Policemen of the Tsar

Local Police in an Age of Upheaval
$65.00 / €55.00 / £47.00
PDF version is open acces (Opening the Future program)
Publication date: 
240 pages, 27 tables, 5 figures, 1 map
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Founded by Peter the Great in 1718, Russia’s police were key instruments of tsarist power. In the reign of Alexander II (1855-1881), local police forces took on new importance. The liberation of 23 million serfs from landlord control, growing fear of crime, and the terrorist violence of the closing years challenged law enforcement with new tasks that made worse what was already a staggering burden. (“I am obliged to inform Your Imperial Highness that the police often fail to carry out their assignments and, when they do execute them, they do so poorly because of their moral corruption…”)

This book describes the regime’s decades-long struggle to reform and strengthen the police. The author reviews the local police’s role and performance in the mid-nineteenth century and the implications of the largely unsuccessful effort to transform them. From a longer-term perspective, the study considers how the police’s systemic weaknesses undermined tsarist rule, impeded a range of liberalizing reforms, perpetuated reliance on the military to maintain law and order, and gave rise to vigilante justice.

While its primary focus is on European Russia, the analysis also covers much of the imperial periphery, discussing the police systems in the Baltic Provinces, Congress Poland, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and Siberia.

Glossary of Russian Police Terms

Chapter 1: The Local Police at Mid-Century
Critical Mission, Weak Force
Organization, Numbers, and Qualifications
Particular Performance Problems
Obstacles to Reform and Improving Prospects

Chapter 2: The Rural Police
Differing and Complementary Approaches
Rising and Receding Reform

Chapter 3: Metropolitan and Municipal Police
More Police vs. More Reform
Expansion in St. Petersburg
Karakozov and Trepov
The Neglected City Police

Chapter 4: From Stalemate to Forced Resolution
The Polish Police Model
The Commission on Provincial and County Institutions Reassembled
On a Treadmill of Proposals
Police Expansion at Gunpoint

Chapter 5: A Police Balance Sheet
New Units, New Weapons
Numbers, Qualifications, and Workload
International Comparisons
Performance against Crime
Performance of Non-Crime Duties
Summing Up

Chapter 6: Consequences and Implications
Ministerial Gains, Loss of Local Control
Rural Lawlessness and the Lack of Non-Military Force
Damage to Center, Zemstvos, and Courts
Impeding Liberalizing Reforms
Implications for the Tsarist System

Appendix: Police in the Borderlands
The Baltic Provinces
The Caucasus
Central Asia
Congress Poland
Impact and Implications


“Policemen of the Tsar is a significant and original contribution to the history of the late imperial period and especially to our knowledge of the reign of Alexander II. The police was one of the chief institutions of the tsarist state, an essential force for fighting crime and maintaining order, one of the few government institutions that reached into the world of the peasantry and urban lower classes. But despite its importance, Western historians of Russia have failed to give the police the attention it deserved. Abbott's book goes a long way in solving this problem.”