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Wednesday, 8 June 2011

The Nine Principles of Policing

The following set of principles, which lay out in the clearest and most succinct terms the philosophy of policing by consent, appeared as an appendix to A New Study of Police History by Charles Reith (London: Oliver and Boyd, 1956). Reith was a lifelong historian of the police force in Britain, and this book covers the early years of Metropolitan Police following the passage of Sir Robert Peel's 'Bill for Improving the Police in and near the Metropolis' on 19 June 1829. Reith notes that there are particular problems involved in writing police history, owing to the loss or destruction of much early archive material, and, probably for this reason, the principles appear without details of author or date.


However, it seems most likely that they were composed by Charles Rowan and Richard Mayne, as the first and joint Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police. Rowan was a military man and Mayne, fourteen years his junior, a barrister. Rowan retired in 1850 leaving Mayne as sole Commissioner until his death in 1868. The sentiments expressed in the 'Nine Principles' reflect those contained in the 'General Instructions', first published in 1829, which were issued to every member of the Metropolitan Police, especially the emphasis on prevention of crime as the most important duty of the police.

Reith notes that Rowan and Mayne's conception of a police force was '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' (p. 140).

The 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 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

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 which 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 which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

8. 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.

9. 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.


  1. That is very interesting and the way it should be, but not in todays world. The police is supposed to protect the public and serve the public, not be brutal to innocent, respectable citizens like in my case and poor Ms.Maudsley's case. My prayers go out to that poor girl and her family. What a sad, sad thing. That girl didn't deserve all that. That patrolman should be fired on the spot. I feel it comes down to management and training of the officers.

    1. It certainly takes good police management and training to keep police officers on the right track for their internal, fundamental, psychology for dealing with the public.

      Once it starts to go wrong it becomes a self-perpetuating 'snowball' effect. Once a 'them and us' attitude enters the equation it spreads and grows. Public resentment of the police has the effect of police resentment of the public and vice-versa.

      Effective policing of the public is entirely dependent on this disease being eradicated. Its occurrence is a natural effect of human social behaviour and that means constant maintenance must take place to cauterise the causes as soon as it is manifested.

      To do this is the job of the police. Because the police impose their authority onto the people the natural balance is disturbed.

      For example I am not a criminal or trouble-maker but if I am stopped by the police, routinely perhaps, if the approach is not just right I will bristle. If the officer pointed a gun at me I would object. I will make a point of objecting if I see a police office with their finger inside of their gun's trigger guard even if the officer is not directing his attention to me. (note: cops with guns are rare in the UK).

      If the approach is friendly and courteous there is no friction. If it is not friction will occur. If it is continuously unjustifiably harsh I will quickly become resentful of the police. (note: I am white and middle class so I know that ticks all the 'be friendly' boxes for many officers even in the UK).

      The fact is that good policing pays dividends in police effectiveness. A good relationship with the public and even with the criminals they deal with helps the job to swing along. A bad relationship causes a great deal more difficulty in exercising necessary authority and executing their duty.

      So why do the authorities allow this to happen? It does come down, as you say, to "management and training of the officers" but it goes a level deeper than that. The will must be there to bring this happy relationship about.

      I believe that in a society as complicated and considered as the world we live in today the ability to realise and implement the necessary initiative exists. Not should exist but does exist.

      So why does this not happen. If the leaders of the police know the 'contract' with the public is maintained by such cordial behaviour, emanating first from the police, why is there not constant vigilance to keep the the force and its officers on track?

      Could it be that the negative effect is actually deliberate and desired. Logic would dictate this must be so.

      On the whole, currently, the relationship between the public and the police is cordial. It is not generally all out war between 'them and us'. But there is an undercurrent which we all recognise and understand.

      We know it is possible that the 'genetic pool' of the police could rapidly evolve into something very nasty and we can see this would not require some previously unseen special mutation to occur; the material for it is already very prevalent. It will only take a change in the environment to allow this gene to dominate entirely.


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