Do you still recognise your children?

The Victorian period was truly a transformational age not universally for good, but it

was undeniably a time of huge change. The man pictured here, in a deliberately uncaptioned photograph was one of the great drivers of societal change under Victoria.

In fairness, his first act in the space for which he has become best known was Georgian rather than Victorian, but more of that later. It's certainly fair to say the change he introduced under George IV blossomed and grew in Victorian society. More than that, it spread around the world and remains in place to the current day.

So great was his influence in the nineteenth century, that he was knighted and subsequently ennobled. He drafted a manifesto of social responsibilities from which the Conservative party was created. He later served as Home Secretary, Chancellor of the Exchequer and twice as Prime Minister under Queen Victoria's reign. Despite this impressive history, I'm guessing a significant number of readers will have no idea who this politician and instrument of social change was.

Though he may be largely unrecognised, his thinking has shaped aspects of societies across the globe.

Wherever you happen to be reading this, I doubt you will be far from an organisation that can trace it's roots back to this man. You will find politician upholding the ethos he laid down and we continue to engage with his creations daily.

Metropolitan Police Lantern

For those who didn't recognise him, let me introduce you to Sir Robert Peel 2nd Baronet FRS.

Widely considered to be the father of policing, his vision resulted in the formation of the world's first modern police service in 1829.

That force (for it was a force not a service) was the Metropolitan Police in London. The structure, ethos and access to justice this brought soon caught on with county forces being established within the decade. The first of those county forces was Wiltshire Police in November 1839 with Gloucestershire following the next day. The reputation of the Metropolitan Police spread around the globe where similar organisations grew and blossomed. Here, I will limit my comments to the UK, though I would be interested to know if my observations ring true elsewhere.

What is perhaps surprising is how relatively unchanged the police in England and Wales has remained since that formation.. Significant policing acts in the early 1900's and 1960's. the move from judges rules to PACE in the 1980's and civilianisation and outsourcing since the 1990s stand as the only meaningful structural changes.

Police Whistles phased out in the 1970's

Here, I should declare an interest. I was in a previous life in what feels like a very different age, a service police officer. However even then (1990) I was issued with a police woollen great coat, tunic and a police whistle. The latter was something of a joke to use up old stock but was a rather telling addition to the uniform, which did not include body armour or more than the truncheon and non-fixed handcuffs.


Older, even than that uniform, are the Peelian principles that underpin modern policing that date back two hundred years. Police Chiefs and politicians repeatedly tell us how valuable they are and how they stand by them. I'm quite a fan of them too - but sadly, we are some way from them and have been for some time. Those principles are: To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

These can be a bit wordy and Georgian to the modern reader so have been summarised in more modern parlance as: 1. We police by consent of the public which requires their trust and respect


2. Policing isn't done to the public but with the public for we are part of the public

3. The more force and compulsion you use the less support you can guarantee


4. Policing should be independent of government policy and not driven by public

opinion but by law. It must be applied fairly, without fear or favour to all regardless of means or standing in order to protect life and uphold the rule of law.


5 Any force must be necessary, appropriate, reasonable and proportionate. Minimum necessary force should be used in achieving an outcome.


6. The police are the public and the public are the police. Police are of the community not above the community


7. The police uphold the law and investigate alleged offences, they do not dispense justice which is a role of the judiciary


8. Good policing reduces crime - being good and investigating crime after the event is not enough.


Now I don't know about you, but doesn't sound like my experience of the modern police service.

If I think of any of the issues we criticise the police for, they are all breaches of the original Peelian principles. That may be excessive force, discriminatory or oppressive behaviour, or just inefficiency.

When I joined my local police force, I couldn't have imagined a time when 999 emergency calls would go to answerphone (routinely experienced in London), where burglaries, car thefts, fraud and many thefts wouldn't be serious enough for police attendance or deemed suitable for investigation. At present an increasing number of offences have been written off as crime number only offences You ring you get a crime number, it's assumed you'll recover any loss through insurance and the crime is undetected.

Serious and organised crime has quietly been taken away from the police and given to organisations such as the National Crime Agency, Security Services , Borders Force etc, Uniformed officers on patrol are effectively limited to car patrols with neighbourhood policing largely outsourced to police community police officers. Roads policing (traffic) is mostly the territory of the Highway's Agency and enforced by speed cameras.

