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Methods of police work with thieves and merchants in Russia in the XIX-XX centuries
Methods of police work with thieves and merchants in Russia in the XIX-XX centuries

It is not known exactly when the saying “If you don’t cheat, you won’t sell” appeared, but in this matter, domestic traders have achieved an unprecedented art. "In trade without deception, and it is impossible … The soul will not endure! From one - a penny, from the other two, and it goes for a long time. We have been teaching this business for five years," the unknown clerk philosophized a hundred years ago.

The cunning sellers were under control - no less cunning city and policemen. About how the relationship between the police and thieves and merchants was built - in the historical sketches of the "Budget" magazine.

It’s unbelievable, but true: in the middle of the 19th century in Moscow for 400 thousand inhabitants there were only 5-6 murders, 2-3 robberies, about 400 frauds and about 700 thefts. And all this in a year. Two thirds of the crimes were solved. But new times have come: after the abolition of serfdom, a mass of people rushed to Moscow, and by the beginning of the twentieth century its population had grown to 1 million people. The number of "dashing" people has also increased.

And besides the scuffle, there are no miracles

Before the judicial reform of the mid-60s. The nineteenth century dealt with violators of public order very simply. Drunken or otherwise guilty, coachmen, cooks, serfs were sent by their masters to the police, where they were flogged with rods, depending on the written request set out in the attached note. They did the same with free people from the bourgeoisie and factory workers. It is curious that these executions were approved by the guilty themselves, since such a reprisal freed them from judicial red tape and imprisonment for minor offenses. It should be noted that such punishments were often of a public nature and aroused undisguised approval and interest of ordinary people.

The nineteenth century gave us the fact of a rare union of police and merchants. On October 12, 1861, students came to the building of the Moscow governor-general with a demand to release their comrades who had previously been arrested. So, in the dispersal of the demonstration, along with the police and the mounted gendarmes acting on duty, the shopkeepers of the Hunt Riders actively participated, who joined this "event". Sharp-tongued Muscovites dubbed this massacre "The Battle of Dresden", as it took place near the Dresden Hotel on Tverskaya Square, opposite the Governor-General's House.

All-Russian law

The scanty salary of law enforcement officers has always been the "excuse" factor for their bribery. The policeman in 1900 received 20-27 rubles. per month, depending on the length of service. The prices, of course, were also different: 1 kg of beef cost 21 kopecks, and potatoes - 1.5 kopecks.

Here is what a contemporary wrote at the beginning of the 20th century: “The Ministry of Internal Affairs is really lukewarm. Inexperienced people are amazed: police officers receive not so hot, but they live perfectly, they are always dressed with a needle. Bailiffs are already demigods; they look at least field marshal, and aplomb, beauty in gestures!.. Tailors, bookbinders, shoemakers - all workshops work for nothing for the police: this is an all-Russian law - you can't get over it!"

Correctional labor

Inquiry in criminal cases was usually carried out with mandatory assault. Moreover, the people trusted the police fighters, not considering them capable of a dirty trick. And, on the contrary, he was afraid of the polite interrogators like fire, who did not stoop to beatings, but tried to achieve recognition in other ways: they fed herring, after which they did not allow them to drink, or put them at night in jail full of bedbugs, in which none of the accused could fall asleep for at least a minute.The people avoided such investigators with all their might and tried to get to another police station, where the case was conducted "correctly", that is, they did not allow anything except massacre.

In the same years, there was another rather original way of punishing petty theft. The policeman had the authority not to drag the thief to the precinct, but drew a cross in a circle on his back with chalk and, having handed a broom, forced the pavement at the crime scene to take revenge. There were a lot of such sweepers especially on holidays, when thieves of both sexes, sometimes smartly dressed, darted among the crowds of walking and shopping ordinary people. The policemen, who knew many swindlers by sight, did not doze. And these dandies and luxuriously dressed ladies with brooms in their hands and crosses painted on the backs of expensive clothes, especially aroused the witticisms and jokes of the commoners, who arrange whole festivities around them.

The national disgrace usually lasted until dark, after which the policeman led the thieves, tied by the hands with a rope, as if on a leash, to the police station. The next day they shook the pavement near the government offices of this area, and in the evening, after work, they entered the lists of thieves and were released home. Thus, the "trial" together with the serving of the sentence did not exceed a day. After the magistrates' courts with "cultural" legal proceedings began to be introduced in 1866, they seemed to the people too "hackneyed".

Civil execution

On other Sundays in spring or summer, an alarming drumbeat was heard through the streets of Moscow, and the following picture seemed to be curious: a platoon of soldiers and an officer followed the drummer, followed by a pair of horses dragging a platform painted black, in the middle of which two or four prisoners usually sat on a bench - men or women in gray coats, on their chests hung black plaques with inscriptions in large white letters: "For murder," "For arson," "For robbery," etc. A man in a red shirt was walking next to the chariot - the executioner … This was taken to Korovya Square (today it is the area of ​​the Moscow metro station "Oktyabrskaya") deprived by the court of all the rights of the state of criminals sentenced to hard labor or to Siberia to settle for the execution of the "rite of civil execution" over them.

