“The Police are the Public, and the Public are the Police.”

The title to this post is a quote attributed to Sir Robert Peel.

Known as the “Father of Modern Policing”, Sir Robert was the man responsible for the creation of what many believe to be the first modern professional police department — the Metropolitan Police Force in London.

Prior to Sir Roberts little experiment, the British in the 1800’s had a strong antipathy for the idea of a full-time police department — matter-of-fact, it was seen as a threat to liberty and a (and this is a direct quote from JP Smith): “…disturbance of all private happiness.”

Nonetheless, everyone — from the man in the street to the last politician — agreed that the old system of watchmen simply wasn’t working. Matter-of-fact, the perception was that crime wasn’t only rampant, but that it was sharply rising.

Enter Sir Robert.

In order to mollify those who believed that professional police were “a curse and a despotism”, and secure their aid in creating his professional police force, Sir Robert Peel developed what became known as The Peelian Principles; which are considered to be the basic foundation for all modern policing:

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 the public approval of police actions.

3) Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observation of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.

4) The degree of co-operation 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 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.

My academy devoted two days to the study of Sir Robert and his Principles of Policing. I am of the firm opinion that these Principles should be Gospel for every Peace Officer.

There are times, though, when I am forced to wonder if some of my fellow Peace Officers have even heard of the Peelian Principles.

And I guaran-damn-tee you that a whole bunch of politicians and police administrators (but I repeat myself) have never heard of #9.

Anyone who doubts this should listen to the next District Attorney, County Commissioner, Representative or any other critter cite the rising number of arrests as proof that their pet anti-crime law is working.



Things They Forgot To Teach In History Class

27 thoughts on ““The Police are the Public, and the Public are the Police.””

  1. Omigawd…a highly educated cop with a conscience, sense of history and public duty.

    And from Texas, too!

    Clone thyself, sir, and send clones north.

    Our fabled RCMP has blotted its copybook with political interference, financial mismanagement, and sheer on-the-job stupidity.

    What other force would conduct its own self-investigation of an “in custody” shooting death of an unarmed man, and pronounce itself blameless?

    They tried to tell us that three armed Mounties couldn’d control an unarmed prisoner any other way?

    Sorry, not buying.

    As you and Sir Robert have so rightly stated, proper law enforcement requires the consent and support of the public.

    That concept should be engraved on the forehead of anyone attending a police academy.

    Public order depends on it.

    Need ‘Dawgs in these parts.

  2. “I am of the firm opinion that these Principles should be Gospel for every Peace Officer.”

    Yes. Oh, yes.

    The sheriff for my county is the worst violator of #9 I’ve ever seen, and the effect is exactly what you’d expect: lots of high-profile activity, and not a lot of effect on the actual crime rate.

  3. Then there are States like North Carolina that have completely separated the powers of the police from the public. They have done away with the citizens power of arrest and arrogated it exclusively to the police.

  4. Spot on Guv’nor.

    We need more Peelers, and less cops.

    Would that we could go back to the good old days, when the two were still synonyms.

  5. Brad

    When you elect sherifs and judges,bad things will happen…read “Curry public favour”.

    When you appoint them, as we do in Canada, you get the same result…

    Just that the “curry favour” part is done in private, over 12 y/o Scotch.

    Same result.

  6. I am retired now.
    I was first saddened when our “rapid response” unit came to masking their faces. The need for such a unit the directives that patrolmen only secure the area pending the assault. How can the public approve of this but out of fear of being a target?
    My career had it’s highlights in helping those in need, not the arrests I made. Although I took more than my share of bad actors into custody.
    Policing has changed, and I have recommended against it for my children. A shame indeed as there is evil in the world that needs strong men to counter.
    I enjoy your recollection of the incidents you have lived. It reminds me of salad days while working in the greatest show on earth.

  7. As a holder of a Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice, I can not agree more. I believe that a large part of the problem is the public’s pressure on law enforcement to “do something” about societal ills by getting “tough” on crime. This has caused law enforcement to be militarized and move from being peace officers to law enforcement agents. Any time someone says “thre should be a law,” there motives should be questioned.

  8. And I guaran-damn-tee you that a whole bunch of politicians and police administrators (but I repeat myself) have never heard of #9.

    And I guaran-damn-tee you that few members of the public have ever heard of #7, either. When we were young, that was what helped keep kids in line when adults other than their parents were around: it was every adult’s responsibility to help rear kids to be good citizens.

