Peel’s Second Principle

Principle 2 

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.

Peel’s First Principle

Principle 1 

To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and by severity of legal punishment. 

This principle addresses one of the core issues that has dominated debate about policing approaches for almost the past two centuries.  The one argument is that legislatures create laws and that the role of the police is to enforce those laws by arresting offenders and bringing them before the courts.  The role of the courts is to sanction or punish the offending behavior.  Punishment in the form of a fine or incarceration, it is argued, pays the offenders debt to society and serves as a deterrent.   The opposing argument is that the police should adopt a proactive and preventative as opposed to a reactive approach.  This involves education, community involvement and the creating of the public’s ‘buy in’ for law and order – in other words, crime prevention in the broadest sense of the word.  

Many police agencies pay lip service to crime prevention strategies but remain ‘law enforcement’ agencies at heart. They tout their commitment to the community and to the community based approach to policing but operate in a reactive manner firmly committed to after the fact investigation of crimes as opposed to crime prevention.  Some enlightened police executives favour investment in proactive crime prevention strategies while others are simply stuck in a reactive crime suppression mindset. 

In the short term a crime prevention approach can be expensive and until the strategies take hold and yield results, crime may even spike.  The expense and the lack of immediate results are the main reason politicians tend to shy away from funding prevention approaches.  From the political perspective it is much more desirable to be able to announce the formation of a new unit, task force or the purchase of a new piece of equipment (perhaps a helicopter) than to announce an investment in the community in the form of job creation, housing, education programs or other programs that would sever the link between poverty and crime. 

From a funding perspective it can be difficult to link outcomes to specific crime prevention programs especially in the short term.  Police agencies tend to measure results in terms of outputs, not outcomes.  Reactive policing deals in outputs.  These outputs detail police activities such as the number of persons ‘spot checked’, arrested and charged and the accompanying list of contraband that was seized (drugs, guns, money and other property).  Crime prevention approaches measure outcomes and concentrate not on the number of arrests that were made but rather on the degree to which crime was reduced, the level of safety felt by residents in high crime areas and celebrates the positive working relationships between the police and geographical, racial and political communities.  

A sincere crime prevention approach requires that police agencies conduct meaningful and on-going environmental scans to ensure they are in touch with the various communities they serve and that they are in a position to anticipate future trends and put in place programs to deals with such trends before they take hold.    Some agencies have addressed this through a well thought out process of strategic planning while others are continually caught unaware and are put in a position of having to react by creating ad hoc units and task forces to react. 

It is recognized that all police agencies require the ability to react when crimes are committed.  One measure that can be used to establish the degree to which an agency is proactive as opposed to reactive is to look at budget allocation.  What percentage of the police budget is devoted to crime prevention?  If the allocation is low then it can be argued that the agency lacks commitment to Peel’s first principle which lays out the prevention of crime and disorder as their first prerogative.

Peel’s Principles

Sir Robert Peel:  Are his principles still relevant? 

Sir Robert Peel was twice the Prime Minister of Great Britain but his lasting legacy relates not to his performance as prime minister but rather to his role as Home Secretary.  An educated man, having obtained a Masters from Christ Church, Oxford in 1814, Peel achieved distinction based on his reform of criminal law and policing in Great Britain. 

Industrialization and the resulting concentration of large populations in major urban centers in the 17th and 18th century put significant strains on maintaining law and order not only in England but also in major American cities such as New York and Boston.  Police departments in the modern sense of the word did not exist at that time.  The maintenance of law and order was undertaken by the general citizenry in a volunteer capacity.  In some larger centers night watchmen and constables were employed, many on a part-time basis.  Poorly trained and lacking resources and organization these early “police officers” relied largely on physical force and intimidation as a means of gaining compliance.  

In 1829 the Metropolitan Police Act was passed by the British Parliament.  This Act created the London Metropolitan Police Force which consisted of 1000 constables who were mandated to maintain law and order in London on a full time basis under the direction of its first commissioner, Sir Richard Mayne.  This represented the first serious attempt to ‘professionalize’ policing in Great Britain.  

As a form of ethical and operational guidance, Peel laid down nine principles intended to guide police in terms of their mandate, interaction with citizens, use of force and their role in the overall criminal justice system.  Those nine principles are repeated here for reference purposes as they will form the basis for future posts on this topic. 

Although the nine principles have been modernized and abbreviated they are reproduced here in their original form as expressed by Sir Richard Mayne in 1829.  The original wording in some cases assists in establishing the intent. 

Sir Robert Peel’s Nine Principles of Policing 

1. To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and by severity of legal punishment.

2. 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.

3. To recognize always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of willing cooperation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.

4. To recognize always that the extent to which the cooperation 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 to 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 injustices 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 cooperation 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 recognize 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 recognize 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.

Source: Reith, Charles. 1948. A Short History of the British Police. London: Oxford University Press 

Future posts will evaluate the current relevance of Sir Robert Peel’s principles and attempt to determine the degree to which policing in Canada, particularly in Winnipeg, is delivered in keeping with those principles.  Part of that evaluation will involve answering this question: “If Sir Robert Peel were the Chief of Police in Winnipeg would he be making changes”?