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Invisible Men


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Contents List of Tables Acknowledgments List of Abbreviations Introduction: Invisible Men 1. Putting on the Uniform 2. Multifarious Duties 3. Discipline and Defaulters 4. Factions and Friendships 5. Police Unions and Federations 6. The Police and the Public: Animosity 7. The Police and the Public: Fraternizing 8. The Police and the Public: Women 9. Domestic Life 10. Taking off the Uniform Conclusion Appendix: Chief Constables in Birmingham, Liverpool, and Manchester, 1900-1939 Bibliography Index

About the Author

Joanne Klein is Associate Professor of History at Boise State University, Boise, Idaho.


This book is greatly to be welcomed. Based on research from little-known provincial police archives, it provides a major addition to our knowledge of working-class life and work in general, and the life and work of the English police officer in particular. It explores police relations with the public, the varied arrangements of the Bobby's domestic life, and the vicissitudes of his working life from the moment that he first put his uniform on, to when he finally took it off as a result of death, dismissal, resignation or retirement. The book is just what good history should be - well-researched, persuasively argued and a pleasure to read. This is an excellent book. It is well-written and extremely interesting, filling a gap in an historical literature, which is dominated by official and institutional perspectives, by illuminating the daily and working lives of constables. The 'discovery' of the ordinary policeman is one of the most significant recent developments in police history. There used to be a tendency, especially in Marxist treatments of the subject, to dismiss individual constables as mindless ciphers, who acted simply on the prejudices of their bourgeois paymasters. Following the more subtle interpretations of Carolyn Steedman and Clive Emsley, however, a number of scholars have explored in detail the origins, experiences and attitudes of ordinary policemen. These studies have unearthed much about everyday police work, while (most importantly) asserting the development of an independent, working-class police sub-culture. Joanne Klein's work fits very much into this new mould of police history and Invisible Men builds on her previous publications to offer an impressively comprehensive account of constables in Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham in the early twentieth century. Working from three police archives, Klein manages the inevitable deficiencies in each series of records very effectively, drawing on a wide variety of material, including chief constables' reports, personnel files and watch committee minutes, in addition to the Police Review and other specialist publications. After a brief introduction, she devotes the opening chapters to the basic dynamics of police work, covering recruitment, duties, discipline, internal relations and unionisation. Recruits were ordinary working-class men, many of whom failed to withstand the rigours of what they had previously assumed was a 'soft' job. They had an enormous range of duties to perform, especially after the First World War when traffic duties expanded and the installation of telephones left constables inundated with often frivolous complaints from the public. Furthermore, they had to work within a tight disciplinary regime, intolerant not only of lateness and insubordination, but also of such precious enjoyments as a cigarette, beer or idle chat. Though Klein stresses that constables generally got on well together, forming a fairly cohesive and loyal unit, she also dissects acute generational divisions within the forces, especially after the 1919 Police Act, when more experienced constables often lost out to younger, better-educated men in competition for promotion. She goes on to narrate the struggles over unionisation in the 1910s, charting the different reactions of her chosen forces (striking Liverpool contrasting nicely with quiescent Manchester) and the men's continuing struggle to voice their grievances in the inter-war period under the new Police Federation. A trilogy of chapters follows dealing with police-public relations, exploring both bitter and cordial aspects of interaction with a populace fractured by class and gender. The inter-war period saw an amelioration of relations between the police and working classes, thanks largely to the continuing decline of popular alcohol consumption; at the same time, complaints from the more affluent multiplied, reflecting the unprecedented (and unwelcome) police attention they were receiving as motorists. Klein finds plenty of constables engaged in agreeable conversation with shopkeepers and working-class locals, and some even turned a blind eye to customary thefts, including 'perks' taken from the Liverpool docks. Most perceptive is her recognition that police work entailed considerable, though tightly regulated, interaction with women. Several men were sacked for their amorous advances, even though they were not always unwelcome, and most constables maintained the cautious, highly discretionary approach to prostitutes they inherited from the Victorian period. The closing sections deal with the personal lives of policemen and how their careers came to a close. While senior officers preferred not to pry too closely into purely private matters, constables nevertheless experienced considerable regulation of their personal lives: girls to be married were scrutinised, as were proposed residences, and wives were forbidden from working. While most relations were amicable, complaints about noise, children's behaviour or cleanliness could also expose a constable's relations with his neighbours to official investigation. Furthermore, records reveal the flexible marital situations some constables negotiated, including separation agreements, covert adultery and a few falsely claiming to be single in order to keep courting. While some cases might end in the sack, those who failed to reach their pension largely grew tired of the job, thinking they could do better in a trade. While a few died of accident, illness or suicide, most left