Peelian Principles of Policing

Dana Pham (pronouns: who/cares)
11 min readSep 11, 2020


For all this talk about policing and domestic security, from #ACAB, the motte-and-bailey fallacy of “defund the police” to the Zoe Lee Buhler incident in Ballarat, it’s worth not overthinking this by going back to basics: Peelian principles.

“The Peelian principles summarise the ideas that Sir Robert Peel developed to define an ethical police force. The approach expressed in these principles is commonly known as policing by consent in the United Kingdom and other countries such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

In this model of policing, police officers are regarded as citizens in uniform. They exercise their powers to police their fellow citizens with the implicit consent of those fellow citizens. “Policing by consent” indicates that the legitimacy of policing in the eyes of the public is based upon a general consensus of support that follows from transparency about their powers, their integrity in exercising those powers and their accountability for doing so.

In early 19th-century Britain, attempts by the government to set up a police force for London met with a lot of opposition. People were suspicious of the idea of a large and possibly armed police force, and feared that it could be used to suppress protest or support unpopular rule. Since 1793 Britain had been at war with France, home of the best-known, best-organised and best-paid police force at the time, as well as a secret and political police force, and many Britons were uncomfortable with any police force’s association with France. Most people did not think that it was the job of the national government to set up and control a police force, and thought it should be under local control.”

Someone should send this link to Dictator Dan.

“The concept of professional policing was taken up by Robert Peel when he became Home Secretary in 1822. Peel’s Metropolitan Police Act 1829 established a full-time, professional and centrally-organised police force for the Greater London area, known as the Metropolitan Police.

The Peelian principles describe the philosophy that Sir Robert Peel developed to define an ethical police force. The principles traditionally ascribed to Peel state that:

  • Whether the police are effective is not measured on the number of arrests, but on the lack of crime.
  • Above all else, an effective authority figure knows trust and accountability are paramount. Hence, Peel’s most often quoted principle that “The police are the public and the public are the police.”

The Metropolitan Police officers were often referred to as ´Bobbies´ after Sir Robert (Bobby) Peel. They are regarded as the first modern police force and became a model for the police forces in many countries around the world, particularly across the British Empire and in the United States

The nine principles were as follows:

  1. To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.
  2. To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfill their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.
  3. To recognise 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.
  4. To recognise always that the extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that 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.
  8. To recognise always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions, and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary of avenging individuals or the State, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty.
  9. To recognise always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.”

Why isn’t the BLM movement talking about Peelian principles?

I’ve been particularly concerned about Victoria Police for a number of years now. The Lawyer X saga, using George Pell to distract everyone from Lawyer X, the inappropriately political appointment of an Assistant Commissioner… then more recently, the perception that VicPol was more lenient towards the Black Lives Matter protests than others, the recent arrest of a pregnant woman over a Facebook post, all of which paints a picture that VicPol will step out of line if it thinks it can get away with it.

The last time Australia had a police force this unhinged was QLD Police back in the 70s and 80s, and I hoped we had moved on from that. A strong police force is one that has the confidence of the wider community, especially during times like a pandemic. Whilst police forces have always been susceptible to political corruption, VicPol takes the cake in recent times.

Former Justice of the High Court Michael Kirby has said that:

[The Eureka Rebellion] stands as a warning to indifferent politicians, judges and other officials. In the ultimate, the law is not obeyed because it is made in this or that way or even because it is declared in courts of the highest authority. In the end it depends upon the community’s acceptance of it.

This brings us to the present day.

At time of writing, the state of Victoria is facing perhaps the developed world’s most oppressive and mean-spirited overreaction from the government in response the COVID virus. Police in riot gear are forcefully clearing out farmers markets, harassing elderly women for sitting on a park bench, snatching infants in strollers from fathers, and fining people for catching a bus without a ‘work permit.’ In the modern town of Ballarat, a pregnant woman in her pajamas is handcuffed and arrested in her own home over a Facebook post promoting a peaceful protest, in a town not even under the severest level of lockdown. She was charged with ‘incitement’ similar to a terrorism charge, and could face 15 years in jail. People are being threatened with fines for merely ‘liking’ a Facebook post.

Meanwhile parliament has voted to suspend itself, giving dictatorial powers to the Premier under a so called “state of emergency”. The people are under an 9:00 p.m. curfew, and are only allowed out of their homes to exercise for two hours a day in their local neighborhood. Comparisons to dystopian novels can sound trite, but are fitting in this case.

Readers might be thinking that ‘the virus’ must be pretty bad in Victoria to elicit such an authoritarian response. Guess again. At time of writing there are 12 people in ICU in the entire state — check the latest figures here if you like. What makes Victoria different is the impossible threshold set by the Premier — as though viruses can be made to obey human laws.

The Premier has iterated that the lockdowns will remain in place until there are no new cases for 14 consecutive days. The number of new COVID cases is reported every day almost like a taunt to the public, while every other statistic — like suicides, business closures, bankruptcies, cancelled weddings, undiagnosed cancers, lonely deaths from other causes, etc, etc, is ignored. It is zero tolerance for a virus, or innocent people will be punished in countless other ways in perpetuity.

