Before dealing with the creation of the county force in 1857, it is necessary to go back almost thirty years to 1829, when the Metropolitan Police Force was formed by Sir Robert Peel. This was the first properly organised professional police force in this country responsible for a large district. It is true that, prior to that, various attempts had been made to provide some form of professional law enforcement agencies, such as the Bow Street Runners and the Thames Water Police, and in some of the cities and boroughs a certain number of watchmen. With the passing of the years, however, the need for a properly organised police force became more and more apparent, although at the same time most members of the public did not favour the idea as they thought the police might be used as a political weapon.
Despite all opposition, however, the Metropolitan Police Force was created and commenced duty in 1829. It was a great success from the start: in fact such was its effect upon the criminal element in London that many wrongdoers left hurriedly for the provinces.
The depredations of these refugees from the forces of law and order soon made conditions in other cities and boroughs so much worse than they already were that the authorities in many of these places became eager to have police forces of their own, established on the lines of the Metropolitan Police Force, and in the 1830’s, as a result of various “Lighting and Watching Acts”, many city and borough forces were created. The establishment of efficient police forces in the towns had the effect of sending the law-breakers even further afield and, as a result, the rural districts became the object of their attention.
Policing in county districts in the 1830’s was deplorable, in fact almost non-existent. The law enforcement officers were unpaid parish constables, who were ordinary members of the public nominated to carry out the duty for a certain period. Such persons could evade the duty by providing a substitute and the result was that if a nominee could afford it he would employ someone to do the duty for him. He naturally obtained the cheapest possible labour and the result can well be imagined. This was the state of affairs in rural districts generally throughout the country and things got to such a pitch that in 1839 a Royal Commission was appointed to enquire into the state of law enforcement in rural areas. The result of the findings of this Commission was the passing of the County Police Act, 1839. This Act, although apparently recognising the need for a proper police force in all districts, fell far short of remedying the position. Whilst it gave authority for the magistrates of each county to form a paid professional police force, it did not compel them to do so, instead it permitted them, if they thought fit, to create such a force for either the whole of their county, or for part of it, or if they so desired to create no such force at all. For this reason the Act became known as the “Permissive Act”.