voluntarily, generally at times of economic promise and before they had served much more than twelve years in the force (the pension acting as a major incentive to stay thereafter). There is much to recommend this study, not least the wealth of detail Klein packs in. Useful nuggets reward a wide variety of interests, especially in those sections concerning private life and women (for example the discussion of pre-marital sex and abortifacients, pp. 230-31), demonstrating that police records are not just for police historians. This is, though, overwhelmingly a book about the police. Klein argues throughout that constables were very much of the working class, tending perhaps to understate the peculiarities of their position - the scope of officer supervision to which they were subject and the surveillance they exercised over the rest of the working classes - which she amply documents. Police historians will be grateful for such a thorough study, especially of the twentieth century; yet not having departed much from the police archives, Klein has little to say on adjacent subjects, such as crime or the social effects of policing. Her discussion of relations with the working classes, much of which is very useful, has a tendency to become a little lop-sided; the discussion of policing strikes (pp. 183-87) dwells more on police resentment of such duties than on how they influenced ordinary people's perceptions of constables in other contexts. Despite these reservations, Invisible Men ably achieves its goal of exposing the experiences and concerns of police constables in this period. Anyone interested in the history of urban policing should consider it an attractive addition to their book shelves. Invisible Men ably achieves its goal of exposing the experiences and concerns of police constables in this period. Anyone interested in the history of urban policing should consider it an attractive addition to their book shelves. In recent decades, historians have examined British police officers in many ways: as defenders of an increasingly civilized social order, as "blue locusts" imposing bourgeois standards on the poor, as symbols of a particularly British national identity, and, more recently, as workers. There are echoes of all these perspectives in Joanne Klein's well-researched and engaging study of early twentieth-century policing in three British cities. Her emphasis, however, is on the policeman as a man (at a time when the overwhelming majority were, in fact, male), and she effectively reconstructs the daily lives of ordinary constables whose job "brought the criminal justice system and working-class culture together in unexpected ways" (2). There are several recurrent themes. Klein describes a common police culture, while also emphasizing the impact of individual personalities, such as the chief constables who imposed diverse disciplinary regimes on the men they supervised. More generally, the book highlights how constables personally negotiated the tensions between policing ideals as expressed in manuals and the real circumstances on their beats. Alongside a deeply felt police camaraderie, Klein finds a "legion of disharmonies" (110) caused by differences in age, rank, education, religion, and temperament. She stresses the effects of the 1919 Police Act, which not only improved conditions but also increased recruitment requirements, resulting, among other things, in "generational conflicts" (114). Another chronic tension involved money, as watch committees' parsimonious tendencies to "put economy before efficiency" (24) undermined the quality of everything from training to uniforms. Such strains grew as the extent and complexity of police duties increased. Constables learned their jobs "on their feet" (24). Soon disabused of the common working-class opinion that policing was "easy" work, they found it difficult to live up to more idealized notions of their profession. "The police constable who carried out his duties without question," Klein notes, "existed only in fiction and police instruction books" (72). Daily practice (and colleagues' advice) taught them not only how to do their jobs but also how to bend the rules. Neglect of duties made up the bulk of disciplinary cases, even if the influence of alcohol declined dramatically throughout this period. Other constables were reprimanded for excessive zeal, having sought to "enforce laws that did not exist but which they thought should exist" or distribute "rough justice" (95). As Klein shows, officers walked not only their beats but also a fine discretionary line between strictness and generosity. The difficulties were particularly acute when suppressing behavior-such as street betting-that most people did not even see as "criminal" and that offered temptations for bribery and corruption. A key issue-which takes up three of the book's ten main chapters-concerns police relationships with the public. These were characterized by patterns of conflict and comity that varied by class and gender. The working classes were most likely to respond to police interference with violence, while the middle and upper classes were more prone to be "patronizing" and send letters of complaint. Klein sees a general improvement in policeand-public interactions, noting an increased civilian willingness to assist constables in trouble and, more generally, to cooperate with investigations. Constables had friendly relations with the public through gossip, assistance, favors, perks, and charity. Such contacts show, Klein argues, that constables "remained part of the working-class community" (221). One tricky issue, however, involved police relationships with women, which took both consensual and coercive forms. One of the book's most interesting aspects concerns the multifaceted relationship between policing and new transportation and communication technologies, particularly the growth of motoring and the expanding use of the telephone. Both sorts of tasks-whether directing traffic and ticketing motorists or responding to telephone requests for assistance with a myriad of (often petty) problems-not only interfered with what officers saw as their main duty (i.e., fighting crime) but also contributed to tensions between police and public: notably, the