This article examines Prussian and French police instructions, manuals and training material, 1880-1914. Police in both countries were reputedly violent, yet successive French and German governments consistently justified incidents of heavy-handed law enforcement. Yet the context was different as Prussian instructions actively encouraged forceful law enforcement, while French instructions placed strict legal and disciplinary boundaries on the police. This had dissimilar consequences for how the police were identified with the regime. In Prussia the regime became identified with brutality, for which the police were seen by critics as merely a symptom. The republican regime was criticised as hypocritical rather than violent in its defence of violent policing. The commitment to respect citizens' rights and seek to limit police brutality was no guarantee of more civilised policing, but constituted a hope for changes in police practices that did not require a change of regime.