Upon arrival at the square, the criminal was led onto a wooden scaffold built during the night and put to the post. The priest admonished him and let him kiss the cross, after which the verdict was read loudly (if the convicted person was a nobleman, a sword was broken over his head). Then a drumbeat was heard, and the prisoner was chained for ten minutes to a pillory. The townspeople gathered around threw copper coins intended for the convict onto the scaffold, and sometimes a hefty sum of them was collected. So, contrary to the popular saying about Moscow and tears, the people of Moscow expressed pity, though for the criminal, but still an unfortunate person.

However, compassionate Muscovites often fell prey to robbers, especially on the outskirts of the city. There, in the middle of the 19th century, according to contemporaries, oil lanterns burned very dimly due to the fact that the firefighters in charge of them were mainly using hemp oil for lighting with porridge. Therefore, at night on the dark streets there were frequent shouts: "Help, they are robbing!" Some brave men ran out of the houses to help, the less courageous ones opened the windows and shouted "Let's go!" As impressively and louder as possible.

Keep your distance

If anyone thinks that there was no traffic police a hundred years ago, he is deeply mistaken. Here are the methods of police work with cabbies: if a policeman at the post noticed the slightest violation of the cab driver, for example, the distance of 3 fathoms (1 fathom - 2, 1 m) was not observed or instead of two there were three people in the cart, he took out his little book and wrote down there the number of the cab's badge, which entailed a fine of 3 rubles.

In order to avoid a substantial fine, the cabman threw a two-kopeck piece under the feet of the city officer, or even more, and at the same time shouted: "Beware!" The policeman understood the conventional cry, looked at his feet and, seeing the coin, imperceptibly stood on it with his boot. Before the horse tram, and then the tram began to oust cabbies from the city streets, the cabbies' earnings, despite all sorts of extortions, were very good. By the beginning of the twentieth century, there were about 20 thousand cabs in St. Petersburg.

Your ad could be here

Let's walk along the Moscow streets of the late 19th century and read the signs (spelling preserved): "Pastry bartender - with a cover for the hall under tablecloths, melkhivor and all kinds of dishes on his tables for two hundred or more guests. Merchants celebrate honorable weddings, balls and honorable commemorations. just ask the pianoforte, the military general and the violin orchestra of Mr. Brabanz. People in dress coats, stockings and in every situation."

Let us explain the meaning of an advertising masterpiece dating back to the 70s. the century before last. Melkhivor is, of course, cupronickel; people in tailcoats and stockings are waiters. A military general is a retired general, always in uniform and with all orders, whom the vain merchants invited for a fee to various celebrations, passing him off as a close acquaintance. But there were also quite anecdotal moments. It was not always possible to find, instead of the general, at least a captain of the second rank, like a classic, and either a retired lieutenant or an artist in general, of course, in fake attire, was invited to be the guest of honor.

At the described time in the city of Ivanovo-Voznesensk, a merchant's wedding was played, which was attended by a "relative-general", decorated with five (!) Huge shining stars of the Persian (!) Order of the Lion and the Sun. Next to him, on a special pillow, were equally fake awards that did not fit on his chest and stomach. This "general" was discharged on tour from the capital, and pompous meetings and farewells were arranged for him at the station with the participation of a delegation with an icon and bread and salt, a military band, police squads, firemen and a sparkler. Half of the city came running to look at the "general", and the rival merchants of the wedding organizer lost their heads from annoyance and envy. By the way, the "general", having entered the role, considered himself offended by the payment and demanded additional remuneration from the merchant in writing. Which was given to him out of fear of scandal and publicity.


Trade was concentrated in private hands, with the exception of the sale of vodka, which was a tsarist monopoly. There were special state-owned wine shops - kazenki. They were located in quiet streets away from churches and educational institutions - this was required by police regulations. Vodka was sold in two varieties, which differed in the color of the sealing wax. The cheaper one, with a "red head", cost 40 kopecks. A bottle of vodka (0.6 liters) of the highest grade with a "white head" - 60 kopecks. (1910). Weaving (120 grams) and scoundrels (60 grams) were also sold. The money in the shop was accepted by a woman, usually the widow of a petty official, but the bottle was given out by a hefty bull who, on occasion, could "calm" any drunkard.

The entire wall around these breeches was covered in red markings. Usually the poorer people, having bought a cheap "red head" and going out into the street, beat the sealing wax against the wall, knocked out the cardboard cork with a blow of the palm of their hand, and immediately drank the bottle. The snack was brought with you or bought from the merchants standing right there. These women were especially colorful in winter, when in their thick skirts they sat on potatoes with potatoes, replacing a thermos and at the same time basking in the bitter frost. The police dispersed these companies from the wine shops, but did not show much zeal, since they always received "their dose" from the regulars of the bureau.

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