Sir Robert Peel’s Policing Principles

Written by Andy

Sir Robert Peel became Home Secretary of Great Britain in 1822. In 1829, he established a full-time, professional, and centrally-organised police force for the Greater London area. Sir Robert Peel developed a philosophy where the power of the police comes from the common consent of the public rather than the power of the state.

The nine principles that underpin his philosophy were set out as a set of ‘General Instructions’ issued to every new police officer from 1829 onward. They remain as crucial today as they were two centuries ago. The concept was to create an ethical police force that had the support of a then skeptical public. He aimed to create ‘policing by consent’ throughout the United Kingdom and other countries including Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.

The nine principles are:

  1. To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.
  2. To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.
  3. To recognise always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing co-operation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.
  4. To recognise always that the extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.
  5. To seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humour, and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.
  6. To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public co-operation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.
  7. To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
  8. To recognise always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions, and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary, of avenging individuals or the State, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty.
  9. To recognise always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.

In Peel’s model of policing, police officers were to be regarded as citizens in uniform rather than government thugs in uniform. The power to police their fellow citizens was to be done with the implicit consent of those fellow citizens. It was a time when Great Britain had some right to call itself ‘Great’. The power of the police was to come from the people to look after the interests of the people rather than look after the interests of those that control those that govern. They were to be ‘agents’ of the people rather than ‘agents’ of the powerful. Robert Peel had created a police force for the British Empire that operated not through fear but through public co-operation in a manner that maintained public approval and respect. This meant that the power of the police comes from the ‘common consent’ of the public, rather than the power of the state.

Unfortunately, the state has weakened this respect.

There are three core ideas.

  • The goal is preventing crime, not catching criminals. If the police stop crime before it happens, we don’t have to punish citizens or suppress their rights. An effective police department doesn’t have high arrest statistics. Its community has a low crime rate.
  • The key to preventing crime is earning public support. Every community member must share the responsibility of preventing crime, as if they were all volunteer members of the force. They will only accept this responsibility if the community supports and trusts the police.
  • The police earn public support by respecting community principles. Winning public approval requires the hard work of building reputation. The laws must be enforced impartially. Officers should be hired who represent and understand the community. The use of force is the last resort.

Peel is thus the father of modern democratic policing. His principles are still the the core ingredient for police success over the last two centuries in all democratic countries across the world. Police leaders consistently quote them as good reminders of ‘community policing’ and the reason the police force exists. Peel secured the willing cooperation of the public in the task of securing observance of the laws of the land. We now accept that the police must have public approval to be effective. Community-oriented policing then takes a cooperative approach toward the reduction of crime. It addresses the underlying causes of crime. It relies on police-community communication for the protection of the community.

So what went wrong?

The relationship between police, government, and citizenry has become more complex. Added to this is a new internet spotlight. The government and its affluent and corporate backers and influencers no longer have a monopoly on what the public sees. Images like this go viral, even if they are one-off errors of individual police judgement.

The violence then begets violence. That is an African country that I would not wish to live in. This policeman is set up to act violently towards the public, He is armoured to protect himself from a hateful public. It is wise to re-read the Peelian Principles to see how many he is breaking. Here is an older print of the same. Think of the policeman above as you read it:

How many principles does the above policeman break? Here is an interesting picture to make you ponder the relationship between public gaze and police operations.

Here is a picture of Bobbies from the early days of photographs. They do form a military stance, but they are dressed as upright citizens in the concept that ‘the police are the citizens and the citizens are the police’.

Yet, we can now see pictures like this:

And this:

They are now militarized against the people.

Australia’s police forces are buying up devices capable of causing long-term hearing damage from a distance.

Is the man above protecting the people or protecting the power of the elites from the people. In Paris, I worked out how to disable this type of vehicle. Large vehicles are difficult to drive without mirrors. A rope onto a lamp-post would fix that. They cannot drive without a functioning tail-shaft. A computer magnet and seat-belt material would fix that. They cannot drive without diesel. Block the fuel stations near the police stations or disrupt their fuel supplies. They need to see – I’ll leave you to work that one out. The police can be left to their business when they return to ‘Peel’s Ideals’. We need the police to return to ‘citizens looking after citizens’ and accountable to the citizens. They should never become a tool of those that control those that control the political process.

The relationship between the public and the police is important in our society. I would not want to live in a society that had no police. However, I also want a police force that looks after the interests of the people and my nation. We need the police and we need the police to be good. I also expect the police in foreign nations to look after my interests, even as a foreigner. I also need the police of foreign nations to keep order so that I can travel safely without fear. As an elderly gentleman, I often pass the time of day with them with some inane comment such as: “Are they behaving today?”, which is probably some sort of ex-schoolteacher type comment. Respect the police on the beat. They need to know of our support.