    But these days, too many of us don’t think of ourselves as being on the same team as the police. Granted, the attitude of some LEOs helps spur that approach, but it’s awfully easy these days to shirk one’s responsibilities.

    Gah. I’m getting myself in a bad mood now, so I’ve gotta go make myself happier.

  9. The politicians seem to work on about the same theory as my dog –

    Dog: “I better bark at nothing in the middle of the night so my master thinks I am earning my dog food.”

    Politician: “I better talk a lot about ‘Law & Order’ and propose and vote for a bunch of ‘feel-good legislation’ so my constituents will think I am earning my keep and vote for me.”

    I know the population of the US has doubled since the early 1950s and Doctor Spock told us not to beat the sprogs arses even when they needed it. But this era of higher and higher crime rates does not seem to bode well for the nation’s survival. The few calling for ‘tough love’ and stronger sentencing are but voices in the wilderness compared to the masses calling for more and more entitlements and handouts, and non-competitive education and ungraded classes with ‘social advancement.

  10. I am currently enrolled in a Law Enforcement Academy, and I am nearly finished. Tis is the first time I have ever heard of any of this.

    We did however have about 40 hours of community policing that basically tried to teach something like this, but did not do so nearly as well as you did just now.

  11. Thank you, sir, for explaining principle #9 so clearly. I’m seeing now that the list is a unified whole, which I had not appreciated before.

    I, a non-uniformed citizen, am particularly fond of #7: “the police are the public and the public are the police”.

    I believe this is one of the key reasons for the public being armed: to constantly remind us that at any moment any of us may be called on to kill in defense of ourselves or our neighbors.

    Otherwise, we are deluded that we can keep our hands unstained with blood by paying taxes so that we can be protected by brutes less civilized than ourselves.

    Naturally, this leads to arrogance and disdain on both sides.

    It’s notable that in Peel’s time, the public was armed, and the police were not–and somehow, crime was controlled, and the police did not have to wear masks or vests.

  12. The Metro Police were unarmed (and still are, largely) as a way to ensure that laws were only enforced with the cooperation of the public.

    Victorian and Edwardian England was a place where any random gentleman on the street was virtually guaranteed to be armed. If a policeman needed assistance, he need only summon a crowd.

    The death of polite culture, and the explosion of the criminal class, begins with the power imbalance that happens when good people are disarmed.

  13. Oddly enough, this excellent post reminds me of something I read last night in Pratchett’s Men At Arms:
    [Do you know where “policeman” comes from, sir? Vimes hadn’t. “Polis” used to mean “city”, said Carrot. That’s what policeman means: “a man for the city”. Not many people know that. The word “polite” comes from “polis”, too. It used to mean proper behavior from someone living IN a city.]

  14. Most interesting, Lawdog…I have heard of Sir Peeler before, but didn’t know much about him. It seems that anytime we get further away from an idea’s origins, the effectivity of the idea becomes less. Not that the original idea is any less potent, it just becomes diffused. Kind of like shining a Mag-light on something 300 ft away…the light is bright, but at that distance you can’t see anything with it.

  15. There are an awful lot of cops here in MA that could stand to be reminded of #5: Police seek and preserve public favor not by catering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.

    It has become a joke up here in that when a cop is arrested for breaking a law (Say, for example, getting drunk and shooting his shotgun THROUGH a neighbor’s house), he gets a slap on his wrist, but unlike a citizen who did such a thing, he’ll NEVER see jail time.

  16. LD, I’ve wondered how many of our constabulary still were aware of Sir Robert Peel and his rules. Thanks for restoring my confidence.

    Clone thyself, sir, and send clones north.

    There’s a frightening thought, Lawdog Fetts running all about the Great White North!

    “Polis” used to mean “city”, said Carrot. That’s what policeman means: “a man for the city”.

    Similarly, sheriff comes from shire for one who guards the county.

  17. Unfortunately, a lot of “law enforcement” departments have turned into “revenue enhancement” departments as they seem to have a mindset of stopping as many “speeders” as possible to hand out high-priced tickets, arresting everyone possible for drug possession or “solicitation” of prostitutes so that the “law” can sell the “perps” property at auction after seizing it through (blatently unconstitutional) “asset-forfeiture” “laws,” etc.