growth of motoring meant the "higher classes" had more encounters with (working-class) police officers. Klein's focus on provincial cities is indeed a valuable, refreshing corrective to a historiographical tendency to view policing in Britain chiefly through the prism of London; however, while one can applaud the desire to emphasize the distinctive character of policing in Birmingham, Liverpool, and Manchester, greater engagement with events in (and the existing literature on) the capital would have enabled more direct comparison and improved clarity about the revisionist potential these other contexts offer. As Britain's largest and most high-profile force, London's Metropolitan Police surely disproportionately influenced the image and practice of British policing. The late 1920s, for example, saw several high-profile scandals in the nation's capital, involving topics such as street offenses, interrogation procedures, and corruption. The results were not only heated press and political debates but also parliamentary investigations, which, while briefly referred to, are not contextualized. The introduction of female police (or at least the intense debate around the issue) is also curiously absent from an otherwise comprehensive analysis of the police issues of the time. Police relations with foreigners or ethnic minorities are only mentioned in passing, which is surprising given that in all three urban areas-particularly Liverpool-such groups would have been a significant presence. Nonetheless, this is a lively and remarkable book. If one of Klein's goals was to break down the public's view of the police (perhaps held as much now as then) as a "monolithic entity" (110), she has succeeded magnificently by offering a complex portrait of how everyday policing was experienced as a mixture of boredom, excitement, violence, humor, tragedy, and, at times, absurdity. In a strikingly original chapter, the extensive institutional supervision to which constables were subjected even allows Klein to provide insight into police officers' domestic lives. An effective combination of detailed research and clear writing, Invisible Men joins the ranks of the must-read books about British policing. ...this is a lively and remarkable book. If one of Klein's goals was to break down the public's view of the police (perhaps held as much now as then) as a "monolithic entity" (110), she has succeeded magnificently by offering a complex portrait of how everyday policing was experienced as a mixture of boredom, excitement, violence, humor, tragedy, and, at times, absurdity. In a strikingly original chapter, the extensive institutional supervision to which constables were subjected even allows Klein to provide insight into police officers' domestic lives. An effective combination of detailed research and clear writing, Invisible Men joins the ranks of the must-read books about British policing. Dans la florissante production en histoire des forces de l'ordre, trois ages, non strictement chronologiques, peuvent etre distingues : l'approche institutionnelle aurait ete completee par l'attention aux metiers de police, potentiellement revelateurs des conditions d'existence des milieux populaires et, plus generalement, d'un ordre social saisi " par le bas ". Le livre de Joanne Klein releve incontestablement de cette derniere approche. Il s'inscrit, sans que l'auteure le revendique, dans une histoire du quotidien dont Thomas Lindenberger a montre qu'elle etait feconde pour rendre compte de l'activite des forces de l'ordre. Ce tournant " comprehensif " d'une histoire de la police longtemps marquee par les approches " critiques ", se retrouve dans la problematique de l'ouvrage. A rebours des conclusions de Mike Brogden ou Barbara Weinberger, l'auteure demontre que les Police Constables (agents de police subalternes, l'equivalent des " gardiens de la paix " francais) " faisaient partie integrante de la vie de la classe ouvriere " (p. 2) dont ils etaient issus et dont ils ne s'etaient pas detaches. L'ouvrage est tres convaincant dans son analyse des candidatures, du recrutement et de l'entree dans le metier (chapitre 1). La lente professionnalisation (droit a retraite en 1890, Police Act de 1919, etc.) attirait des candidats en nombre, sans que leurs qualites physiques, morales ou scolaires ne permettent d'effectuer une veritable selection, hormis dans les periodes de crise de l'emploi. Le travail de l'institution visait donc autant la discipline de ces recrues (chapitre 3) que celle des milieux dont ils etaient issus. Les agents continuaient d'ailleurs d'entretenir avec ces derniers des echanges nombreux, fondes sur de necessaires accommodements face a des textes dont les " entrepreneurs de morale " (instituteurs et directeurs d'ecole notamment) regrettaient qu'ils ne fussent pas plus severement appliques (en matiere de consommation de tabac par les jeunes adolescents, d'alcoolisation). De leur cote, les policiers assignes a un travail de rondes pedestres etaient soumis a une intense surveillance hierarchique qui les obligeait a rendre compte de chacune de leurs pauses ainsi que des temps consacres a la redaction des rapports : le developpement, entre-deux-guerres, de l'usage du telephone et des guerites de police (police boxes) permit d'effectuer ce controle en temps reel (chapitre 2). Le travail de nuit, massivement repandu (deux tiers des patrouilles selon l'auteure, p. 46), permettait de desserrer des contraintes largement contournees. En matiere de pratiques et de culture professionnelles, les conclusions de Joanne Klein sont desormais bien etablies. L'originalite de l'ouvrage reside dans les fenetres ouvertes sur la vie privee des Police Constables (chapitre 9) et dans une approche genree particulierement heuristique. Ainsi, " les policiers avaient plus que d'autres hommes la possibilite de frequenter des femmes ", mais ils risquaient beaucoup en la matiere (p. 223). Les policiers reconnus coupables de violences sexuelles ou de harcelement etaient quasi systematiquement renvoyes, meme quand leurs victimes etaient des prostituees. Ces dernieres n'hesitaient d'ailleurs pas a faire appel a la police pour les proteger d'autres hommes. Cet apport d'une enquete locale tres minutieuse est au nombre de ceux qui appellent