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People march during a protest against racial inequality and police brutality, in Montreal, on June 7, 2020.CHRISTINNE MUSCHI/Reuters

The first policing was community policing.

Before Sir Robert Peel created the first modern police force, in London in 1829, he had to overcome public opposition and well-founded suspicion. Although what was then the world’s largest city suffered from high levels of crime, the idea of a permanent police body was not popular.

Opponents feared that this new group would look like an occupying army and would trample civil liberties. Britain had long had no standing army, because soldiers in the streets were seen as the first step toward tyranny. One of the chief complaints in the American Declaration of Independence was that the king “has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies.”

To critics, the idea of police sounded like a recipe for abuse.

Peel shared these concerns, but also believed that if the right measures were taken, it would be possible to create a force of officers who would support the community rather than impose on it; would be impartial; and would protect citizens rather than harm them.

Peel and the London Metropolitan Police Service elaborated what have come to be known as the Peel Principles of Policing. Most Canadian police officers know these nine commandments; unfortunately, the practices of Canadian police services do not fully live up to them.

Tomorrow, in this space, we’re going to lay out some big ideas for rethinking policing in Canada. The Peelian ideal is that “the police are the public, and the public are the police” – a good starting point for any conversation about how to reform policing for the benefit of everyone.

Peel’s principles are “unique in history,” according to one historian, because they derive “not from fear but almost exclusively from public co-operation with the police,” owing to police earning “the approval, respect and affection of the public.”

That’s the ideal. Here are Peel’s nine principles of policing:

  1. To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.
  2. To recognize always that the power of the police to fulfill 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 recognize 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 recognize always that the extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately to 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 that 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 that are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
  8. To recognize 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 recognize 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.

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