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A new display curated by the West India Committee at the Museum of London Docklands reveals the history of the Thames River Police, the pioneers of preventative policing in London. This display is part of a year-long project by the West India Committee, to uncover the little-known shared heritage of the Caribbean and police services today.
The birth of modern policing in London is often associated with Sir Robert Peel’s founding of the Metropolitan Police in 1829. However, there exists a police force, founded thirty-one years earlier by the West India Committee, which for over two centuries has protected life and property on the river running through the very heart of London.
Originally established to protect the highly prized West Indian goods arriving into the Port of London, the Thames River Police proved that a police force based on the revolutionary method of employing a body of men to prevent crime, rather than simply react to it, worked. Nearly every police force in the world has been influenced by this style of policing, however few know of the Thames Police’s existence.
Using material from the West India Committee’s UNESCO inscribed archive, this display will explore the early years of the Thames River Police, looking at their influence on the local area of Wapping and London as a whole. The global influence of policing in London can be traced through the Metropolitan Police, with whom they were amalgamated in 1839.
Today the Thames River Police are known as the Marine Policing Unit and remain a distinct body within the Metropolitan Police. They are recognised by UNESCO as the longest, continuously serving police force in the world and still operate out of the same site in Wapping as they did in 1798, when they were founded.