peel’s principles of policing.

Sir Robert Peel, who in his tenure as Home Secretary established London’s Metropolitan Police in the early 19th century, set forth nine principles of policing. They are as follows:

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

2. To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil 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 recognise always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing co-operation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.

4. To recognise always that the extent to which the co-operation 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 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 injustice 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 co-operation 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 recognise 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 recognise 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.


Now, if I drew up a list of policing principles with intent to make them diametrically opposed to Peel’s, and then designed a police force around them, what do you think it would look and act like?

Regardless of your stance on the militarization of American police in general and the recent events in Missouri in particular, here’s a simple truth: a police department that loses the trust of the community it serves can no longer fulfill its primary function. 

I am not anti-police—I recognize policing duties as one of the few legitimate and important functions of a state. But the War on Drugs, onerous and liberty-destroying as it is, has merged with the War on Terror, and as a result we have big-city police departments who are perpetually in conflict mode.  It’s not that I mind the cops having AR-15s. What I mind is that “compliance by overwhelming force” has become the first and only tool in the toolbox in many cases. If you dress your cops like soldiers, equip them like soldiers, have them train like soldiers, and adopt the lingo of soldiers, it’s really no surprise when they sooner or later start feeling and acting like soldiers.

I don’t think the War on Terror/Drugs will end any time soon. There are too many jobs involved, too much power to give up, too many agencies making a living and justifying their own existence off perpetuating the whole thing. (Asset forfeiture laws in particular have done more damage to the Bill of Rights that any other piece of legislation in the last 40 years. This policing-for-profit business has to stop.)

I know many police officers who are upstanding both as people and professionals—who take their duties to heart and execute them with integrity and professionalism. But policing as a whole is in dire need of reform in this country, because it’s as far removed from Peel’s Principles of Policing as you can get, and everyone suffers for it: our communities, the officers, and the general respect for the law. 

Where do we go from here? Anywhere but the way we’ve been going, because it’s not working. I’ll leave you with a link to this excellent WaPo article by Radley Balko, who has some insightful examples and suggestions to get our police back to something resembling peace officers instead of law enforcement professionals.


15 thoughts on “peel’s principles of policing.

  1. Except they’re not acting like soldiers, at least, American soldiers. Our soldiers seem to be better trained than that, having learned the hard way that aggressive reactions to protests often generates a violent reaction. No, the cops, at least in St. Louis County, were behaving more like some Third World paramilitary group.

  2. Seems our soldiers are held to far stricter rules of engagement than our cops.

    Something ain’t right there.

  3. As stated above, as a Marine I had STRICT Rules of Engagement and breaking them would NOT have my squad mates covering my back. It was considered dishonorable and honor was a priority.

    My father is a cop and of course I want him to come home every day, but not at the cost of a police state. Now it’s MRAPs & snipers & tanks, and vests & etc. with none of the training to go with it (again, dad’s a cop. Training is a joke) but all that seems to come with very little restraint on what they can do with it.

    So we get flashbanged babies, SWAT raids for claims of a joint, etc (while the real, dangerous criminals get away).

    HOWEVER. On the other side of the coin, society has abdicated its responsibility with #7. We don’t want to do the job, hand it over completely to someone else, then bitch when it doesn’t get done correctly.

    What did you *think* was going to happen?

  4. Our soldiers are becoming (the worlds)police, and our police are morphing into soldiers.
    I’m in my mid thirties, and when I was young the police were some of the warmest, most approachable members of the small communities in northern Wisconsin. Today, not so much.
    The large cities are practically war zones in some ways.

  5. “but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law” Given teh state of the law right now that might be a problem, right there,

    On the other hand it’s better than what we have now

  6. Not exactly what is meant by Peel’s 7th, but considering our history, in an incident like at Ferguson (where 65% of residents but just 5% of cops are black):

    “…the reason that the ratio of populace to popo needs to be reflective is so that when something goes awry like it did last Saturday on that street in Missouri (and as our hostess here so rightly and intelligently points out, we don’t know yet exactly what did happen), is this; the shopowners and innocent families there are being victimized by thugs who are destroying that town in the name of “protest”, and the self-aggrandizing rabble-rousers with their media enablers in tow…would not be able to play the all too convenient “race” card when the shit hits the fan…they’d have to actually identify and work to resolve the real problems and issues that fill the backseats of cop cruisers and jails with young black men…”

    I went on in that comment with a diatribe on the absurd and vicious circle of illegalize/monetize/criminalize/penalize drug laws, a socio-economic system that no longer values or rewards an honest day’s work, a socialist system of dependence, entitlement, and the rotted social fabric and lack of personal responsibility that it fosters and sustains, but the key here is that if government and its agents are not representative of the citizens it serves, you get…Ferguson.

