By the early 1850s the Government was considering extending policing on a national scale. Many towns and over half the English counties had no police force, in most cases owing to the costs involved.
A series of riots in northern towns such as Wigan and Blackburn in 1853 caused much public concern about the inadequacy of local policing.
These concerns were deepened by the fact that most of Britain's armed forces were currently engaged in the Crimean campaigns, and that the public had limited means of protection.
Responding to this disquiet, Parliament passed the County and Borough Police Act in 1856 which made policing compulsory throughout England and Wales and made provision for Treasury assistance to local authorities.
The Act also established a central inspectorate of constabulary to report regularly to the Home Secretary on the efficiency of each police force. A parallel Act for Scotland was passed in 1857.
Decline in crime
Organised policing quickly made an impact and from 1850 on there was a general decline in street crime such as pickpocketing and mugging.
Some of the toughest urban areas were placed under regular patrol, and the role of the police was particularly appreciated in poorer areas where shopkeepers, landlords and skilled workers were exposed to criminal behaviour.
By 1900, the number of police in England, Wales and Scotland totalled 46,800 working in 243 separate forces.
The Police Act of 1946 began the process of merging smaller town forces with county constabularies, leaving 117 forces.
In the interests of greater efficiency this process was taken further by the 1964 Police Act which reduced the number of forces to 47 in England and Wales, and 20 in Scotland.