise.  This is not the first time that London has seen a large scale event that has had the potential to threaten the peace.  

In 1851, only 22 years after the creation of the Metropolitan Police, London was the host of the Great Exhibition.  There was considerable trepidation about an influx of vagrants and foreigners to the Exhibition.  The police were increased by 1,000 men and foreign police officers were brought in to identify foreign criminals. 

This was a great opportunity for the ‘new police’ to build on their growing positive reputation and secure legitimacy.  In the end the policing of the event proved to be a great triumph for the Metropolitan Police and in the aftermath of the exhibition there was nothing but praise for the ‘new police’. 

According to the Edinburgh Review in 1852 the organisation of the Metropolitan Police was so good that:
“People begin to think it quite as a matter of course, or one of the ordinary operations of Providence, that they sleep and wake in safety in the midst of hordes of starving plunderers.”    
            (Emsley, 1983: 149)

From what I have seen and read so far the policing of the Olympics, in terms of relationships with the sports fans, has been very positive.  What a contrast from 12 months ago when the police were battling against criminals during inner city disturbances.

I hope that the fact that police officers from across the nation are working to ensure the safety of Olympic athletes and spectators attracts similar positive media coverage.

Published by thebluelocust

Former police superintendent. Current university lecturer, police trainer and Director of Blue Locust Network Ltd

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