Roots of policing by consent

Much of what I’ve written on this blog is critical of the administration of justice, particularly in policing and specifically within the RCMP. Critics suggest that I am naively unfair and misunderstand the particularities of law enforcement. My reaction is that too many in policing have lost sight of fundamental principles that first guided their profession.

A book written by British Police Historian Charles Reith in 1956, A New Study of Police History, included an appendix listing principles underlying the philosophy of policing by consent. These were probably originated by the first Commissioners of the London Metropolitan Police, formed by an Act of 1829.

Despite 180 years passing, The Nine Principles of Policing maintain powerful credibility:

  • To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.
  • To recognize always that the power of the police to fulfill their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behavior and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.
  • To recognize 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 recognize 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 favor, 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 humor; 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 recognize 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 recognize 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.

Categories: Justice

2 replies »

  1. Thank you for this eloquent piece of historical values. Common sense, every one of those principles. I wonder if that’s why we see so little application of these concepts in police forces today except perhaps, at the “beat cop” level where common sense and knowledge of your area will go much farther than military thuggishness. To be fair, those principles have been strained since their inception by human weakness but police forces seem to have become more and more “Us vs. Them” and the resulting militarising of the methods used by the police.



  2. Norman Farell,

    Are you familiar with the writings of Paul Palango on the RCMP and dysfunction in the organization (and on Parliament Hill)? If not, you might find them an interesting read.

    Mike Zimmer


Leave a reply but be on topic and civil.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s