10th July 2010

Posted in

Blog :: Sir Robert Peel and modern policing

I guess this is a follow-up to my Ending the War on Dogs post. I had a bit of discussion on Facebook about the post. One argument was that drug laws convey important societal disapproval of drug consumption. I guess I wasn't clear enough about the many harms I see coming from the drug war that swamp the benefits it may provide.

One harm I see is the growing rift between civil society and the police force. In many ways I think the worst consequence of the Drug war in the US has been its effect on the police force. Despite being basically a Law-and-order conservative on issues of crime and punishment, I feel ambivalent at best about the current concept of Policing. To know why that is so you could read Radley Balko (or Photography is Not a Crime for that matter). More philosophically though - I think it is because policing in this country has gone badly astray.

Consider Robert Peel. He is the father of the modern police force (and the derivation of the nickname "Bobbies" for English policeman). Wikipedia lists a set of "Peelian Principles" that I think are worth quoting in full:

  1. The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.
  2. The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon the public approval of police actions.
  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.
  4. The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.
  5. Police seek and preserve public favour not by catering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.
  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.
  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.
  8. Police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions, and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary.
  9. The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.

The application to (or conflict between) the drug war and these principles which founded modern policing seems obvious to me - with sometimes tragic results. The destruction of point seven in particular seems to me to be a direct consequence of the war on drugs. Discuss among yourselves.

Posted on July 10th 2010, 12:00 PM

blog comments powered by Disqus