Back in 1952, Walsall had the distinction of having one of the oldest police forces in the country. Constables were regularly appointed here as far back as the days of the Stuart Kings. And long before Sir Robert Peel introduced his new police force (the ‘peelers’ or ‘bobbies’), there were regular “police” patrols in Walsall. In 1811 the town was divided into divisions and beats, watch houses were opened on each beat and there was a thorough system of watch and ward.
Walsall Police were first established as a “modern” force in the town in 1832, because of the trouble expected at the approaching election. This was a sensible precaution given that the first election under the Reform Act (1832) was remembered for ‘the grave riots, confusion, and destruction of property which then took place’.
Strange as it may seem, in the early 1950s the town was still divided into divisions and beats and there were still watch houses provided, although they were then known as police boxes. However, by that time there was change in the air. The “Team” system was to be adopted locally. More radio cars would be provided, and, although many of the men would still patrol on foot, there would be a much greater degree of mobility and flexibility.
By 1952 Walsall police officers numbered 153, excluding civilian clerks and telephonists. There was also a Women’s Section consisting of 1 Sergeant and 6 Constables. Walsall had employed Policewomen since 1915 and there was no doubt then, as now, that the Policewomen were performing a very useful service.
The Criminal Investigation Department at that time was well equipped and members of the department dealt efficiently with all kinds of crime. In fact, the work of the department had been so effective that over about 20 years, not a single major crime had gone undetected. The Detectives were all highly skilled, specially selected and instructed at Scotland Yard and other training centres. A fingerprint bureau and one of the best equipped photographic studios in the country had also been established in the department. Walsall was also fortunate to have the West Midlands Forensic Science Laboratory only a few miles away.
In those days, as today (albeit a little faster now!) cars and motorcycles were frequently used by thieves and to combat the high-speed criminal it was necessary to have rapid means of communication and transport.
In Walsall the police telephone box and pillar system had been installed, giving telephone points at various strategic places throughout the Borough which were connected by direct line to Police Headquarters in Walsall. Also, any member of the public could use police telephones, free of charge, for calling the police, ambulance or fire brigade. By 1952 the ‘dial 999’ emergency telephone system was also operating in Walsall. But there were no mobile ‘phones!
One of the busiest departments in the early 1950s was the one dealing with traffic and communications. By 1952, an Information Room had been set up and the officer in charge was in constant radio communication with a fleet of fast cars patrolling the Borough 24 hours a day. Since the V.H.F. Wireless Scheme came into operation, many spectacular captures had been made and much good preventive work had been done.
In addition to the Regular Force there was a strong body of Special Constabulary, all of whom were highly trained and skilled part-time voluntary police officers who turned out on special occasions.
But in 1966 huge change came about in local policing when the West Midlands Constabulary was formed, and Walsall Borough Police, together with the Wolverhampton and Dudley forces, ceased to exist as such, being merged within the new organisation. Not long after, Walsall police became ‘E’ Division of the ‘new’ force, and the new Walsall police headquarters in Green Lane was opened.
As a result of the Local Government Act of 1972, which created new Metropolitan Counties and districts, a Metropolitan Police Force was planned to cover the new West Midlands County (Walsall had formerly been in Staffordshire). The new area included all the Urban Districts stretching from Wolverhampton in the North to Coventry in the South.
On 1 April 1974, policing in Walsall was taken over by the new West Midlands Police, and a new high-speed age of county-wide law enforcement had arrived. The Metropolitan Borough of Walsall was covered by ‘H’ division of the new force, headquartered in Green Lane. By 1976, there were two Sub-Divisional Stations at John Street, Willenhall and Anchor Road, Aldridge plus three Section Stations at Darlaston, Bloxwich and Brownhills. HQ of the West Midlands Police was, and remains, Lloyd House on Colmore Circus Queensway in Birmingham.
Today, the eras of the ‘clip round the ear’ delivered to yobs by the respected bobby on the beat, or the roar of a speeding Ford Cortina or Audi Quattro in pursuit of brutal blaggers, have long gone, and the police box has taken up residence in the hearts of sci-fi fans as a Timelord’s transportation.
But Walsall’s police are still out there, albeit often buried under piles of red tape and paperwork, and suffering ill-considered government cuts, patrolling the mean streets of our borough and doing in the digital age what is in many ways a much more high-tech, but also much more dangerous, job than their predecessors of the days of ‘Dixon of Dock Green’ and ‘Gene Hunt’. These days, you can even find them hanging out on Twitter! This article is dedicated to them.