Sir Robert Peel's Principles of Policing

How the basics of policing can restore trust and repair relationships

Police officer getting out of cruiser behind another vehicle
••• kali9 / Getty Images

At various times throughout recent history, the public and police forces around the country and the world have seemed at odds with each other. While many within the law enforcement community are quick to ascribe these tensions to an increasingly entitled society, they all too often remain ignorant of—or unwilling to explore—the role of the police force in creating the apparent discord between the community and the police who protect them.

A Surprisingly Young Profession

Some forget, and many do not even know, that the modern history of the police force as we know it is not a long one, not even 200 years old. The concept of a modern, organized, and uniformed police force was only first established in 1829 in London and didn't make its way across the pond to the U.S. until the NYPD was organized in 1845.

Public Distrust of Police Is Not New

There was much resistance then, as there is now, to the idea of a uniformed, armed, occupying force patrolling the streets of the community. To address that resistance and assure the public of the good intentions and important benefits that a police force can provide, Sir Robert Peel, at the time the home secretary of the United Kingdom (and later two-term Prime Minister), published what are now famously known as the Nine Peelian Principles.

These principles outline the purpose and mission of policing and provide admonishments for police forces so that they do not lose sight of why they exist and whom they serve. Sir Robert Peel's nine principles, paraphrased below, are perhaps more necessary now than ever before, and those in the law enforcement community would do well to recall and adhere to them.

  1. The purpose of the police force is to prevent crime and maintain order.
  2. Police depend on the approval and trust of the public in order to effectively do their jobs.
  3. The ultimate goal of policing is to achieve voluntary compliance with the law in the community.
  4. Police must be unwavering in their duties, maintaining impartiality and avoiding the temptation to act in vengeance toward the state or individuals or to act in the place of the judiciary.
  5. Police must recognize that the more cooperation they can achieve within the community, the less often they will need to use force to achieve compliance with the law.
  6. Police must maintain the public favor and cooperation by providing impartial and independent law enforcement services, as opposed to succumbing and pandering to the whims of the public. They must extend the same courtesy and respect to everyone, regardless of economic or social standing.
  7. The use of force and physical control is a last resort, only acceptable when other forms of persuasion have failed.
  8. Police officers must remember that they, too, are members of the public and that their purpose is to serve and protect the community of which they are a part.
  9. The true measure of the effectiveness of any police force is not the number of arrests or police actions taken, but the absence of criminal conduct and violations of the law.

Getting Police Back to Basics

The ultimate goal of any officer is to protect the life and property of the public they serve, all while upholding the laws of the land and respecting individual rights. The job is not as complicated as it is sometimes made out to be. Police are called to be guardians, not warriors. When officers are properly oriented toward problem solving and public service, communities are better served, and trust between police and public is preserved.

By remembering the principles Sir Robert Peel laid out for law enforcement not so long ago, it is possible that police forces around the world can initiate the healing process communities so desperately need. In this way, we can better keep both the members of the public and our brave brothers and sisters in law enforcement safe.