Yet, despite being unable to get your burglary or fraud investigated, despite the worst detection rates for serious crime in years there are some areas of growth in police units.

Many are increasingly focused on 'non-crime incidents'. These range from investigating a child in the playground for calling another child 'shorty' (Wiltshire Police) or dropping around to your house to 'check your thinking' on a social media post (Humberside Police). Increasingly non-crime hate is being recorded as a pseudo offence - the clue is in the name, it's a non-crime. Of course, if the police wish to start investigating non-criminal matters then I'm sure anyone who has been told 'it's a civil matter' or 'sorry we can't do anything as it's not a criminal matter' will be very pleased.

Intelligence Map

Policing has always involved the capture of intelligence, linkages between offenders and their acquaintances, places frequented etc.

However, these were previously local to the force in question and unlikely to impact on broader matters.

Today this 'intelligence' may include matters where the officer concerned records a non-crime incident. However, that may now be sufficient to impact a records and vetting check and as a result your employment options. However, you may never have been subject to due process or given the opportunity to respond to that finding. This is. it appears. despite such small matters as guidance to the contrary from the College of Policing or rulings of the Higher courts that freedom of speech may on occasions produce offensive but non criminal outcomes that are not police matters.

Six forces in Special Measures

Some food for thought. This week (early July 2022) six of the forty three services in England and Wales were placed in special measures.

That means the service they provide to the public is well below the standards expected. It's a mix between detention and remedial reading classes.

Those forces are Cleveland, Gloucestershire , Greater Manchester Police, Metropolitan Police, Staffordshire, and Wiltshire.

Gloucestershire and Wiltshire are two of the countries smallest county forces, Greater Manchester and the Metropolitan police are the two largest. Staffordshire and Cleveland are pretty much average sized. These six include predominantly rural forces through to city centre urban. They also cross other demographic measures. A statistician might draw the conclusion that if the same issues are found in this broad a sample, it's pretty endemic.

About this time, you'll be wondering what the noise is you can hear? That will be the assembled masses telling, shouting and demanding that it's a tough job, that most police officers work hard and do a good job, a job most couldn't do. For the record, there's some truth in that. It is a tough job and most people can't do it. That doesn't however mean that those who can may use any means and don't need to be held to account for their actions.

There are a significant number of dedicated, hard working and ethical officers doing the job for all the right reasons. There are just fewer of them than I thought and even they generally resist constructive criticism because the operating environment has just become too toxic.

It's easy for me to criticise from the side lines. As easy as it is for police services to say it's just a matter of needing more money. For me, it's more complex than that.

By requiring police officers to have a degree on entry, we appear to have lost our thief-takers. We no longer have officers representing the whole community, just the degree educated professional bit of it. It may come as no surprise to find this is not the typical offender profile.

We seem to have a cohort who expect promotion by virtue of having that degree and when it doesn't come, they leave. Retention figures seem to support this working assumption. When, as I have, you speak to new pc's who still struggle with why an alleged offender might lie to a police officer - well, Houston, we have a problem.

We deserve better police provision and police deserve better leadership which is woefully lacking in most forces in my humble opinion.

In my view, the first of Peel's principles is most at risk. Many living in London have no respect for or belief in the Metropolitan Police who in my experience in recent years are the very essence of the we'm police mentality. (For those not ex job this was an approach partially tackled in the early 90's where police justified any actions as - we can 'cus we'm police).


I do wonder whether Peel would recognise any of his children and their descendants now? For me, we need an adult, objective and non-party-political discussion about the role of the police in 21st century Britain.

We need reforms as broad and deep as Peel's shaping of the initial Metropolitan Police Service.

I would start with recruitment, then the training approach which is too theoretical and not operationally based.. I would question the quality of most senior leadership. I would place emphasis and importance on first and second line supervision which is often woeful. If standards are not maintained there, its too late.

I certainly think it's time we moved to fewer regional forces, introducing a meaningful independent complaints system not operated within the police service. Also on the list I'd get rid of Police and Crime Commissioners a non-job if ever there was one. Review police processing of non-crime incidents and the policing criminal/civil boundary.

Add to that a review of what we should police and what we surrender to being not worth the effort of maintaining. Whether that's in the form of a Royal Commission or some other means, I don't care, but we're reaching the point where the consent to be policed in the current style is at risk.

I'm no longer sure that root and branch reform is enough, I think we need a completely different tree.


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