  7. And most of the hardware/tactical cops in Ferguson are actually St. Louis County, NOT Ferguson PD… But that seems to be getting left out…

  8. I agree with the author and most of the comments. As a National Guard officer in the 1970’s, my unit was specially trained for riots, crowd control/protection, and to be able to guard special community assets in case of terrorist attack. We did this independently of our mobilization missions, and were used several times. This seemed to work well when necessary and we didn’t look like the Missouri police units in Ferguson. We had strict rules of engagement and process. The police climate has become too militarized and frankly prejudicial. I have seen it in interactions with my own family. I agree with the writer above who argues for de-militarizing the police (except for SWAT teams) and getting them to focus on protecting and working with and for the public.

  9. Part of the problem with #7 is that once you get things to a dept level (police, sheriff, etc), any effort by non-badge holders to do anything constructive gets some strong reaction to stop it. Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucrats goes right to work to safeguard the jobs/entitlements of those tin-star carriers.

    How do you stop this? It does occur to me that one of the problems is full time employment that usually goes with a badge. They quickly develop a mindset of us-against-them, from being immersed in the job. Seems to me that if most of them were part timers, and had a real job doing something else (no double dipping allowed), this might be nipped in the bud. Removing that hefty benefits package and retire in twenty years attraction might dissuade some of those people who are now drawn to the job.

    Changing the status quo across the board is probably not possible without major changes in our current society. Some small localities might be able to do some fixes.

  10. Yes and no Marko.
    Before we have that debate we have to agree on a few things. Here is how I see it, feel free to correct me: The cops are for keeping the peace. They bust old man Filthie for drunken/disorderly conduct, they give Marko a ticket for parking in front of a hydrant, they get Mary’s cat out of the tree, and listen to your son when the school bully beats him up on the playground. The military MAKES the peace – they go in when there is no peace to keep.

    To me the situation in Ferguson is somewhere in between. Clearly Officer Friendly can’t handle this. There is a Youtube popular with the libertarians going round right now where the fine citizens are taunting a cop with a rifle and calling him ‘Officer Go F**k Yourself’. They’re crowding him, they’re taunting him – they are scaring the shit out of him. All that needs to happen is for him to see a weapon – or even think he sees a weapon – and the chimp out begins again with another righteous shooting. You cannot tell me that this situation involves any rule of law. The citizens are defying the cops, they are in open revolt and are actively endangering the cops, themselves and other innocents nearby.

    This situation is going to call for coordinated large scale offensive and defensive tactics. You essentially have a neighbourhood in open rebellion (wrongfully so, in my opinion) – shots are being fired and mobs rule. You can either militarize your police to deal with this – or try and press your soldiers into a civil police role. Either way mistakes will be made, people are going to get hurt and the guys are going to have to learn to think and do their jobs differently. Far as I am concerned – the bigger issue here is that America is getting ready to go to war with itself and I don’t like either side in this.

    Jim said it best on his blog:

    “Libertarianism tries to be left on everything except markets and property rights, but it fails. Inferior people cannot be permitted the same freedom as superior people, because if you try it, you wind up with a nanny state for all rather than liberty for all.”

    I don’t like a lot of what Jim says…but he seems to be bang on the money more often than not.

  11. Substitute reasonable force for minimum force and those are pretty much the principles that have guided the agencies I’ve worked for for the past 40 years. One reason officers wear external vests in crowd control is that rocks and bottles hurt when they they hit you. Contrary to what many think, local agencies aren’t awash in funding so if they can surplus Kevlar helments free vs buying traditional riot helments, they’ll take the free ones. They things I’ve seen that disturbed me are the wearing of fatigues, using the scopes on rifles to observe the crowd instead of binoculars or spotting scopes and officers wearing rifles on the front line of crowd control. The 1st is optics and was a decision made at command level, the 2nd is a serious rule 2 violation. The last has all kinds of chances for disaster from panicked officers firing into crowds to officers in wrestling matches over the rifle.

    Police forces originated because members of the community would no longer take turns “manning the watch”. And there are far fewer agencies with sweet retirement and pay packages than most people think.

  12. What is the enemy???how did it get here???Why????…You don’t go full on military for a teachers strike,an abortion rally,or a war protest.Most of these people have a standard of conduct that draws the line between social consciousness and anti-social destruction.What a man sees thru the sights of a gun is himself,his family,his parents,his teachers,his God.He ever wonders if the target see’s what he see’s,love’s what he love’s ,respect’s what he respect’s.struggle’s his struggle’s…Actions speak louder than words,truth speaks volumes in quiet solace … “C’est la vie”

  13. I have watched the military on patrol in Paris tourist sights and train stations. They carry FAMAS rifles and move in squads of three. They don’t need to project any more force than they do. They are quietly professional and don’t need to brace anyone as usually 2 are involved in questioning and the third provides over watch. No cuffs, no assuming the position…..just a quiet, intense show of power that says “Don’t F**k with us!”