Conceptions and misconceptions about foreign models for law enforcement and criminal justice often shape reform debates in important ways by excluding certain options and promoting specific agendas, which are claimed to be more effective, humane or legitimate. This article analyses the reception of the ‘English police model’ in German debates between 1848 and 1914. It argues that the frequent references in German debates to English policing functioned as an important rhetorical device to promote certain reform agendas. Highly diverging projects for police reform were promoted in German debates under the label of the ‘English model’. These projects bore only a partial resemblance to English principles of policing as the original model was deliberately misinterpreted or the elements presented as the ‘English model’ was limited to certain selected elements. Nevertheless, the ‘English model’ as a label had the important function in German debates of shaping which forms of police reform could be considered. Conversely, negative references to other foreign influences – notably French ones – served to undermine the credibility of existing institutions or competing reform projects. Accordingly the ‘englischer Policeman’ in German debates bears little connection to the original model and the English Bobby is only discernible as seen through a German monocle.