Peelian principles of policing: Seeking the public's approval

We need to get back to the idea of treating people like people and not as objects


In my first article in this series, I laid out the foundations of the principles of Sir Robert Peel. Like so many that came from that period, Peel had a wisdom that seemed to transcend time. His principles were as important then as they are now. The question is not how we got to the point where we need to review these principles but how do we return.

Rights vs. responsibilities

Peel’s principle #2 reads:

"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."

This job can be a ministry with just a change of perspective by officers who decide to get back to the roots of helping people and meeting them on their level. (Photo/Pixabay)
This job can be a ministry with just a change of perspective by officers who decide to get back to the roots of helping people and meeting them on their level. (Photo/Pixabay)

His second principle is proving to be difficult. There are many problems in our society that have created a disconnect. Among the problems facing all of us is the current trend to blame other people or groups for things that occur instead of taking responsibility. 

All that withstanding, the police also have a responsibility to keep their end of this social contract. Peel was beginning his new London Metropolitan Police Department around the same time as the founding of this country. Like our principles for new government, the London Metropolitan area wanted citizens, not soldiers, to help enforce the laws. It was important to have a person who was a citizen take on this role, someone who had to live by the same rules and understood how to work with the very people who are being served in the neighborhoods. 

Earning respect

The major disconnects, as evidenced by reports in the news media and protests in major cities, are not all caused by the police, but there are inherent problems. Recently, I was reminded that "community policing is what big cities call what little cities have been doing all along." We’ve dropped the ball when it comes to driving past people instead of getting out and engaging them. These are the very people from whom we should be seeking approval and respect. We need to get out and meet people where they are and show them that our desire is to serve and protect.

There are a lot of good books that speak to this issue but "Unleashing the Power of Unconditional Respect" by Jack Colwell and Charles "Chip" Huth and "The Ethical Warrior" by Jack Hoban both had a big impact on me. They both speak to the concept of treating people like people and not as objects. It seems like a no brainer but as cops we develop defense mechanisms to deal with the pressures of the job. Very often, we only make it harder as we move away from the reason we took this job in the first place: to help people. 

Think about your last encounter with a really bad guy. While there is no need to kiss his backside, he’s just looking for some respect. If we would just start seeing people – in all their needs, anger and desires – as individuals who have hopes and dreams and who feel the world is unfair, maybe we can begin to make that connection.

Police work can be a ministry

It takes work to deal with the negatives all the time. So, change them into positives, begin to serve people again. This job can be a ministry with just a change of perspective by officers who decide to get back to the roots of helping people and meeting them on their level. There is a quote often used when speaking of leadership that says, "They won’t care to know until they know you care." Once you have connected with people and they understand you want to help you will gain their approval and their respect.

Let me close with a question from Jack Hoban. "When you walk into a room do you make people feel safe and respected?"

About the author

Tim Barfield is the Chief of Police in a small midwestern Ohio town. He is in his for 37th year as an officer. Prior to his appointment as chief he spent 32 years in an inner ring suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. He is a husband, father and grandfather who has a love for police work and police officers with a goal of helping them succeed in a great profession. His responsibilities and desires have included patrol, traffic, DARE, SWAT, training and supervision. He is a member of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association and Chairman of the Board of the Law Enforcement Training Trust. He continues to learn and instruct on subjects with an emphasis on awareness, police survival mindset and ethics.

Contact Tim Barfield

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