The Principles of Policing


I certainly don’t wish to be mistaken for endorsing this view; but police activity actually follows the ‘principles of policing’ fairly closely if you consider the police to be acting for a ‘public’ that is smaller (and whiter and wealthier) than the population as a whole.

Only terminally dumb PDs (like that little speed-trap-shithole in Florida that managed to be so corrupt that the state legislature abolished them…) make the mistake of trampling on the consent and cooperation of Good Decent Folks. More usually cops(along with prosecutors, DAs, and the like) actually have a pretty good nose for social status and work to police by the consent of people who actually count, and either get away with (or are actively celebrated for) repressing the inherently dangerous and disorderly elements who are too low on the totem pole to count as constituents.

(Consider, by way of example, the intensity of the backlash against automated red light cameras vs. that against ‘stop and frisk’. The latter is far more invasive; but the former lacks ‘discretion’ and gives people who would otherwise enjoy a cooperative relationship a little taste of what colliding with an actively indifferent and/or hostile justice system looks like.)

(Just an edit/clarification: This is not to minimize the importance of Peel’s reforms: rather, my position is that Peel’s policing model has been so sweepingly effective that the bulk of what we think of as deviations from it are really better understood as disagreements over who ‘the public’ is and who is inherently and irrevocably ‘crime and disorder’. This isn’t universal, occupying armies exercise police-like functions, and police officers commit private homicides, become moles for the mob, or turn into a drug gang, LAPD style; but the more likely scenario(and the more dangerous one; because there will be minimal public pressure against it) is not that a given police force fundamentally abandons ‘the public’; but that ‘the public’ is interpreted to not include blacks, or hippies, or anyone who ever smoked a joint, or what have you.

This attitude is starkest in the ‘getting those animals off the street’ rhetoric: this is an explicit policing-by-consent between the police and the non-animal public to pursue their shared goal of protection against ‘animals’ who are by definition incapable of being members of the public.)


Wow. Good point.

Every organization starts its existence with similar pretty language. And then reality sets in. From that charter to Jean Charles de Menezes in 170 years… How does a community return to sanity once it gets that bad?

Sounds like a police force is only as egalitarian as the group it serves. I think it needs to be more so.

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