I ask you the question for the modern world: “When you see a police officer, do you feel intimidated or do you feel safer?” When the police are around, do you feel safer or less safe?

Is the presence of police officers on the streets a symbol state power or is it a symbol of civilians protecting the well-being of civilians? This anonymous meme give a clue as to how fascism takes hold, even if nobody seems to be able to define ‘fascism’ clearly.

Do the police play a role in acting as agents for the facists or do the police play a role in preventing power grabs?

In 1929, when Robert Peel created Metropolitan Police the centralized State played a comparatively small role in society. In each district, the local government, comprised of local citizens, played a far more important role in the life of the local citizen. There was significant opposition to the concept of a centralized police force in the years leading up to 1829. Other than defense and taxation, the central government had little influence over the social life of the citizens. Compulsory schooling did not arrive until 1880. Pensions did not exist until 1909. The National Health Service arrived in 1948. There was concern about the increase of state power. Policemen become the point of contact between the political establishment and the public. Should the police be a point of contact between a central government and the people or a point of contact between the local government and the people?

There is the potential for the police to change from this, where the smiling policeman holds up the horse traffic for a mother and her children to cross the road.

To this:

In the first picture, he is serving the citizens. He is a true ‘public servant’. In the second picture he is a thug acting as an agent of the government.

Different sections of the public were united in their opposition to the establishment of the Metropolitan Police. Whigs (a political party that can described as ‘upper-class’ liberals) considered the centralized police as an attack on the liberties of the people. Some of the aristocratic Tories espoused similar views. Radicals tended to view the police as a ‘ruling-class instrument’ which would be used to combat middle and working-class people. Local parish vestries and magistrates lamented the reduction of their influence. Some ratepayers opposed the cost of the this new police force. After the formation of London’s Metropolitan Police, their policing activities were regarded in a more favourable manner. Yet tensions remained.

Following orders rather than following Peel’s ideals.

The problems occur when inappropriate forces gain influence over the activities of the police. This may be criminal forces, or political forces, or financial forces. It was very noticeable during the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protests that the police were guarding the banks and attacking those that demanded bank accountability. The police protected the accused without any investigation into their activities and criminalized the accusers. Only Iceland locked up the bankers.

The working classes and the un-employed tend to be opposed to the police, whilst those with assets, items, and family to protect tend to favour the police. It is an ongoing issue on how sections of the society accept the legitimacy of police power and how they exercise that power. It is not uncommon to hear the cat-call: “All coppers are bastards”, which is technically incorrect but carries a message. Unfortunately, the call does not help to maintain the quality of the police force. Only those that are immune to people’s opinions will tolerate working in the force.

The public is becoming increasingly fractured along lines of age, gender, race, ethnicity, wealth, social position, and geographic location. This has added to the issues facing the police.

At the time of Peel, visible crime tended to be trivial in nature. Property crime of low value goods was the main problem visible to the public. The tales of Sherlock Holmes demonstrated the resources that were applied to murder scenarios. This making the perception of likelihood of detection more certain. Large scale insurrection amounted to a few industrial and occasional political disputes. A new dimension arrived with the brewing tensions between peoples of West Indian extraction and the police. This exploded in Brixton in 1981.

Brixton riots 1981.

This polarisation of society along lines of age, gender, race, ethnicity, wealth, social position, and geographic location, prompts memes such as:

The situation has become recordable statistically:

The racial divide is being fanned by the people with clout and power:

A facebooker warns us:

The press is keen to suggest that the problem is white harming black, but the tables tell the opposite:

The umbridge is concern by black people about the number of black deaths. No umbridge is taken over the gender bias:

Should it be that they should shoot more females and stop shooting so many males? Do the males march down the street to demand a reduction in male deaths compared to the alternatives? The illogicality is exposed when US figures are compared to other countries. It is not a matter of black deaths, it is a matter that there are simply too many deaths full stop.

I ask people: “Do you expect the justice system to dispense justice?” and the answer is commonly negative. At the lower end of the scale, listen to this comment by a female police officer. (I nearly wrote ‘female policeman!)

The attitude between males and females has reached an abysmal low as demonstrated in this comment:

Race relations is at a low ebb as illustrated in this meme:

There is a concept that the police are prosecuting the wrong people:

Tension between indigenous peoples and imigrants is reflected in this meme:

But such memes are now self-censored as they are considered to be hate-speech. The police are dealing with a nation divided:

But the people did not vote on this division.

This all makes police work very difficult, and thus they need our support.

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