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by Peter Moskos

September 15, 2011

The Principles That Never Were

It turns out the Peel’s famous "Principles of Policing" are a fraud. I kind of always suspected that... but not so much that I didn’t quote them at length in the afterward to the paperback edition of Cop in the Hood. I should have known better because Susan Lentz and Robert Chaires had already published an article stating as much in 2007: “The Invention of Peel’s Principles: A study of policing ‘textbook’ history.” Journal of Criminal Justice. Vol. 35, pp. 69-79. But I only became aware of this article two days ago, thanks entirely to the ace library staff here at the National Police Improvement Agency at Bramshill, UK.

I believed in Peel’s Principles. I still do. But I never was able to trace them earlier that Reith's (1948) A Short History of the British Police. Reith cites Lee's (1901) A History of Police in England, which I have (and the principles ain't in them). This made me suspicious. But it’s not easy to get one’s hands on the original 1829 Patrol Guide: Metropolitan Police—Instructions to Police Officers. It turns out these instructions are all of 60 pages, which puts contemporary Patrol Guides or General Orders to shame.

Well the original (or a copy of it) exists here at Bramshill, England, and I spend a day going through it. What does Peel say? Well, very little (and more likely Commissioner Rowan wrote it). It’s mostly nitty gritty details about what each rank (all four of them) is supposed to do. It's interesting, mind you. Constables were paid 3 shilling a day and were expected to work 12 hours-a-day, half on the beat and half in the station as a reserve force. But it says nothing about "the police being the public and public the police." There's a whole lot about the importance of following orders.

The guide does say, and I’ll quote at length because this is hard-to-fine source material:

The following General Instructions for the different ranks of the Police Force are not to be understood as containing rules of conduct applicable to every variety of circumstances may occur in the performance of their duty; something must necessarily be left to the intelligence and discretion of individuals; and according to the degree in which they shew [sic] themselves possessed of these qualities, and to their zeal, activity, and judgment, on all occasions, will be their claims to future promotion and reward.

It should be understood, at the outset, that the principal object to be attained is “the Prevention of Crime.”

To this great end every effort of the Police is to be directed. The security of person and property, the preservation of the public tranquility, and all the other objects of a Police Establishment, will thus be better effected, than by the detection and punishment of the offender, after he has succeeded in committing the crime. This should constantly be kept in mind by every member of the Police Force, as the guide for his own conduct. Officers and Police Constables should endeavour to distinguish themselves by such vigilance and activity as may render it extremely difficult for any one to commit a crime within that portion of the town under their charge. (pp. 1-2)


Every Police constable in the Force may hope to rise by activity, intelligence, and good conduct, to the superior stations. he must make it his study to recommend himself to notice by a diligent discharge of his duties, and strict obedience to the commands of his superiors, recollecting, that he who has been accustomed to submit to discipline, will be considered best qualified to command.
He must readily and punctually obey the orders and instructions of the Sergeants, inspectors, and Superintendents. if they appear to him either unlawful or improper, he may complain to the commissioners, who will pay due attention to him; but any refusal to perform the commands of his superiors, or negligence in doing so, will not be suffered.
[H]e is to be marched by his Serjeant to the Section. A particular portion of the Section is committed to his care: he will have previously received from his Serjeant a card with the name of the streets, &c. forming his Beat. he will be held responsible for the security of life and property, within his Beat, and for the preservation of the peace and general good order, during the time he is on duty.
It is indispensably necessary, that he should make himself perfectly acquainted with all the parts of his beat or section, with the streets, thoroughfares, courts, and houses.

He will be expected to possess such a knowledge of the inhabitants of each house, as will enable him to recognize their persons. He will thus prevent mistakes, and be enabled to render assistance to the inhabitants when called for.

He should be able to see every part of his beat, at least once in ten minutes or a quarter of an hours; and this he will be expected to do; so that any person requiring assistance, by remaining in the same spot for that length of time, may be able to meet a Constable.

This regularity of moving through his beat shall not, however, prevent his remaining at any particular place, if his presence there be necessary to observe the conduct of any suspected person, or for any other good reason; but he will be required to satisfy his Serjeant [sic], or superior Officers, that there was a sufficient cause for such apparent irregularity. He will also attend at the appointed times, to make a report to his Serjeant of any thing [sic] requiring notice.

He is not to call the hour; and if at any time he requires immediate assistance, and can-not in any other way obtain it, he must spring his rattle, but this is to be done as seldom as possible, for though he is provided with one, and may sometimes find it necessary to use it, such alarms often creates the inconvenience, which it is intended to prevent, by assembling a crowd; thus giving an opportunity of escape to the criminals. He will be required to report to the Serjeant of his party, every occasion of his using the rattle. (pp. 37-40)
On no pretence [sic] shall he enter any public house, except in the immediate execution of his Duty; such a breach of positive order will not excused: the publican himself is subject to a severe fine, for allowing him to remain in his house. No liquor of any sort, shall be taken from a publican, without paying for it at the time.

He will be civil and attentive to all persons, of every rank and class; insolence or incivility will not be passed over. (p. 41)
While on Duty, he must not enter into conversation with any one, except on matters relating to his Duty.

He must be particularly cautious, not to interfere idly or unnecessarily; when required to act, he will do so with decision and boldness; on all occasions he may expect to receive the fullest support in the proper exercise of his authority.

He must remember, that there is no qualification more indispensable to a Police Officer than a perfect command of temper, never suffering himself to be moved in the slightest degree, by any language or threats that may be used; if he do his Duty in a quiet and determined manner, such conduct will probably induce well-disposed by-standers to assist him, should he require it.” (p.42)
Certainly prevention of crime is at the core of Peel’s Principles. And the Instructions do mention treating all classes equally, keeping one's cool, and gaining knowledge of one's beat. But there's more emphasis on staying sober, quiet, and following orders. The nine ideals? They simply don’t exist in Peel’s time. They were invented in the 20th century and have since achieved a life of their own (Lentz and Chaires, 2007).

There are a ton of great documents here in the Bramshill library. For all you Broken Windows fans, one from 1901 specifically mentions “disorder” (Instructions for the Lancaster Borough Police Force. Leeds: McCorquodale & Co (p. B1): “The absence of crime and disorder will be considered the best proof of the complete efficiency of the Police.”

The book I found most interesting (and it was wonderful to spend a day poring through old books in a library housed in a 400-year-old mansion) was the 1836 update to the 1829 guide from Peel and Company: Metropolitan Police. Instructions Orders &c. &c. This lists all the new regulations implemented after 1829. Why is that important? Because we don’t have a good idea about what police actually did 200 years ago. But you can tell damn well what some of them did by the rules they made. Every time an officer messed up, they made a rule. Some things never change!

My next posts (mostly because I've already typed in the text, so this will be easy for me to do) will list these new rules, one by one, in real time, 182 years after the fact (the first was issued on September 29, 1829). Read between the lines and image being a police officer in the 1830s. Maybe it wasn't so different after all.


Matt Ashby said...

The staff at the National Police Library are indeed always very helpful and well informed. They do a very efficient mail order service, which is good because Bramshill is not easy to get to!

Unfortunately, since the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) is being abolished, no one seems to know what's going to happen to the library once NPIA is gone.

PCM said...

20% budget cuts are a big deal, especially in a labor-intensive field like policing.

But it's not yet known what if anything is happening to Bramshill.

Either way, I've been assured they won't burn the books.

NYPD Inc (A Division of Guliani Corp) said...