To recognize always that the power of the police to fulfill 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.
In most British Commonwealth countries the existence of the police is accepted by the citizenry as the norm. The duties and functions of the police are also largely universal and include:
1. The protection of life and property,
2. Maintaining peace and good order,
3. The prevention of crime,
4. The detection and apprehension of offenders; and
5. Enforcement of the laws
With a police to population ratio of approximately 1:500 this is no easy task. It becomes readily apparent that without public approval the police could not perform their duties effectively.
The degree of public approval is determined by how the public views the actions and behaviors of police. If police are seen as being progressive, responsible, open and accountable the odds are good that they will earn the approval and respect of the public. If, on the other hand, police behave in a closed and secretive manner and view themselves as being above the law, public respect and approval will vanish quickly.
Through their actions police must earn a positive reputation and once earned they must work hard to maintain it. The importance of strict discipline cannot be overstated in this regard. The best intentions of police executives can so easily be undermined by the rogue actions of a small number of officers. In terms of public perception nothing undermines public respect for the police more dramatically or more quickly than corruption, unethical and illegal behavior.
Trust in police can to some degree be measured by the reporting rate of crime. The percentage of crime that goes unreported is an indication of the extent to which the public feels that reporting will result in a meaningful outcome. In some cases, crime statistics (which are based on reported crime) can show a drop, not because there is less crime but rather because the public has lost faith in the ability of police.
So how do police agencies go about gaining and maintaining the respect and approval of the public? The bottom line is this; the actions of police must be always beyond reproach. The actions of just a few officers can tarnish the reputation of an entire agency. This underscores the importance of strict discipline in policing.
Principles 3 to 7 go into some detail as to what police should and should not do to maintain the public trust and will be discussed in future posts.