Thursday, September 28, 2006

Nine steps to a better police force

The creator of DI Jack frost, RD Wingfield, explains in today's Daily Mail just why he is killing off his creation. Wingfield recounts the story of how hiw nephew was arrested, handcuffed and held in custody over a crime he didn't commit - the theft of a £30 battery charger.

Wingfield is the latest in an ever increasing number of people who no longer have faith in the police. Why is this? And does it matter if the people do not have faith in the police?

In 1829, when Sir Robert Peel established the Metropolitan Police Force, he laid down nine principles.

1 - The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.

To "prevent crime and disorder". It is vital to understand this point - that the purpose of the police is to prevent, not just to detect, crime and disorder - not just crime. Do the police actively attempt to prevent crime today? No. Police crime prevention relies heavily on passive systems such as CCTV or burglar alarms. The police themselves are a purely reactive force, responding to reports of a crime (sometimes), but making no effort to prevent that crime from taking place. Nor do the police make any effort to prevent disorder. How many times have we heard them say something like "we can't take any action until a crime has actually been committed"? Not true. They can - and Peel's principles insist they should - take action by making the effort to prevent disorder. The preferred method for doing this was foot patrols by police constables. These were very effective, but in the 1960's the police changed - with a complete disregard for Peel's first principle - from being a proactive force to a reactive force.

2 - The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon the public approval of police actions.

Whether deliberate or not, this second principle follows on from the first so perfectly it's almost uncanny. Without public approval the police become increasingly ineffective. Public approval comes from a number of things, but most of all, and most obviously, from the absence of crime and disorder. Disorder can mean any number of things - obvious things like gangs of unruly youths or noisy, disruptive parties, but also the less obvious such asgraffitii or broken windows. The police will claim - quite rightly - that it is not their job to clean upgraffitii or replace broken windows, but it most definitely istheirr job to prevent these things. When it is apparent that they are failing to do this, then public approval of their actions goes down. Public approval is further diminished by the use of such things as speed cameras which are seen as intrusive and punitive on the law abiding majority.

3 - Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observation of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.

Once again, Peel's ability to flow his principles so adroitly belies the apparent simplicity of them. Quite simply, once the police ability to prevent crime and disorder appears to diminish - and along with it the public approval drops - then their ability to secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observation of the law goes down along with respect for the police.

4 - The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.

Likewise, as respect for the police and law drops so the need for the use of physical force in imposing law and order increases - whether it is arresting drunks on a Friday night or clubbing protesters over the head with batons. It's not helped either by the illusion of force created by the way the police dress. Paramilitary style uniforms, stab vests and, increasingly, guns convey an image of a police ready to use force as a first rather than last resort.

5 - Police seek and preserve public favor not by catering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.

Again, its so obvious isn't it? But do the police follow it? Well, when muslim protesters demonstrated in London carrying captions calling for the beheading and murder of people who "insult" Islam, the reaction of the police was to do nothing. They did nothing, not because there was no law being broken - there clearly was - but because they are concerned about the opinion of a particular section of the population.

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.

So force should only be used once attempts of persuasion, advice and warning have been exhausted - and note that this not just to "secure observation of the law", but to "restore order" too. Once again, Peel makes it clear that the role of the police is not just to uphold the law, but to preserve or restore order. So next time a bunch of kids are running riot on your estate and the police say they can't do anything unless an actual crime has been committed, remind them of Peel's principles. THIS IS THEIR JOB. On the subject of the use of force only after other avenues have been found wanting, can the police honestly say that they do this? In direct contrast to the muslim protest mentioned above we had the pro-hunting protest a year or so before where the police clearly used force as a first alternative rather than the last.

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 upon every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

This is such an important principle, but it often gets overlooked. The police like nothing more than to remind us not to take matters into our own hands but to let them deal with it in their way. But Peel's 7th principle makes it quite clear that it is the duty of all citizens to police their community. As such, we too have the right to use force "to the extent necessary" once persuasion, advice and warning have proved insufficient - and that includes restoring or maintaining order. So you do have the right to clip some brat round the ear if they refuse to stop lobbing bricks through your windows.

8 - Police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions, and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary.

It's probably fair to say that the police do not appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary, but whether they always direct their actions strictly towards their functions is questionable in a police force that has become increasingly politicised. Too often, the police direct their actions to what is considered to be politically correct rather than strictly towards their functions (to prevent crime and disorder). Senior police officers frequently make statements of a political nature which they simply do not have the right to do - for example, when Sir Ian Blair, Britain's most senior policeman claimed that the media was "institutionally racist" in the way it reports murders. As a member of the public, Sir Ian has a right to an opinion, but as a member of the police force, he has no right to express it.

9 - The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.

Bringing us back full circle to principle number 1, Peel encapsulates perfectly what the real measure of the police should be. Not massaged or managed statistics, but the actual absence of crime and disorder. The publication of targets - and results against targets - are the sort of "visible evidence" that Peel is fervently opposed to. The police force (and government) can make all the claims and publish all the statistics they want, but until we,the public, can actually say that crime and disorder are largely absent from our streets then they will be failing in their mission.

It is my belief that the police could go along way to restoring it's reputation and efficiency by going back to these basic and common sense principles. Every police officer should carry a copy with them at all times and every senior officer should have them prominently displayed in his office as a reminder of just what it is they are supposed to do - prevent crime and disorder.

Incidentally, if you search the internet, you will find a number of different versions of "Peel's principles" altered to reflect modern political correctness or police priorities. Ignore them. As far as I am aware, the principles listed above are as Peel wrote them - and as such are the only real Peelian Principles.

1 comment:

grumpydoc said...

The original Nine Principles of Policing are relevant today as they have always been. Your clear explanation combined with criticism of modern-day policing admirably highlights this fact.