    Those sorts of things cause folks to lose respect for cops in general. So why do so many departments do those things these days?

    I was driving in mid-lower Michigan on Sunday evening, and it seemed every state patrolman was on overtime pulling folks over and writing tickets. Geez.

    — chicopanther

  18. Carrot also mentioned the origin of the word “police” to Lord Vetinari, Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, who in turn invited Carrot to ponder the origin of the word, “politician”.

    Pratchett is a wonderfully subversive writer.

  19. Law enforcement had better do something to change the way it operates and do it quickly.

    Some of the most hateful, vitriolic and scathing comments I have heard as of late directed at the police hasn’t been from 20 something kids, urban types or assorted dope smoking longhairs. The most pointed criticism has been from old ladies. Little gray haired grandmas and great grandmas in the 60s, 70s and 80s. They have expressed a seething hatred for various officers of the law as of late. They have all had personal experiences with different officers and they have what is best described as seething hatred for them. These aren’t poor minority residents from public housing in the inner city. These are little old ladies from very small towns and farmers wives from very rural areas. I was frankly shocked at the profanity the subject evoked from little church going old ladies. I was stunned.

    When the geriatric set starts wishing you dead – literally hoping you get killed – you’ve really got to start looking at how you’re doing business.

  20. Those principles should not necessarily be gospel but they should be a sort of catechism memorized and recited by the policemen every day in police academy and before starting every shift in the ready room. Sort of a daily flag salute, but with more meaning for the police.

  21. Quote Boyd: But these days, too many of us don’t think of ourselves as being on the same team as the police. Granted, the attitude of some LEOs helps spur that approach, but it’s awfully easy these days to shirk one’s responsibilities.

    It’s hard sometimes, to separate the spirit of cooperation into its component parts. There are so many laws that are on the books these days (which, of course, I understand the police are charged with enforcing) that I myself cannot agree with, and thus cannot play my part as a citizen in assisting them.

    So little of what the police most visibly concentrate on is actual crime, that it’s easy to forget that their goals do on occasion align with my own.

    (Defence of person, property, and liberty, in case you’re wondering.)

  22. lawdog, i came to you from matt and tam, and have enjoyed your discussions…this one hit home…

    my earlier thread leading to a discussion with tam on no-knocks shook me up a little with the tangent it led to, namely just how far from peel’s ideals we have come, but that’s not really refelected in my own years of experience with the guys who were or would become the focus of so much ire…

    young’uns (remember the 60’s and 70’s anybody? i do) have always had that strong us’n’them mindset towards cops, but it’s us, middle aged, freedom loving, rights wielding middle Americans whose attitudes have more lately developed such individual and vitriolic attitudes towards the individuals who are and become cops…and some of these warrant cases do expose violent, robotic, corrupt, twisted individuals…but why have they become that way?

    we are following a dangerous path…but it mostly doesn’t start with the guys who choose that noble and idealistic career path, the system breeds abuse and is directly responsible for it…

    our anger and attitude towards individuals is misguided and a waste of energy; changes in mission and policy have to start at the top (voters) and work down (politicians, administrators, supervisors, and finally the cop who is on the street… or banging in your front door).


  23. I saw a link to this in the Brothers of the Shield section of one of the major gun boards. There were 71 reads and not one comment.


  24. Dawg and Friends:

    Robert (Bobby) Peel’s principles are not unknown to this retired dawg.

    Though I wasn’t employed by LAPD, I did live in its (later infamous) Foothill Division for 23 years.

    Chief Edward M. Davis was my hero during the 70’s.

    His “20 Management Principles” incorporate Peel’s nine, and seemed at the time revolutionary to this youngster in the sheep dawg business.

    But, his Team Policing patrol program was a huge positive step in making Peel’s principles more than words on paper.

    Sadly, the police union caused the program be disbanded. If I recall correctly, specialists such as detectives felt abused, being relegated to a support role for the patrol folks.

    I could be wrong, but that’s the way I remember it. Some of your gentle readers may have better memories.

    Best to all,


  25. I am a criminology student right now…and as I read this principles many things come out in my mind…one of this is on concern with the #1….the main function of the police is to prevent crime…but how come now adays they are now the who first violate the law and make crime…(i.e. eating on a carinderia and not paying what he eats because he vaunt that he is a police officer and why must he pay)..that i thing i knew because I've already encountered that kind of situation….

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