Patrolling Winnipeg "according to order" : a social history of policing in a prairie city, 1874-1900

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Kozminski, Megan
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With the founding of the Winnipeg police force in 1874, urban policing commenced in the frontier city. Beginning as a small force of three men, the police force developed alongside the emergent city to become a powerful extension of local government. The purpose of the force was to maintain law and order and policing primarily entailed the surveillance of, and the accumulation of knowledge on, the urban population and environment. Members of the late nineteenth-century force worked closely with local elites, leaders, city council and the broader community to regulate morals offences, the sex trade, property crime and the disorderly activities and behaviour of the city's inhabitants. The various duties performed by officers, the daily hazards of life on the beat, and the challenging circumstances and conditions of life on the force meant that a policeman's shoes were not the easiest to fill. Most policemen, however, successfully upheld the interests of the liberal state on the streets of the city. They did so by enforcing unequal standards of order according to prevailing notions of gender, class, race and ethnicity. The unique social and cultural landscape of the city prompted police work that was discretionary and reactive as members of the force participated in the process of identity formation on the urban frontier. The identification and categorization of the urban populace largely relied on the measurement of "respectability" and reputation; consequently, the police targeted "notorious" urban characters and "usual suspects", thereby contributing to the definition and solidification of the boundary that evolved between local "citizens" and "criminals". Although the anxieties, suspicions, resistance and changing identity of the local population ensured that the policing process remained inherently incomplete, the Winnipeg police force had a powerful and lasting impact upon the social fabric and development of the city. Furthermore, the nature, role and character of the emergent centre's police force represents the distinct experience of urban policing in the prairie west, a testimonial that has heretofore been largely overlooked.