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Coronavirus (COVID-19): the policing response and what you need to know

History of the Force

Avon and Somerset Police as we know it today formed in 1974 from the merger of the former Somerset and Bath Constabulary with the Bristol police force and the Staple Hill division of Gloucestershire Constabulary.

However policing in the Avon and Somerset force area dates back more than 175 years, when Bath and Bristol were among the first cities in the country to form their own police forces.

In 1835 the Municipal Corporation Act gave towns and cities the power to create their own professional police forces.

Bath Constabulary was the first to form in 1836, followed later the same year by Bristol. Bridgwater and Chard were created in 1839 and by 1940 had become part of the Somerset Constabulary.

The original Bristol police officer wore a uniform of a top hat, blue swallow-tailed coat, white dress trousers, cape and greatcoat as he patrolled the streets on foot. He was equipped with a rattle and wooden truncheon – with cutlasses and handcuffs available in case of serious trouble.

In our time

  • 1836 – the old Bristol Guard House was converted into a police station, while three new stations were built, in Bedminster, Brandon Hill and St Philips
  • 1844 – the River Police are formed
  • 1879 – the first River Police Station opens in a converted brigantine hulk
  • 1889 – the Mounted Section is formed
  • 1900 – a purpose-built River Police Station opens alongside Prince Street Bridge
  • 1915 – men are being called up to serve in the First World War and ‘lady clerks’ are employed in the administrative department
  • 1931 – motor patrols are introduced to enforce the Road Traffic Act
  • 1932 – police telephone pillars come into use
  • 1946 – the 999 system is introduced
  • 1946 – specialist units come into force, including CID; the South Western Forensic Science Laboratory; Fingerprint Branch; Special Branch and the Photographic Department
  • 1955 – the River Station at the Grove opened, eventually closing in 1975
  • 1957 – our first police dogs, Kudos and Kylow join up
  • 1968 – personal radios are issued to officers
  • 1986 – the computerisation of the control and major incident rooms

A force of firsts

  • 1916 – Bristol is among the first forces in the country to appoint women police officers
  • 1948 – the first burglar alarm connected directly to police by telephone is installed in Bristol
  • 1966 – we were the first force to set up a Crime Prevention Panel involving residents, business and insurance company representatives
  • 1974 – a victim support scheme was pioneered by the Bristol Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders

View a selection of photos on Flickr collated by our History and Heritage group.

To obtain publications about the history of the force or to enquire about our collection, please contact the History and Heritage group.

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