There would be fewer mysterious disappearances and fewer mysterious murders in the American cities if greater unity of action prevailed between the police departments in those cities. What is needed in this country is the application of the comparative method of study to the organization of a new police system. If the heads of the principal departments in the several States could meet together occasionally, for the purpose of comparing their present methods of performing police duty and of devising a more efficient system of communication between different sections of the country, they would be able to show much better results for their work. In carrying on their operations the criminals now count upon a certain want of harmony between the police authorities of different localities. It has even been charged that the police of one city would offer facilities for the escape of a great criminal rather than have the credit of his capture awarded to the police of another city.
The establishment of a "national police association" was recently recommended by the Boston police commission; but the recommendation appears to have met with so little favor that it was abandoned. All the heads of departments that expressed an opinion upon the suggestion admitted that such an association would greatly improve the police service throughout the country; but from political or other considerations many of them were unwilling to become members.
A few years ago the English police established what is known as the Habitual Criminal's Record,—a book containing the name of every criminal who has been more than once convicted of a serious crime against the community. In the space of six years and a half the names of nearly one hundred and eighty thousand persons have been registered on its pages. It is printed at her majesty's prison of Brixton by convicts,—"in direct contravention," as a clever writer has said, "of the Levitical precept against seething kids in their mother's milk." It is estimated by the English police, "upon data insuring substantial accuracy," that there are at large in that country about forty thousand individuals who are either known thieves or under suspicion. About three thousand persons are liberated every year from the convict prisons, and are lost in the crowd until returned again to prison. The names given by persons under arrest are generally of little value for purposes of identification; and the English record is by no means confined to that and to such a general description of the person as an American tourist carries on his official passport. The "distinctive marks and peculiarities" of every individual are given. It is a curious fact that every fourth criminal is found to be tattooed with some device. There is an almost endless variety of artistic devices wrought upon the arms and breasts of these habitual criminals,—ships tinder full sail, anchors, whales, mermaids, masonic emblems, implements of war, and sentimental mottoes. The name of Mary, and a heart pierced by Cupid's arrows, figure quite largely. The criminal who does business in a large way is, as a rule, a sentimentalist of the simplest and most unaffected sort. In a great many cases he owes his undoing to his solicitude for the safety or welfare of a sweetheart or a pal.
With the aid of photography and this record, it is claimed that "the criminal population of England is gradually being reduced into the condition of a good head of game on the estate of a keen sportsman." But that it has not yet been reduced to that condition was recently shown by the confession of Charles Peace, who committed murders and burglaries enough to fill a book, and who, while so doing, went in and out for years under the very eyes of the police. While the English have a system which, if far from perfect at present, is in the way of being perfected, we have no police system from which any good results can be anticipated. The first step towards putting the police work upon a proper basis is undoubtedly the formation of a national association such as has been suggested.
Unless the police lines are drawn closer around the inhabitants of our large cities, the number of those who mysteriously disappear from one cause or another will become still more alarming than it is at present.