Police Life

Sir Robert Peel – The Father of Modern British Policing

Sir Robert Peel, 2nd Baronet, was a member of The Conservative Party who served two terms as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, from 1834-1835 and 1841-46. He also served twice as Home Secretary, in 1822-27 and 1828-30. During his first term as Home Secretary, Peel reformed and liberalised criminal law. His most notable contribution to the UK, was establishing London’s Metropolitan Police Force, based in Scotland Yard, in 1829. This recreated the police force and introduced a new type of officer, often referred to as ‘bobbies’ or ‘peelers,’ in his honour. The main concept behind its introduction was, ‘The police are the public, and the public are the police.’

During the 19th century, crime in London was extensive and a method of effectively controlling criminals became necessary. The majority of citizens were against the formation of an official policing force, however. There were several reasons behind this opposition, including the fear that the force would be used to suppress protests or support popular rule, and the belief that the government should not be responsible for setting up a law enforcement body but this power should be turned over to the people. There was also an ongoing war with France, causing many people to loathe the idea of establishing a force that was similar to theirs.

Despite these concerns, Peel’s force was established and started off with 1000 constables. It was unpopular at first, but proved successful and earned the people’s trust by decreasing the amount of crime in London. By 1857, all UK cities were required to have their own established police force. The success of London’s Metropolitan Public Force was in part to its ethical practises, outlined by nine Peelian Principles, which approached law enforcement in a new way. This unique way of criminal control included a system based on cooperation, instead of a fear based authority. The new model recognised that officers were citizens in uniform, and their power to police was authorised by the citizens themselves. This tied their legitimacy to the transparency about their power, their integrity in the way this authority was exercised and their accountability for their actions.

The Home Office cemented this new system by declaring that the power of the police came from the consent of the public as a whole not the consent of an individual, and no individual could withdraw his or her consent from the police, or a law. The new approach became known as ‘policing by consent,’ and was soon adopted by other countries such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It continues to be the way in which police forces in the United Kingdom operate, and is still highly successful, almost two centuries after its inception.

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