31 August 1888
The retirement of Mr. James Monro, C.C., from the Metropolitan Police, gazetted on Tuesday evening, must, we fear, be regarded as an outward and visible sign of the general discontent, well known to have been growing of late throughout the body of which Mr. Monro was one of the most distinguished chiefs. The late head of the Criminal Investigation Department is a man of great ability and wide experience, and though he has not held the position for any great length of time he has managed to render very valuable service to the public. He has been greatly respected and trusted by his men, and his loss at Scotland Yard it is universally felt will be very difficult to make good.
It is possible that Mr. Monro may have had more than one reason for his resignation; but within the Metropolitan Police there is only one reason assigned, and it is generally believed to be entirely due to friction with the Chief Commissioner. When the Criminal Investigation Department was first organized Mr. Howard Vincent was put at the head of it, practically unfettered by any control save that of the Home Secretary. He was second only to the Chief Commissioner, and was empowered to correspond directly with the Home Office. Sir Edmund Henderson fell in very readily with this arrangement, and he and the director of the Criminal Investigation department worked together very amicably and smoothly virtually as two Commissioners. When Mr. Vincent retired and Mr. Monro took over his functions as an actual Commissioner the same working arrangement prevailed. The new head of the department, like his predecessor, was, of course, accustomed to consult his fellow chiefs when occasion required it, but could and did if he chose to treat directly with the Home Office, and take his own course, and as before the arrangement worked with perfect smoothness and satisfaction. The new Chief Commissioner came, however, to his post evidently strong in the conviction that the whole police system needed complete overhauling and rearranging. His subordinates cordially recognised his great ability as an administrator, his boundless energy, his high character, and the chivalrous readiness he has always shown to stand by his men whenever and wherever he believes they are right. But they also say that he is a soldier fresh from military command, and of a decidedly martinet type. When he came to Scotland Yard he soon made it felt that there, as in the tented field, everything and everybody must be subordinate, and must act only under the general in charge. Mr. Monro was expected to fall into line, and to march at the word of command. With special abilities for his work, special experience, and such success as had obtained for him distinction from the Queen, this he naturally resented. The result was friction and growing irritation, and it is said that the immediate occasion of his retirement was that Sir Charles Warren distinctly snubbed him before the superintendents of the force. This is a plain statement made by those who are in the best position to know the facts of the matter, and they affirm, moreover, that this is fairly illustrative of the whole course of action by the Chief Commissioner ever since he took office. He has undoubtedly shown himself a strong and an upright man, but all his ideas of government and discipline are of a strict and rigorous military type. Everything done by the force must be done by him. With the best possible intentions, he rides roughshod over everybody's feelings and susceptibilities, and some of his oldest and ablest superintendents feel themselves under a military despotism quite new to their experience. Every detail of the service has been upset, and they are in continual receipt of "Orders" and circulars, the study and carrying out of which they find add very greatly to their work and anxiety. All sorts of petty details of the service, formerly left very much to the direction of the officers, are made the subject of stringent and minute instructions. No doubt this is felt to be the more irksome and vexatious from the fact that by general consent the late Chief Commissioner was somewhat easy going.
This sort of thing by itself would probably not, however, have given rise to any very grave dissatisfaction. But there is combined with it another ground of complaint which has done much to prevent Sir Charles Warren obtaining to that popularity with his chief officers to which his personal merits undoubtedly entitle him. Formerly there was no official rank between that of Commissioner and Superintendent. In 1869, however, four District Superintendents were appointed, each of whom was supposed to have a sort of general supervision over so many districts. It was pretty patent to everybody that the District superintendent was the fifth wheel in the coach. The office was wholly unnecessary, and was generally recognised merely as a means of enabling four of the superintendents to take a step up in the world, and so to make room for the promotion of four chief inspectors. So needless were these new posts that as they became vacant in course of time Sir Edmund Henderson did not fill them up. Sir Charles Warren, however, has practically filled up these vacancies by the appointment of four "chief constables," to which appointment he has added two more under the designation of assistant chief constables. All these places have been made for military men who have been brought in from outside and put over the heads of old and tried officers of the force, who as a matter of course resent it as an injustice. One of these newly appointed officials has been put in receipt of a fairly good income as Instructor of Police Recruits, and is said to have had no experience whatever of policemanship. Moreover, as a further illustration of the extent to which the military spirit is now dominant in the metropolitan force, it is complained that almost all the recruits now taken into the service are army reserve men. Thus from above and from below the military element is rapidly being infused into that which always has been, and which undoubtedly ought to remain, purely a civil force. This is quite a new departure, and as time goes on and the police force becomes more and more composed of men who have gone through short service in the army, and more and more permeated by military ideas and controlled by military methods, it is predicted that the hitherto satisfactory relations between the police and the general public must inevitably undergo a serious change. Many of the best officers of the force with whom it has been a valued tradition that the police are the servants and not the masters of the public, and who have always made it a point of great importance that the force should stand well with the people of London, have been vexed and irritated to find themselves brought into conflicts which, though undoubtedly necessary under the circumstances, would have been avoided by a greater exercise of discretion and tact.
It must be understood that we are not intending to endorse all this. We are merely giving expression to what, after no little inquiry, we find to be the feeling of the principal officers of the Metropolitan Police; while as to the rank and file, they are equally emphatic in their denunciation of the rigour with which Sir Charles Warren comes down upon them fir breaches of discipline. There is one point upon which the wisdom of the new Chief Commissioner's action seems to be condemned with singular unanimity by both officers and men. It is well known that for any policeman, to take a glass of beer when on duty without the permission of his sergeant is a breach of rule. It has hitherto been treated, however, pretty much on the merits of each case. Sometimes a reprimand or a warning has been sufficient for a first offense, to be followed for a second by a fine perhaps of five shillings. Sir Charles Warren has laid down the rule, to be applied with inexorable severity, that any man taking "refreshment" contrary to rule is to be reduced in grade for six months, and if a first class constable for a period of two years. This not only knocks off a serious amount from the weekly pay, but if at any time during the punishment the man should become entitled to pension, it reduces the amount of his pension perpetually. Of course, it may be said with great truth that for a policeman to be found drinking while on duty is a grave offence, and undoubtedly it is an offence closely allied with treating and corruption. On the other hand, it may sometimes be a venal, if not an excusable, thing for a man after a long spell of wearisome duty to take a glass of beer with or without the leave of his sergeant. It must obviously depend a good deal upon the circumstances. At all events, it is with the laws of a police force very much as it is with the laws of a community - they can only work satisfactorily when those upon whom they are imposed feel that the penalty is reasonably commensurate with the gravity of the offence. In this case, both officers and men regard the punishment as unduly severe, and the popularity of the Chief Commissioner has been much impaired by it. Nobody denies that Sir Charles Warren has splendid gifts, or that he is actuated by a lofty ideal of duty, and in many ways his men admire and respect him; but he is every inch a soldier, and he is beyond all question working great mischief in the force by forgetting that it is a civil and not a military body with which he has to deal, and that the autocratic high handed bearing which may be appropriate enough for the army may be wholly inappropriate for the police.