Principles of Policing–Sir Robert Peel

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“Peel’s Principles of Policing”

The nine principles of policing are often attributed to Sir Robert Peel and the founding of London Metropolitan Police Department in 1829.

  1. The basic mission for which police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.
  2. The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police existence, actions, behavior and the ability of the police to secure and maintain public respect.
  3. The police must secure the willing cooperation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain public respect.
  4. The degree of cooperation of the public that can be secured diminishes, proportionately, to the necessity for the use of physical force.
  5. The police seek and preserve public favor, not by catering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to the 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 society without regard to their race or social standing.
  6. The police should 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. The 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 are the only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the intent of the community welfare.
  8. The police should always direct their actions toward their functions and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary by avenging individuals or the state.
  9. The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.

History of the “Peelian Principles” of Policing

“Teach people that liberty does not consist in having your house robbed by organized gangs of thieves”–Sir Robert Peel writing to the Duke of Wellington

In many ways, the history of modern policing can be traced to 1829 and the founding of London’s Metropolitan Police Department (Lentz & Chaires, 2007). The department was founded by “The Metropolitan Police Act, which Peel introducted on April 15, 1829, and is more formally known as the Act for Improving the Police in and near the Metropolis, 10 Geo.4, C.44 (Thomson, 1936; Lyman, 1964).

It is important to note that there is some controversy about whether these principles belong to Peel, or were the work of the first Metropolitican Police commissioners, or whether there were nine or 12 principles. Further still, no matter the origin, the wisdom imparted within these principles can be traced back even further, for example, to “A Treatise on the Police of the Metroplis” written by Patrick Colquhoun in 1805 (Barrie, 2008).

And while Peel himself may not have actually written these words, the principles that he promoted were introduced by the first police commissioners to guide new police officers. Somewhat ironically, Peel had to convine the elites that establishing the police department was necessary, not only to prevent crime but to preserve freedom, as evidenced in Peel’s letter to the Duke of Wellington.

Source: Painting by Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1805-73): Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, with Sir Robert Peel.


Adegbile, D. P. (2017). Policing through an American prism. The Yale Law Journal, 126(7), 2222-2259.

Barrie, D. G. (2008). Patrick Colquhoun, the Scottish Enlightenment and police reform in Glasgow in the late eighteenth century. Crime, Histoire & Societes / Crime, History & Societies, 12(2), 59-79.

Lentz, S. A., & Chaires, R. H. (2007). The invention of Peel’s Principles: A study of policing ‘textbook’ history. Journal of Criminal Justice, 35(1), 69-79.

Lyman, J. (1964). The Metropolitan Police Act of 1829: An Analysis of Certain Events Influencing the Passage and Character of the Metropolitan Police Act in England. The Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science, 55(1), 141-154. doi:10.2307/1140471

Rawlings, P. (2002). Policing: A short history. Willan.

Thomson, B. (1936). The story of Scotland Yard. Literary Guild.

Williams, K. L. (2003). Peel’s principles and their acceptance by american police: Ending 175 years of reinvention. Police Journal (Chichester), 76(2), 97-120.

Law Officer Team

Law Officer Team

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