Sir Robert Peel’s Nine Principles

Sir Robert Peel is often regarded as the father of modern policing. His work led to the British Parliament’s decision to pass the Metropolitan Police Act of 1829. This was the act that American cities such as Boston and New York decided to emulate when they established their own police departments, which are, of course, still operating today. He is an iconic figure to many people in modern law enforcement.

Peel worked to convince his colleagues who feared an organized police force would not become tyrannical and militaristic and would not treat the citizenry as enemy combatants. Given the time frame (circa 1820, it’s easy to imagine why the citizenry would be mistrustful of those perceived as operating as soldiers, especially in Great Britain). To this end, Peel had nine principles that he believed all police should strive to uphold.

They are:

1. “The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.”

2. “The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions.”

3. “Police must secure the willing cooperation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.”

4. “The degree of cooperation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.”

5. “Police seek and preserve public favor not by catering to the public opinion but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.”

6. “Police 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.”

7. “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 being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent upon every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.”

8. “Police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary.”

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

The wording on these nine principles will change slightly, depending on your source; it appears that they were never compiled in a formal document but were instead something that colleagues working with Peel decided to codify and distribute. Nevertheless, the spirit of his principles has been preserved through history.

My question, then, to those that police and those that are policed . . . how are we doing? Have Peel’s principles been upheld? Are we moving closer toward or further away from the virtuous institution that he created? Why or why not?

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