Peel's Principles of Law Enforcement


While reading George Kelling and Catherine Coles's 1996 book Fixing Broken Windows, I was very interested to come across a set of Principles of Law Enforcement that were developed by Sir Robert Peel in 1829. Peel was a Tory and Conservative and served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1834 to 1835 and again from 1841 to 1846.

The principles represent an early version of community policing that could serve as a good guide to police forces in the modern day. They point out that the goal of police "is to prevent crime and disorder" (emphasis added), not simply to respond to it or to catch criminals. The document also deals explicitly with police relations with the community ("the police are the public and the public are the police"), use of force ("cooperation of the public...diminishes, proportionately, to the necessity for the use of physical force and compulsion"), and the appropriate measure of police success ("the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them").

Kelling and Coles argue that "if we adopt the approach implicit in Peel's principles…We must move away from the use of reactive, 911 policing." This means that low crime rates, order maintenance, and positive citizen perceptions of the police, not 911 response times or number of arrests, are the appropriate measures of police success. The authors go on to say that "In partnership with the police, citizens themselves must…accept mutual responsibility for their own prudent, effective, and legally permissible involvement in crime prevention and order maintenance." Citizen involvement in public safety and order maintenence is similar to the concept Jane Jacobs referred to in The Death and Life of Great American Cities as "eyes on the street," where a city can "make a safety asset…out of the presence of strangers."

Here is the complete set of principles, reprinted from Kelling and Coles's book.

  1. The basic mission for which police exist is to prevent crime and disorder...
  2. The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police existence, actions, behavior and the ability of the police to secure and maintain public respect.
  3. The police must secure the willing cooperation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain public respect.
  4. The degree of cooperation of the public that can be secured diminishes, proportionately, to the necessity for the use of physical force...
  5. The police seek and preserve public favor, not by catering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to the 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 society without regard to their race or social standing...
  6. The police should 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. The 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 are the only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the intent of the community welfare.
  8. The police should always direct their actions toward their functions and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary by avenging individuals or the state...
  9. The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.
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