There had been many attempts at upholding law and order over the centuries. Groups of Night Watchmen and organisations such as the Bow Street Runners came and went, doing the best they could but the concept of a professional police did not come to light until 1829 when Robert Peel became the Home Secretary.
It was Sir Robert Peel who was responsible for creating the first modern professional police force in the world in the shape of the Metropolitan Police in London. Having a police force wasn’t as universally accepted as might be thought thought today and was rather analogous with people having their guns taken away in America.
The reason for this is primarily France who had long had a network of secret and overtly political police since the 18th century and as Britain had long been fighting France, the idea that we might want to live in a similar society was quite ghastly.
Therefore Robert Peel drew up nine principles of police to ensure public support.
The nine principles were as follows:
- To deter crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.
- To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil 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.
- To recognise 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.
- To recognise always that the extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.
- 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.
- 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 which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.
- 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 which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
- To recognise 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.
- To recognise 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.
These principles have been described as being “unique in history and throughout the world, because it derived, not from fear, but almost exclusively from public co-operation with the police, induced by them designedly by behaviour which secures and maintains for them the approval, respect and affection of the public.”
Sir Robert Peel must have been onto something as his concept and ideals spread throughout the Commonwealth and across the democratic world. In deed even in corrupt or dictatorships, the idea of having a police force is ingrained in society where it is vital for various reasons for the military not to directly oppress their own people.
It was such a revolutionary idea that for a while the term ‘Police’ didn’t take hold. Clearly not military but not an ordinary civilian, those in uniform were known as ‘Peelers’ in honour of their founder. This term fell out of favour to be replaced by Bobby which is a friendly version of Robert and one which is often used in television and films today.
Most people learn at school that police are your friends and nearly everyone of my tourists remarks on how friendly, helpful and polite they are. In fact in Britain there is something of a joke about the simpler and lower key the police are, the most trustworthy and good they are whilst those countries with police that look rather like soldiers or militarised police are likely to be less pleasant or professional which no doubt partly goes someway as to why police and the public are very happy that as a rule, we don’t have armed police.
In fact even the policeman who stands outside 10 Downing Street where the Prime Minister made the news today in a way that might not happen in some countries when he helped out Larry the Cat.