One of the major problems faced by the police as they endeavoured to investigate the Jack the Ripper Murders was that they were suffering from a severe shortage of manpower.
As the police investigation into the killings began in September 1888 Sir Charles Warren, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, submitted his annual report to the Home Office for the year ended December 31st 1887.
In it he complained that:-
“...The rapid increase both of buildings and population which has taken place in the metropolitan police district of late years has outrun the increase which it has been possible to make to the police force....”
There was, he reported, a great need for a considerable increase in the number of police officers in London. He argued, quite reasonably that:-
“...London of today, with its 5,476,447 inhabitants and 8773 police to protect them, is in far worse case than the London of 1849, when 2,473,758 persons had an available strength of 5288 police to look after their safety...”
Commenting on his report The Times pointed out that:-
“...The facts and figures he adduces in proof of the necessity of a considerable augmentation may be commended to the thoughtless persons who wonder why the Commissioner does not place a policeman at point duty at the corner of every slum in Whitechapel. As Sir Charles Warren points out, the strength of the force does not permit any considerable drafting of police into one district without a corresponding denudation of other quarters, which have as much right to police protection as any district in the East end...”
The Times further illustrated the problems posed to the police by their lack of adequate numbers:-
The total number of the force was 14,081, there having been an increase in the number of superintendents, inspectors, and sergeants, and a decrease (though much smaller) in the number of constables as compared with the year before.
Of the total number, the best part of 2000 have been on special duties for Government departments, such as protecting public offices and buildings, dockyards, and military stations, as well as on similar duties on the premises of private individuals and public companies.
The mention of these special duties is important, inasmuch as their fulfillment has entailed a reduction of the number of police available for service in the metropolis to 12,460.
Of the available strength an average of one fourteenth has been daily on leave, while of the remainder 2488 men have been employed on "station and outside protection duties and special duties under various Acts of Parliament.""
After deducting the casualties caused by sickness, there have been 8773 police available for duty in the streets.
The existing system allots 60 per cent of these for night duty, which extends from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and 40 per cent for duty in the daytime.
On the 31st of December, 1887, what is the extent of the district for the safety of which these 8773 policemen are responsible by day and night?
The metropolitan police district extends (exclusive of the City of London and its Liberties) over a radius of 15 miles from Charing cross.
When one considers the extent of this area, the rateable value of it, which, last year, was £34,346,596, the immense value of the property within it which cannot possibly be estimated, and the enormous growth both of buildings and of population year by year, it becomes plain that the present numbers of the force are far from adequate for the efficient performance of its functions.”
The lack of police manpower was more than evident in the Detective Department, to which the task of investigating the Jack the Ripper Murders fell.
James Monro - who was the head of the CID until August 1888 – had recognised the need for more detectives if the Metropolis was to be effectively policed, and he had consulted Warren about an increase in man power.
Warren's response was that uniformed Officers would be just as effective and he declined Monro's request for more detectives. Following a further disagreement with Warren Monro resigned on August 31st 1888, he day of the first definite Jack the Ripper murder, that of Mary Nichols.
As the detectives began their investigation into the Jack the Ripper murders, their morale had been severely sapped by James Monro's resignation.
That morale wasn't helped by the constant criticism that they come under in the press.
The East London Advertiser, for example, informed its readers that:-
It is clear that the Detective Department at Scotland Yard is in an utterly hopeless and worthless condition; and that if there were a capable Director of criminal investigations, the scandalous exhibition of stupidity and ineptitude revealed at the East End inquests, and the immunity enjoyed by criminals, murder after murder, would not have angered and disgusted the Public feelings as it has done.”
The New York Times, meanwhile, pulled no punches when it informed its readership that:-
...The London police and detective force is probably the stupidest in the world...”.
Barbs were even flung at them by their counterparts overseas who appear to have abandoned any semblance of professional courtesy.
Inspector Byrnes, of the New York Police, was quoted as stating that:-
...the perpetrator would have been captured long ago but for the stupidity of the London police.
These murders have all been committed within a very small district. They have been localized and all show the hand of the same assassin. The crimes were all of the same class.
They were committed within a well-known quarter patronized by wantons and depraved men.
The police should have been able to cover the ground so thoroughly after the first or second crime that a third one would have been impossible, or at least, that the capture of the perpetrator would have been inevitable.
It isn't as if the murders were committed in widely separated districts, which would have made the cases more difficult...”
Showing a decided lack of awareness of the labyrinth-like layout of the district where the police were trying to investigate the Jack the Ripper Murders, he went on to lay out his plan of action for the apprehension of the Whitechapel Murderer:-
...In the first place, I do not believe in sitting up in a comfortable office and stroking my moustache while evolving beautiful detective theories of the air castle order.
I would have gone to work in a hard, common sense way. I do not believe in theories.
With the great power of the London police I should have manufactured victims for this murderer.
I would have taken fifty of the habitués of Whitechapel and covered the ground with them.
Even if one fell a victim I would get the murderer.
My men, un-uniformed, would be scattered over the whole district so nothing that happened could escape them.
The crimes are all of the same class and I would have determined the class to which the murderer belonged.
The murderer should have been caught long ago. We caught the fellow who had a mania for throwing vitriol upon women's dresses, red handed, immediately after it was reported.
He frequented Fourteenth street. I made victims for him and my men were thickly scattered through that district.
We have no such autocratic powers as the London police, but if a crime is so plainly localized in one particular district as in the case of these London murders, we should most assuredly arrest the perpetrator in short order.”
The problems posed to the police by the geography of the district where the Jack the Ripper murders occurred was amply demonstrated by Inspector Henry Moore to the Chief of Police from Austin, Texas who, like Byrnes, had been offering his expertise to the detectives on the case.
In late August 1889 Philadelphia journalist, R. Harding Davis, was given a guided tour of the area by Moore and reported how Moore had led him:-
...through the network of narrow passageways as dark and loathsome as the great network of sewers that stretches underneath them a few feet below.
"The chief of police from Austin, Texas, came to see me," said the inspector, "and offered me a great deal of advice. But when I showed him this place (Castle-alley) and the courts around it he took off his hat and said: "I apologise. I never saw anything like it before. We've nothing like it in all America."
He said that at home an officer could stand on a street corner and look down four different streets and see all that went on in them for a quarter of a mile off.
Now, you know, I might put two regiments of police in this half-mile of district and half of them would be as completely out of sight and hearing of the others as though they were in separate cells of a prison.
To give you an idea of it, my men formed a circle around the spot where one of the murders took place, guarding, they thought, every entrance and approach, and within a few minutes they found fifty people inside the lines. They had come in through two passageways which my men could not find.
And then, you know these people never lock their doors, and the murderer has only to lift the latch of the nearest house and walk through it and out the back way....”