des prolongements geographiques et chronologiques. Joanne Klein is eager to point out that her book "Invisible Men" is not "a history of police headquarters, criminal investigation departments, and specialized units, or an exploration of government criminal justice policies and legislation" (p. 1). Rather, Klein is interested in the work and domestic lives of police constables in Liverpool, Manchester, and Birmingham between 1900 and 1939. She explores how ordinary working-class men became policemen. "Due to force age minimums, applicants had held jobs for five to ten years already and so were working class through their work experience as well as by upbringing. Policing was usually a second or third job" (p. 14), she concludes. Klein's book displays a formidable sense for the difficulties and challenges faced by the new constables: the impertinence of senior officers intruding into private and family lives; the strict but often confusing and rather abstract rules and instructions; the need to explore the meaning of 'good police work' by oneself. "Probationers found it challenging to endure supervision from sergeants and other senior officers. Small problems turned into large ones if they over-reacted to inquiries about their work. [...] But what could seem like a harmless wisecrack elsewhere could get a man disciplined for insubordination, particularly if said in front of witnesses" (p. 31). Klein discusses the need to balance multifarious duties, often rather dull ones, and to decide how to spend finite working hours and limited energy. It was not always easy to know what was expected by senior officers and, more generally, what was considered good judgment and adequate police work. Constables had to balance public opinion, official requirements and their own personal notions of justice. Klein dedicates some convincing chapters to the interaction among policemen, their networks of friendship, patronage and factions and, more importantly, the interaction between the police and the public. She is not only concerned with mutual animosities, but also sensitive to different modes of fraternization. Especially after World War I, Klein writes, one can witness civilians offering their assistance to one policeman or another, for example in arresting a drunk rough. The 1920s and 1930s were marked by two developments: decreasing working class-hostility towards the police on the one hand, and increased middle class-animosities on the other. In her well-executed analysis of police-public-relations, Klein puts an emphasis on the interaction between policemen and women: "Women created a particular strain between the strong male culture fostered in police forces which reinforced working-class male chauvinism and force expectations that men behave with the utmost civility. This culture created a tendency to treat women as subordinate at the same time that it created indignation when senior officers meddled in courtships and other consensual relationships. Forces tried to restrict contact with women as much as possible, realizing that the police image was particularly vulnerable when it came to how policemen treated women" (p.222). This work is an important contribution to an underresearched period in the history of English policing and to the history of working-class culture in general and is built on previously neglected resources from police archives in England's three principal provincial cities. The book is well structured, allowing the reader to follow the careers of the constables from entry to the force, through the experience of learning the ropes; their experience of discipline; the camaraderie, conflict, and cooperation that created a body of working men aware of their common interest; their relations to the public; their domestic lives; and ultimately to their final career trajectories. Aspects of this story are well known, such as the process of unionization and the formation of the Police Federation between the 1890s and 1919, but even these elements are illuminated with new detail on the factionalism, favoritism, and unevenness of experience within and between police forces and the limited effect the Federation had in some forces (110-166). Joanne Klein also has important things to say about generational change within the organization, with the Police Acts of 1890 and 1919 transforming policing from a casual working-class job into a skilled occupation with an educated and disciplined workforce but at the same time erecting barriers between different generations of policemen with different abilities and approaches (8-9, 114-121). Nonetheless, despite the improvement in the quality of constables, it is central to Klein's argument that police forces remained resolutely working class in character, with all police officers up to chief superintendent, and even some chief constables, beginning their careers as officers on the beat (4-5, Appendix). The idea of a working-class police force has considerable implications for the idea that the police represent a body for the "social control" of the working class by the bourgeoisie, given that not only were the police themselves drawn from the working class but they also enforced working-class norms on the population they policed and within their own organizations (222-284). If the police received rough treatment from some elements of the working class, many more working-class men still saw policing as an acceptable opportunity for good employment, and they were often encouraged by their families to apply for the force (167-196, 11). Indeed, Klein argues that it was actually the fact that policemen were drawn from the working class that made them able to interact with the public because they shared a common culture and therefore common values (42). The police became somewhat distanced from the public, it is argued, not because they lost their class identity or because of any fundamental and irreconcilable hostility from the working class but because of the changes to their role wrought by the advance of technology between the two world wars, which increasingly took men off the beat and isolated them from the regular interactions that had marked out earlier forms of policing (61-71).

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