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.
Peel’s seventh principle is perhaps the most well know and most often quoted. The historic tradition referenced by Peel is the tradition of community members coming to each other’s aid. The principle in essence says that it is incumbent on all citizens to perform, on a part time basis, the policing function in the interest of community welfare and existence. Police officers are simply citizens paid to do on a full time basis what all citizens are expected to do on an ad hoc basis. This principle embodies the foundation of what has more recently come to be known as community policing.
So what does it mean for the public to be the police. Firstly it implies that the public has a stake and interest in the welfare of the community. It also requires that the public act in the best interests of the community. It means that it is incumbent on the public to take action when ‘community welfare’ is threatened.
Although this principle is often cited by community activists and used as an indicator of the degree of alienation that exists between the police and the public, the fact is that maintaining the tradition enunciated in this principle is a two edged sword. The principle puts a heavy emphasis on both the police and the public to do their part.
It is not uncommon to hear complaints from the community that the police are not fulfilling their obligations. An equally common complaint in policing circles is that the public is not living up to its obligation. We often hear the comment ‘the police cannot do it alone’. When you examine the ratio of police to population which is in the range of 1:500 it becomes obvious why the police need public assistance.
The police have an obligation to deliver professional police services on behalf of the public and the public has an obligation to assist the police.
This means that the public is under an obligation to take action when ‘community welfare’ is threatened.
Community welfare is a somewhat nebulous term. It embodies the notion of maintaining a set of community standards and values that allow society to function in keeping with the values of society.
In Canadian society we value our personal freedoms and rights. One of those rights is the ownership of personal property and the enjoyment of that property. The commission of crimes that affect that right, such as auto theft and break-ins, represent a threat to our personal rights and to community welfare. Under Peel’s model the public has an obligation to assist police in preventing such crimes, and in instances where crimes are or have been committed in assisting police in apprehending the culprits.
The community cannot simply say ‘let the police handle it, that is what they are paid to do’. Although that is indeed what the police are paid to do, if the police are expected to do it alone without public support, then the size of police departments needs to be increased dramatically if crime is to be held in check.
So what type of public action did Peel envision on the part of the public? British Common Law and the Canadian Criminal Code provide provision for members of the public to make citizen arrests in certain circumstances. In the 1800’s, when criminals were much less likely to be armed this was a more viable option than at present. Because of the dangers inherent in citizen arrests most police agencies discourage citizens from making arrests.
There are, however, other measures that, citizens can take. In the communication era citizens can be in almost instant contact with police via cell phone and provide real time information about crimes in progress. Also, with existing technology digital photographs that can provide evidence can be taken. As well, citizens who learn information about crime can pass that information on to police, not to collect a Crime Stoppers reward, but as an obligation of citizenship.
On the police side of the equation, police must be equipped to receive and deal with information from the public in a professional manner. One of the often heard complaints from the public is that information passed on to police seems to enter a void, a massive black hole and does not result in action by police. When police receive information from the public they are under an obligation to deal with it in a professional manner and to report back to citizens what action if any was taken. The public does not expect miracles but they do expect and have a right to know what action was taken as a result of the information they provided. Police failure to provide feedback and close the communication loop is often cited as the reason citizens no longer call police and provide information as frequently as in the past.
So who is mandated to maintain the traditional relationship between the police and the public? It’s the police. How do police maintain the relationship? By living up to their professional obligations and embodying in their day to day practices the values and attitudes espoused by Peel in the first six principles.
That, however, is much easier said than done and requires a dedicated commitment to the community that few police agencies are prepared to make.