Peelian Police Principles


Sunday, July 13, 2014

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"Effective policing relies on the police having the confidence of the communities they serve, and this consultation gives the public an opportunity to contribute to the values and standards they expect of police officers." — Hazel Blears.

Amid the forceful discussions as to whether Commissioner Owen Ellington was pushed, shoved, kicked, retired or voluntarily quit, we hear the call for us to look outside Jamaican for his successor.

Those who support an international search say now is a grand opportunity for a non-Jamaica Constabulary Force-socialised policeman to be placed at its helm. Someone, they say additionally, who does not have the baggage of the 'squaddie mentality' and partisan political allegiances or obligations.

They support their trump card arguments, saying that a commissioner not from the ranks of the JCF would bring fresh ideas, global cutting-edge strategies and an increased sense of credibility. This, they say, would indicate to our international partners in the United States, Britain and Canada -- who give hefty financial, strategic support and training to Jamaica's law enforcement branches -- that a new dawn has come.

The allegations about extrajudicial killings by a supposed 'Death Squad' in Clarendon and pronouncements of the Public Defender's Report on the blatant abuse of human rights during the Tivoli Gardens incursion of 2010 have not won us many friends among our partners in the United States Government in particular.

As happened in St Lucia, where crucial funds for police and law enforcement support were withheld by the Americans, some say because of allegations of extrajudicial killings by the police, Jamaica has good reason to 'tek sleep and mark death' as country people say.

Filling the post of commissioner with someone far removed from the realities -- cultural, social and financial -- of Jamaica and the JCF would not be to our advantage. I cannot imagine the New York, Los Angeles or London Metropolitan Police asking for a non-American or non-Brit to fill the post of top cop. It simply would not happen.

As to the squaddie mentality, that is an accusation made of almost all police jurisdictions all over the world, though called by different names. That does not mean it is desirable. The issues we have with the JCF are uniquely Jamaican and must be solved by us. The days of having foreigners and/or persons who left Jamaica when they were two years old come back and run our affairs are long gone and need to stay that way. There are several police personnel here high up in commissionable ranks of the JCF who have been trained and exposed at the best police institutes in the world. We have the talent and experience in Jamaica.

While Ellington, who apparently was kicked from his job, situated the office of the commissioner at a point of admirable accessibility, his successor will need to go one better and revisit the Peelian Principles of Policing. Even more, that person will need to implement them throughout every nook and cranny of the JCF so that they become normative.

Admittedly, I am no police or security expert. It seems to me, however, that despite the obvious resource constraints, our policing operations have not been grounded and cemented thoroughly enough in the nine tenets of Sir Robert Peel's Principles of Policing, which are accepted worldwide as the foundations of good police relations.

Robert Peel was born in 1788; he was a social reformist who served as home secretary or security minister and also as prime minister of Britain. Peel is credited with introducing numerous pieces of legislation that reduced class issues. These included the Mine Act of 1842 prohibiting women and children from working underground in the mines, and the Factory Act of 1844 limiting the number of hours worked by women and children employed in factories.

Serving as home secretary, Sir Robert Peel introduced a number of important reforms to British criminal law. His changes to the penal code system resulted in fewer crimes carrying a death penalty sentence, and education for inmates. Often remembered today as 'The Founder of Modern Policing', Peel created the Metropolitan Police based on nine principles he developed for law enforcement.

Sir Robert Peel's Nine Principles of Policing

Principle 1

"The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder."

A justifiable criticism of our police is that they are generally too reactive. Domestic disputes which often end in fatality are a case in point. There are far too many instances where reports about domestic travails are ignored, [a seemingly counter-intuitive response], when reported to the police. This ostrich approach to domestic issues cannot continue, especially when the majority of acts of crime and violence are rooted in domestic wrangling.

Principle 2

"The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions."

The new commissioner will have to find a way to incrementally win back the confidence of the people of Jamaica in the JCF. Gone are the days when the policeman was Uncle Charlie, the Good Samaritan whom one could tell almost anything related to suspected criminal activity without fear of leak. With less than three million people, we have a police force that kills between 150 and 290 people per year on average, many in extremely questionable circumstances.

We all know that we have some of the most vicious, ruthless and determined gunmen, but the majority of the people killed by the police each year are not gunmen. Few policemen are ever convicted for wanton killing of innocent citizens. This reality does not inspire or encourage trust.

Principle 3

"Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public."

This cannot be achieved when almost every month we hear of police being caught in sting operations on bribery and other charges. The police in Jamaica are too often the chief lawbreakers.

Principle 4

"The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force."

Force cannot always be the first resort as is now too often the modus operandi. The police cannot continue to be seen predominantly as oppressors or 'Babylon' who use merciless force to break the bones of the poor and dispossessed. More emphasis on neighbourhood, citizen, problem-oriented policing twinned with expansion and restructuring of police youth clubs across the country will have to be a big agenda item of the next top cop.

Principle 5

"Police seek and preserve public favour, not by catering to the public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law."

Policemen are not the law as many in the JCF seem to believe. They need to be dispassionate implementers of legislation. More guided education is needed, starting with training at the Police Academy.

Principle 6

"Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient."

Shooting first and asking questions later is already not a sound principle of policing and needs to be relegated to the scrap heap of the colonial past where it belongs.

Principle 7

"Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and 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."

Our policemen, like our politicians, need to be constantly reminded that they are the servants of the public, not gods, kings or barons. While we do not wish them to act in servitude, their training must pre-dispose them to understand and act as equal partners with the public, who are their greatest ally. The police need be a de facto human rights group in every community.

Principle 8

"Police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary."

It is not the role of the police to be judge and executioner. We have had a long history of the police playing these roles in Jamaica. The results have been disastrous and, if anything, have only assisted in the crime factories of Jamaica turning out more barbarous and depraved criminal elements.

Principle 9

"The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it."

In other words, hundreds of police swooping down on communities with assault rifles dressed in warlike attire and driving at high speed in armoured personnel carriers is not a test of policing strength, but moreso weakness. This needs to be understood in Jamaica.

"All parts of the society need to feel that the police service is their police service, and that does not happen unless all parts of society are represented in the police." -- Chris Patten.

Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Comments to




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