Sir Robert Peel, the architect of Nineteenth Century English police process (and from whom English “bobbies” get their name), established the following nine principles as a guide to reorganizing and refocusing the London Metropolitan Police:
Peel’s Nine Principles of 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 public approval of police actions.
3 Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observance 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 favour 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 on 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.
Take particular notice of principle number 7. “[T]he police are the public and the public are the police.” Too often police are placed on a pedestal of infallibility and privilege. Likewise “regular citizens” are demoted to a lower rung on the ladder where they are assumed to be incapable of handling responsibility and unworthy of trust. (Citizens in certain neighborhoods are placed even lower.) Frederick Bastiat, one of the most influential philosophers of the Revolutionary period, dedicated a substantial treatise to the subject of the law, who the police are, and what is the source of their authority. His conclusion; they are us, and they derive their authority from us. Perhaps more importantly, Bastiat concludes that in giving police their authority, we do not remove that authority from ourselves.
The argument and logic is simple: Each individual has the right – the authority – to defend their own life and property and the responsibility, and authority, to defend our neighbor’s life and property. As society develops and populations grow, it becomes practical to pool our individual authority and lend it to hired servants who can focus on those obligations of society while we focus on other pursuits. Such servants can have no more authority than is held by the masters who hire them, and those masters have no less authority and obligation than they did before they hired the servants.
The United States of America was founded on this philosophy. The Constitution was written as a framework for executing this philosophy. The Bill of Rights was added as a bulwark against dilution of this philosophy. Any politician or public servant who shows any indication of not understanding this philosophy should be immediately sent down from any position of authority and reminded that all authority of government is drawn from the authority of the governed.
Tragically, the British have completely forgotten this lesson which they once tenuously grasped. They now prosecute citizens for resisting criminals, even for defending themselves against physical attack. Many in the States are forgetting too. A man in Massachusetts recently found two aggressive drug users in a neighbor’s shed. When they advanced threateningly on him, he drew a gun and held them until the police arrived. The police then took the good neighbor into custody and higher-ups attempted to get his concealed carry permit revoked for “taking the law into his own hands.” They have clearly forgotten that his hands are where the law belongs, where it comes from, and where it ultimately resides. Every citizen has the same authority that any police officer has. We have agreed, for the sake of order, to place certain rules upon our exercise of that authority, but we have never abdicated it.
In the face of our police becoming more militarized, it is more important than ever that individual police officers, police agencies, and their political overseers understand the source of their powers and return to their roots – to Peel’s Nine Principles.