Early Roots of Policing: Sir Robert Peel


Sir Robert Peel is known in the books as the founder of the first form of an English police department: the London Metropolitan Police. This was after his London Metropolitan Police Act passed in 1829, giving greater power to the English police force and establishing what he is known for today. Peels ideas were very well defined and offered a lot to policing even up to modern day. To understand the impact of this, we must take a look at Peel's act, and know how it would change policing.

Peel was Home Secretary of England when his act passed in 1929. Sir Peel’s mission in creating his police force was to establish control on crime. He wanted to obtain this through crime prevention. Thus far, policing had been reactive for the most part. His ideas of crime prevention reflected the proactive idealization, that is that preventing crime is more effective than responding to it. Sir Peel's principles were heavily influenced by the military as well. He implemented the military’s organizational structure such as their uniforms, ranks and rank structure, discipline, and an authoritarian system of command. In an authoritarian system of command, one single person is in charge at the top of the command chain. This same military approach is still one of the most commonly used command structures in today’s policing.

Although Sir Peel established these groundbreaking principles for policing, he was not a police officer himself. Sir Peel guided London’s police department with “Peel's Principles of Policing”. The principles that Peel laid out focused on what he believed the core values for being a good police officer were. Sir Peel also introduced two other elements to policing, which became the basis for modern policing: mission statement and strategy. These days, every police department clearly defines and displays their mission and values statements, as well as every department develops effective and efficient strategies.

Sir Peel’s nine principles addressed many of the factors that are considered in a “good” police department today. Some of these factors were those such as crime prevention, approval by public, physical force limitation and ability, and (equivalent to) community policing strategies. Peel stressed the importance of gaining public approval and assistance against fighting crime as the most important aspect to an effective and successful department. He would do this through his idea of community oriented policing, which involved officers getting in touch with the community in hopes of forming good relations. If these relations are formed, the public is more trusting of law enforcement, and much more willing to provide information and report incidents to them. These ideas were revolutionary for the time period, being that these were very different from what was established as policing during earlier time periods (watch systems, unprofessional attitudes, etc).

Peel also developed some attributes officers in a department should strive to have in order to maintain a code of ethics. He defined things such as being impartial to enforcing the law and never abusing the powers sworn to them. This, again, is due to the amount of corruption and police abuse that had existed prior to Peel's era. To maintain these ethics, Peel said, would further stress his idea that the police are the public and the public are the police.

Sir Robert Peel’s London Metropolitan Police Act and his principles of policing have helped modern day policing in many ways. By gaining the public’s trust, enabling them to call local law enforcement when help is needed, and by keeping a strict code of ethics, Peel established some of the most important ideas of today. Community policing has been a main focus in law enforcement in this modern day, as more departments are recognizing the benefits of Peel's principles. With the community and the police officers working together, crime rates would decrease and the streets would be safer. Sir Robert Peel established that police and the community are equal in terms of effective policing. Without the police and the public working together, society would have a difficult time trying to survive.

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