The Revolutionary Document That Is The UK's 184-Year-Old Idea Of 'Policing By Consent'
from the US-version:-comply-or-else dept
Jason Kottke of the always informative and entertaining kottke.org just posted a very interesting look at the genesis of UK law enforcement. In 1829, the UK government shifted policing from a paramilitary force comprised mainly of volunteers to an organized force comprised of citizens. But it made it very clear that UK police derived their power from the consent of the people, rather than from a government mandate.
The government referred to it as “policing by consent,” and even though the guiding principles are nearly 200 years old at this point, they still sound revolutionary, especially in light of escalating militarization, misconduct and abuse by law enforcement here in the US.
(Side note: this was released via a UK Freedom of Information request that was posed as a question.
“Could you please confirm precisely what the Home Secretary meant by the statement ‘policing by consent’, with a practical example to demonstrate if possible.”
That’s something that also sets apart the UK government from the US government. I cannot imagine a situation where a FOIA request answers a direct question. The standard m.o. here is to demand requesters know as much as possible about the information they’re seeking before they ask for it.)
The Nine Principles of Policing
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.
(US: police have power whether or not their actions and behavior meet with public approval. When met with disapproval, misconduct and enforcement activity tend to increase, rather than decrease.)
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.
(US: use of force and compulsion normal “tools of the trade,” applied generously and disproportionately.)
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.
(US: too much to detail here. Minorities (“wealth or social standing”) receive the most police “scrutiny.” Very rarely are police interactions marked by courteousness and good humour. And the UK has no unwritten “First Rule of Policing” (make it back home uninjured/alive; constant deference to officers claiming they “feared for their safety“). BY READY OFFERING OF INDIVIDUAL SACRIFICE IN PROTECTING AND PRESERVING LIFE. If you don’t want to be in dangerous situations, don’t become a cop — apparently the only dangerous job in the US that puts the employee’s safety ahead of the general public’s.
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.
(US: physical force is generally deployed at the first sign of potential non-compliance, even if said non-compliance is simply verbal “contempt of cop.” Physical force should also escalate immediately at the first sign of a struggle and continue escalating until suspect is completely incapacitated/in a coma/dead.)
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.
(US: the thin blue line, now thicker than ever, continues to isolate police not only from the public they serve, but from accountability.)
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.
(US: too many police have emptied their weapons into suspects in retribution for endangering officers. Too many officers have handed out extra physical force as payback for flippant comments, moving too slowly, or anything other situation where unearned respect isn’t being shown.)
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.
(US: Ferguson, Missouri. Beyond that, police in the US seem to believe a show of force is a good deterrent. This is part of the reason they acquire military vehicles and weapons. Intimidation seems to be preferable to competent, efficient policing. My-gun’s-bigger-than-yours policing is nothing more than treating playground one-upmanship as a credible law enforcement tactic.)
You can choose anything on this list and find its correlating inversion on display in the US. Not once is “officer safety” cited as a reason to use physical force. Not once does the list make a demand for unearned respect. And above all, it makes it clear that this power is granted by the consent of the public, not provided by the State. What the public gives, it can rescind. The government’s only involvement is administrative.
US police forces talk a good game in mission statements about “honor” and “integrity,” but not once do they acknowledge the fact that they are servants of the public or that they are, in fact, just the public in different clothing. They are part of the government, an institution which derives from the consent of the governed. But there is no way to revoke that consent. Police unions and government officials continue to shelter misbehaving officers and any punishments handed down are delayed and largely ineffective in deterring future misconduct. With rare exceptions, police officials circle the wagons when one of theirs is accused of excessive force or criminal activity. The public is treated as irritating, ungrateful outsiders who don’t realize how difficult it is to be a cop and who are better surveilled than heard.