Peelian Principles


‘the police are the public and the public are the police’

1.The basic mission for which police exist is to prevent crime and disorder as an alternative to the repression of crime and disorder by military force and severity of legal punishment.

2.The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police existence, actions, behaviour and the ability of the police to secure and maintain public respect.

3.The police must secure the willing cooperation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain public respect.

4.The degree of cooperation of the public that can be secured diminishes, proportionately, to the necessity for the use of physical force and compulsion in achieving police objectives.

5.The police seek and preserve public favour, not by catering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to the 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 society without regard to their race 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.The police should use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to achieve police objectives; and police should use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.

7.The police at all times should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police are the only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the intent of the community welfare.

8.The police should always direct their actions toward their functions and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary by avenging individuals or the state, or authoritatively judging guilt or punishing the guilty.

9.The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.

I came across The Peelian principles when doing some research into Community Policing and Democratization. I’ve put them here as a source for students, or for those who are interested.

Sir Robert Peel was Home Secretary in 1822 and later formed the first Metropolitan police force in England, covering the Greater London area in 1829. Many of these principles still hold true today, or should do. I am sure police officers, or retired officers, may identify with some more than others. Many, as I did, will question some of the tenets and wonder if they all still hold true or to what extent. This is not the start of Policing, it is the start of what is termed ‘new policing’ a more organised and judicial response.

The first principle was echoed in the words from Theresa May about crime being the police’s primary role. Unfortunately, as many police officers, researchers and academics know this is not the case. Demands on police time and resources come from many different situations and crime may account for around 40% of police work as reported by a Met Commander (D’orsi, 2015). The ‘new police’ represented an idea that crime and disorder could be prevented by a visible police presence. This was more favourable than detection and punishment. The thinking behind this idea was simple, the latter required a crime to have been committed and a victim already created, whereas the former thought it better to prevent the crime itself and no victim created.

For me, the level of co-operation and support needed from the public is vital. The police need to find new ways of securing co-operation and support, which is very difficult given the nature of the role they do and the negative spin in the media. Although fracture lines in society have always existed, perhaps the predominant one in Peels time was social class. Class will be discussed in another blog, but in Peel’s time lines between working, middle and upper classes were more identifiable and usually followed the nature of a person’s occupation. The processes of industrialisation threw together many people and intensified social problems. The ‘new police’ was a way of tackling these problems. However, the police did represent state power and legitimacy.

We currently have a myriad of communities and ways of being identified and this makes the role of the police more complicated because they are expected to engage with many different types of community. This is not to say these communities are homogenous structures, however, they often have different, contested and competing needs and demands. On the one hand the police are asked to cater to these differences, whilst on the other it may look like favourable treatment. The police do need to engage with different communities, either as a matter of equality or promotion of the idea that the police and public are one in the same. The police often require public assistance to help identify crimes or offenders.

If the statement of ‘the police are the public and the public the police’ is to hold true, not only should the police represent those contested needs better, the make-up of the police should reflect that of society. This, in part, helps support the idea of recruitment targets and positive discrimination so long as they have the same skill set. Policing must, somehow, reflect and understand the changing nature of society.

Peel states the police must gain public support, not by catering to public opinion, but by complying to the letter of the law (with impartiality). Again, this is a tough task in this day and age, when politics and policing have become much closer. Those of you familiar with David Garland, will no doubt be aware of his theory that policy making has become politicized and reactionary, closer to public opinion and perceived threats. This is at odds with the Peelian principles; politics can be seen through the media to be very close to policing. The introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners actually placed an elected official directly into the governance structure. Most of those were not independent candidates, but were aligned to a political party. As a result, they had access to funding streams and support that the independents may not have had.

It is perhaps the final point that would draw many critical discussions in essays (I could well set it as an essay question). Is the test of the police really the absence of crime and disorder? This would surely be denying the sociological causes of crime such as inequality, poverty, education, the built environment, cultural aspects, social learning or employment. Furthermore, what of some individually located issues such as mental health or addiction? The causes for those could have sociological roots as much as individual traits. Free will and rationality are over simplistic and reductionist. Also, the basis of Peels statement is very narrow, it comes from understanding deterrence and those awkward terms certainty, severity and celerity. Even these 3 stalwarts of Beccaria’s work now rely on the co-operation of other government agencies.

What level of intervention are we expecting from the police in the debate between a welfare or judicial model? Some things the police do well, some they can clearly do better, but stopping crime is something that they incapable of doing as the roots of crime are too complicated and diverse.

#police #crime #classicism #sociology #criminology #reform #RobertPeel

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Jonathan South MA, BA (hons), Pcep (YJ)