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Peelian principles of policing: Securing public respect

You have to listen, not just hear people, when they tell their story


In my first article in this series, I laid out the foundations of Sir Robert Peel’s principles of policing. My second article reviewed the importance of building community relationships. The third of Peel’s nine principles focuses on how gaining public respect is key to successful policing.

The Path to Securing Public Respect

Peel’s principle #3 reads: “To recognize 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.”

We must remember that while each person we come into contact with may not share our values, they share a mutual desire for happiness and success. (Photo/Pixabay)
We must remember that while each person we come into contact with may not share our values, they share a mutual desire for happiness and success. (Photo/Pixabay)

Peel understood human nature and the need for the public to be policed by their “equals” so people could relate to the police and not feel “ruled” by them.

In the 1800s, England was controlled by a class structure where different rules applied depending on your family background. The idea of fairness was, and is, an important concept in policing and life in general. Even a five-year-old understands fairness. Try cutting a birthday cake for a child in different sizes and see how quickly they understand fair. The principle of mutual respect was fundamental to developing a civilian force, so the police did not “rule over” but were “peacekeepers.”

By the nature of their job, police officers have the authority to use force and take away freedom. A necessary part of rules enforcement is the ability to use force. As power can easily be abused, it takes a person of high moral character to keep that power in check.

Police officers often see people at their worst. Officers are not super human and the job takes its toll as they try to make sense of what they see on every shift. All of life is perception and seeing the worst of people, left unchecked, can lead to an “us versus them” mentality.

In this principle, Peel understood the importance of working with all of the public to gain cooperation and help police officers understand our role as public servants and not rulers. 

It is important that police officers respect the people they serve. When we treat people with respect, public cooperation increases, job-related stress decreases, and we improve our odds of obtaining information and solving crime.

A Better Public Image

When you connect with the public, you begin to earn interest on deposits made to the community trust bank. If a difficult situation occurs in your community, this positive interaction not only provides a buffer for the public to compare the overall situation with, but provides a springboard for dialogue that would otherwise not have existed.

Better Public Cooperation

It is much easier to speak with someone you respect. When there is a lack of mutual respect between law enforcement and the public, there is less cooperation in working through problems and solving crimes. Every cop knows how hard it is to get information about crimes in areas where respect for the police is low.

Building that respect takes time, but we have the opportunity to do it every time we hit the streets. Line officers make contacts on every street on every call and with every interaction they have.

The respect I am talking about though is not necessarily generated by shooting hoops, giving away ice cream or taking photos for social media posts. The kind of respect that has an impact on communities is when police officers stop to talk and connect with people. You have to listen, not just hear people, when they tell their story.

Our role in the criminal justice system is to gather facts, not administer justice. We must remember that while each person we come into contact with may not share our values, they share a mutual desire for happiness and success.

Less Stress on the Job

I have worked in a couple of different police environments in my career and watched one of those communities change from a town with respect to a town without.

Police work is stressful and finding ways to reduce the stress benefits everyone. Making the effort to connect with and develop respect of the community will create a better environment to spend your career in.

Obtaining Information

If you have done this job for a few years you know which officers are successful in closing cases or obtaining confessions. If you watch or talk to them, you will discover the relationships they create are built on respect.

Final thought

Let me close with the words of advice columnist Abigail Van Buren, “The best index to a person’s character is how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and how he treats people who can’t fight back.”

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