This excessive level of restriction goes against the advice of doctors, epidemiologists, lawyers, legal experts, the World Health Organization, and even Federal government medical officers. The modelling that provoked it has been shown to be wrong. Public policy experts have made the seemingly obvious point that a pandemic requires different responses from different sections of the public using dispersed knowledge, so any ‘one rule for all’ response is doomed to fail.

And since any reported case means prolonged lockdown and suffering for everybody, people are increasingly reluctant to report infections or admit to having left their homes. As a result, contact tracing is failing in Victoria, while working well in other states.

Of course, the Premier has his paid staff of experts who naturally say that the emperor has clothes on this. But even his own chief medical officer backed away from the Premier’s most excessive dictates, leaving him grasping for scapegoats. Apparently people will only sell so much of their soul.

C.S. Lewis famously wrote: “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive… those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” Perhaps the Premier really believes he is doing good by doing evil. Or perhaps he is just doubling down on past mistakes to save face. But with so little intellectual support, it is hard to see this as anything other than a ruthless social experiment to see just how compliant Australian people can be.

Politics always divides and this present case is no exception. Those supporting the Premier are generally those with a more comfortable work-from-home existence. The ‘pajama class panickers’ as they are sometimes called, just want a strong leader to ‘do something’ that seems like it might work, even if it doesn’t, having no concept of the cost — since the cost of their perceived protection generally falls onto others.

Worse, there are some who, Gillette ads notwithstanding, seem to think that violence against women is totally fine when it is carried out by ‘law enforcers.’ They cheer and gloat when people are arrested for simply living their life, because it apparently ‘serves them right.’ Some elements of the media are quick to smear any protesters as crazy conspiracy theorists, while the brother of the pregnant Facebooker mentioned above has reportedly received death threats for trying to raise funds for her legal defense.

But on the brighter side, just as the general public turned against the excesses of the police state in 1854, the same is happening today. When the government, in the name of saving lives, criminalizes actually living your life, people start to realize what libertarians have been saying for a long time: the state is them not us. The state is not on the side of peaceful individuals that make up society, and there is no aspect of your life that they won’t step on to show you who is boss.

States can usually rely on corporate CEOs and celebrities to tow the politically correct line — but thankfully not in this case. Business leaders are pointing out absurdities — like how municipal workers can work in groups but private contractors are prohibited from even mowing a lawn by themselves.

Those with a public voice are lambasting the Premier, like this football player whose father (also a famous footballer) died alone, saying “I lost my 78-year-old father, Premier… He wasn’t dying from this, he was dying from the isolation and the loneliness.” The general public is realizing it has a voice, that the medical experts (besides courtiers on the Premier’s payroll) are on our side, and the tyrants in charge are increasingly fumbling for excuses.

It would be nice if the police could have some backbone at this time — to say to their bosses, “We are not doing this anymore. We refuse to be degraded in this way, being sent to war against the people we are supposed to protect.” But that is unlikely.

More realistically, in the Australian political system, State Premiers can be ousted within days without parliament even sitting, if their own party room turns against them and calls a ‘spill.’ A deputy leader or cabinet minister who was ‘fully on board’ with the agenda five minutes ago, can suddenly come out as being diametrically opposed to it, and take the top job.

That is the most plausible way out of this nightmare for the people of Victoria. Viruses are not going away, but Premiers can be sent packing pretty easily. The backbenchers of the ruling Labor party need to fear for their own re-election more than they crave the favor of their failed leader.

All that is required is enough of a groundswell of support for peaceful coexistence with sensible, contextually appropriate safeguards, and the removal of support bullies and thugs. Resolute Victorians stood up to tyranny at least once before, and will stand up once again.”

Talking to Chris Kenny on Sky News recently, Victorian Liberal Senator James Paterson gave an eloquent explanation of why so much of what Victoria Police is doing and saying is problematic:

“I’ve been troubled by some of the rhetoric coming out of senior police, including the assistant commissioner, Luke Cornelius, who’s referred to some of these protesters as “tinfoil hat wearing brigade” and said they were “batsh-t crazy”.

That’s quite dehumanising language to use about your fellow Victorians and your fellow citizens and the people who police are supposed to protect. And I think it encourages police to hold the people they’re supposed to protect with contempt and it licences some of these very tough tactics, so I am troubled by this.

I think it’s undermining community support for policing and for the police force and I think overwhelmingly, police members don’t deserve that and are upstanding citizens who try very hard to do a very difficult job. But let’s remember, they’re enforcing laws to enforce mask wearing outside, prevent people from going out after curfew and protesting — the kind of things we never would have imagined police would be enforcing, and I think they’re doing so in a way that’s really testing the bonds of community support.

There certainly are some crazy conspiracy theories out there. You should see my email inbox, there’s no question about that. But the reason why those theories are out there is because people are afraid. They’re genuinely scared. Their lives have changed massively in the last few months in ways they could never have previously imagined. And they’re looking for explanations for this and sometimes they find some comfort or solace in conspiracy theories.

But what they actually need is a bit of compassion, and a bit of decency from their political leaders and from the police force. I don’t think we’ve seen that at all from the Premier or from the senior leaders of the police force, who’ve shown contempt for their own fellow citizens and I think that’s a very disappointing thing.”



Dana Pham (pronouns: who/cares)

Trans-inclusionary radical feminist (TIRF) | Liberal Arts phenomenologist from @notredameaus | Anglo-catholic | all opinions expressed here are my own ⚧️✝️🇦🇺