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Peelian Principles of Policing: How to be a public servant

When the only contact we have with a large segment of our society is when we are “hookin’ and bookin,’” it is no surprise the public doesn’t trust us


Two police officers, Eric Meier, right, and Curtis Bynum from the Anaheim Police Department’s homeless outreach team walk through a homeless encampment set up outside Angel Stadium to hand out flyers about the community outreach day Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017, in Anaheim, Calif.

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

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 of Peel’s principles looks 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 fifth principle goes to the heart of building the relationship between police and the public:

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.

Peel understood human nature and the pitfalls it would present to a police force that was to serve a public by consent. The nature of enforcing the law, coupled with the human desire to rule over others, can set the stage for conflict among free people. To avoid this, Peel advocated police officers adopt a mindset of service to the public rather than treating people like objects.

Police need to seek and preserve public favor

It is the duty of all police agencies to build a relationship with the people they serve. In his fifth principle, Peel tells us to seek and preserve the public favor.

I have seen a lot of social media photo ops involving positive police officer interactions with the public over the last few years. There is nothing wrong with shooting hoops, throwing a ball or handing out ice cream to the public, but our focus should be on the service we provide to the people we interact with daily. Does the public feel police officers care? Do police officers really try to solve the problem, or do we get stuck in law and policy?

Line officers should have the flexibility to help solve a problem without being so tied administratively that the only answer is to arrest or report.

I suggest that police leaders need to train their people on the “why” of the mission and then empower them to use their talents and resources to help the public.

When the only contact we have with a large segment of our society is when we are “hookin’ and bookin,’” it should be no surprise the public doesn’t trust us.

The value of justice

Peel talks about justice. Have you ever asked yourself what justice is?

Justice is not always doing things right, but doing the right thing.

Every call we go on has a different cast of characters and circumstances. Police officers can be resourceful if we can get them to see their connection and relationship to the public we serve.

Fairness is a large component of justice, but to get people to feel as if they were treated fairly, they need to feel as if the person cared and understood the problem.

The value of service and friendship

Charles “Chip” Huth, a police officer, trainer and author of the book “Unleashing the Power of Unconditional Respect,” asks the question: “What is it like to be policed by you?”

This question should be cause for great reflection.

How would we want a police officer to interact with us should we find ourselves on the other side of the badge?

The answer is clear: We would want someone who took care of our problem in a way that was fair and without harsh tones. We would want someone who was there to help us and made us feel comfortable during the experience.

This is important when we interact with the public who is not being arrested, but also applies to the subject under arrest.

There are always exceptions, but an officer who embraces service and a friendly disposition can make an arrest that can leave a good impression on the one being arrested.

The value of courtesy and humor

Courtesy is conveyed more in tone and deeds than in words, but it is all controlled by our disposition. Even a “Yes, sir” can be the foundation of a complaint.

I have received many officer complaints over the years, but after considering incidents, I believe that almost every issue boils down to how things are said, not what was said.

The same thing goes for humor. We can laugh with someone or at someone. Keeping a good sense of humor can keep you from getting angry or responding negatively when people push your buttons.

Don’t bring your problems to work. Try to take a positive approach to this stressful and trying vocation. Not only can it provide for a good work environment, but it can provide for a healthier life.

Golden rule

Approaching the public with the heart of a public servant by treating people the way you want to be treated will lead to a fulfilling career and a public who will embrace those who choose to serve.

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