Every society needs someone to uphold it's laws and standards, to prevent crime and to pursue wrongdoers. Over time there have been various ways of doing these things, the hue and cry, collective responsibility, outlawing, sheriffs, even using the Army. But since the 1830's the primarily way has been via a Police Force.
While there are Law Enforcement older than London's Metropolitan Police, they are mostly Paramilitary. The French Gendarme for example are part of the French Armed Forces, but they carry out both policing and security tasks. The Police as we understand it comes from the English experience. The success of this experiment, because it was an experiment, is shown by the fact that for 150 years the English policeman, the "bobby" was not simply a symbol of law enforcement but a symbol of law, civility and of Civilization itself. He was as much a symbol of the British Empire as the British Army or the Royal Navy.
In Canada one of the great national symbols is the "Mountie" the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. In the United States there are a number of world famous Law Enforcement and Police Forces, sometimes they are famous for the wrong reasons. Everywhere in the world there are such forces but non are as famous as those already mentioned.
How did such an experiment work? Conservatives were not in favour of such forces, they believed that it would be a continuation of the French Gendarme, an army without cavalry or artillery but an army just the same. But Sir Robert Peel had a different idea and he was fortunate in deciding to appoint two commissioners to his Metropolitan Police, a Soldier by the name of Colonel Sir Charles Rowan and a Lawyer, or as Sir Robert called him "a sensible Lawyer", Sir Richard Mayne. Within weeks of the formation of the force a book was issued to all ranks, it was known as the "General Instruction", here is the second paragraph:
"It should be understood, at the outset, that the principal object to be attained is the Prevention of Crime.
To this great end every effort of the Police is to be directed. The security of person and property, the preservation of the public tranquility, and all the objects of a Police Establishment, will thus be better effected, than by the detection and punishment of the offender, after he has succeeded in committing the crime. This should constantly be kept in mind by every member of the Police Force, as the guide for his own conduct. Officers and Police Constables should endeavour to distinguish themselves by such vigilance and activity, as may render it extremely difficult for any one to commit a crime within that portion of the town under their charge."
The aim was to prevent crime rather than to solve crime or to imprison people and in fact over the first decade of the Metropolitan Police crime dropped greatly. But it was not simply the presence of Police that made crime drop there were other principles that were applied that also assisted. They are known by Historians as the "Peelian Principles":
1. To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.
2. To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfill their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behavour, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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 the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
Since the 1960's Policing has changed and to be honest not for the better. Society changed, the Politicians changed and so did the Courts, in time so did the Police. The first major change was the creation of S.W.A.T. or Special Weapons And Tactics units. This was a major departure from Peelian Principles as it was turning away from minimum force to a more Para-Military force. In hindsight maybe these quasi-military tasks should have been handled by the military.
But it was only the start of a process whereby the Police would become Para-Military over time. The next thing to force a change was Civil Rights, here I mean Civil Rights in it's broadest context. Minorities, Women, in fact anyone who was excluded from Policing for any reason. Before the 1970's nearly every Police Force had a height limit, in most places it was 6ft, (182.88cm) tall. Starting from that time that began to change, Heights limits plummeted, women were being recruited as well as increasing minorities. In short standards were being changed and rarely were they being improved upon.
Policing is an active task, it cannot be put on hold and done tomorrow and it can be very hard to hide it's failures. That has stopped the worst excesses because they affected things very quickly. Something that the Military which has long periods where it is not active will be unable to do.
But this lowering of standards has meant Police had to find new ways of doing the job. The old weapons of persuasion, baton and handgun no longer did the job with police of smaller stature. Tasers, capsicum spray, shotguns and long arm weapons now became more favoured. As did the use of SWAT teams.
These SWAT teams gained two big boosts in the 1980's with the increased violence of the Drug trade and the second when the Cold War ended. Now military equipment that was no longer needed could be given to Police to fight the Drug gangs. But just as people become addicted to drugs so the Police became addicted to this new military hardware. To the idea that it made them safer and helped put the bad guys down. This attitude was helped in the 1990's by a number of instances were the Police were outgunned. the North Hollywood shootout.
Added to this was the break down of the family, divorce and single parenthood seemed to make the Police seek the role of authority figure over everyone. The age of the friendly policemen came to can end and the age of the the authority figure arrived. The Police took a no nonsense approach, with everybody. The police came to see us all as the enemy. Step by step the Police left the Peelian Principles behind.
I live 15 minutes drive from my local Police Station, but I do not know any of the Police there and they do not know me. We are strangers with little in common. There is no shared community, the Police might live here or a hundred miles away. They patrol in cars, although a few years ago I did see a bike patrol. They more resemble cavalry than Police and that is how people now think of them, if your in trouble you dial the cavalry to come to your rescue.
The Police were once, only a few decades ago respected as the Thin Blue Line, holding back the barbarians. But as the Police become increasingly Para-Military with various weapons on their body, body armour and now cameras. I cannot help feeling that I am dealing with an enemy, When the Police are loyal to the law and the law is used against us, how can the Police be on our side?
Sadly like so many of our public institutions the Police are also failing us. If they wish to alienate us with their "robocop" armour and facemasks, how can we respect them? And once Conservatives have lost respect for the Police were does that leave either of us?
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