The city in the nineteenth century was often defined as a place of crime: yet from within, the authorities sought to represent crime as something external to it. The presentation of the criminal statistical returns of the English city of Sheffield can be shown to be distorted in several ways, all of which were consistent with the project of rendering the criminal as firmly ‘other’. The town’s returns followed the national requirement of establishing numbers of ‘resident criminals’ and their haunts, but it also went beyond this. Information about residence, ethnicity and literacy was presented in a way that tried to set a boundary between the ‘true’ city and the people in it who were deemed to be committing the majority of crime. The tactic of labelling was pursued in an effort to symbolically isolate a discrete ‘criminal class’. In addition, the mania for subdivision of certain sorts of crime replaced worryingly large numbers of total crimes committed with reassuringly small numbers of crimes that fell into small sub-categories. The returns were a conscious project to create an image of an incorruptible and professional police force successfully securing and thus separating the city from a crime threat that was mainly external, ‘alien’ or safely under surveillance.
Chris A. Williams
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