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The Peelian Principles of Policing: De-escalation and public cooperation

The issue of use of force and public cooperation are inexorably linked


A firearms training simulator at the Clark County Fair on Wednesday, July 26, 2017, in Springfield, Ohio. The county sheriff rented the simulator to help the public better understand how quickly officers must decide whether to use lethal force.

AP Photo/Kantele Franko

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 article looked at how gaining public respect is the key to successful policing. The fourth article focused on how to build public cooperation and reduce use of force. The fifth article looked at how police officers must embrace the role of public servant.

Sir Robert Peel, the father of modern policing, articulated his nine Peelian principles almost 200 years ago when he was tasked with creating the London Metropolitan Police.

His sixth principle seems to be a timeless issue ripped from the headlines:

“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.”

The issue of use of force and public cooperation are inexorably linked and clearly an issue that does not seem easily resolved.

I see three main issues to consider when discussing the use of force.

1. use of force is hard to watch

My previous department kept me actively involved in use-of-force incidents for over 30 years. As a practitioner in the field, in the dojo and an instructor for civilian and law enforcement, use of force never looks good. Under the best of circumstances, violence is hard to watch.

What is often not taken into consideration is that when law enforcement is faced with the need to use force, there can be no loss or draw. This is not a competition with a referee and there are no rules. A police officer must WIN the fight. Additionally, the person that loses is not always the victim. I remember parents coming to file a report on their child being “jumped” after school only to learn that the “jumped” party often started the fight or was at the least a mutual combatant.

2. The public does not have a right to resist arrest

Most states make it illegal to resist arrest.

In almost every use-of-force incident that has caused death, injury or public outcry, submission to the arrest would have saved a life, violence or bad public relations for everyone.

If an officer fears for his life or the life of another, resisting could cause a death. I believe that all life is precious, but that does include the officer who has walked into shadows that the public and most other professions have no idea exists. There is a real danger in most aspects of law enforcement that many want to pretend isn’t there. Those who have worn the shield understand and that is why there is such a brotherhood/sisterhood in the profession.

The appropriate response for someone who believes the arrest is unwarranted is to submit and file a disagreement with the appropriate authority after the arrest.

3. Police must educate the public about Use of force

The third issue revolves around community engagement. This is multifaceted but certainly not one-sided. I have written many articles and teach regularly that law enforcement needs to engage with the public. We are public servants and getting to know the public IS OUR JOB.

People don’t understand use of force because they most often have never been involved in trying to control or arrest someone. The dynamics of force, when someone is trying to escape or hurt you when there are no rules, means grave danger to officers. We must engage the public on what force is and why it is a danger to the public and the police. Then we need to work on gaining the cooperation of the public in helping us perform our duties in a way that benefits our communities.

Developing our community involvement around service and working for the community and not in the community will allow us to connect with the people we serve and minimize the use of force. None of this can be done without a public that shares in the responsibility of protecting and solving community problems. We must take the lead in making that connection.

There is a saying in leadership, “They won’t care to know until they know you care.” I know law enforcement cares, but do we really show it? It is time to get into our communities and make them know we care by talking and sharing in their lives. Sir Robert Peel would have expected nothing less.

NEXT: What would Sir Robert Peel do?

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