The Controversy of the Peelian Principles: 9 or 12?

12 Principles of Policing by Sir Robert Peel or only 9?

A reader wrote to inform us that there were 12, not 9 Principles of Policing by Sir Robert Peel and was gracious enough to include citations by two University Texts. Of course, these are but two such texts and there are others.  On the reverse side, there continues to be just as many (more, in fact) textbooks citing 9 principles by Sir Robert Peel. We decided to do further research and put the matter to a little test of logic.

The Controversy over the Principles of Sir Robert Peel: Are There 9 or 12?

Sir Robert Peel
Sir Robert Peel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There seems to be a controversy about the Principles of Sir Robert Peel, or Peelian Principles as they have come to be called. Most police in the Western World will state when asked, that there are Nine (9) Principles which the father of modern policing established for the London Metropolitan Police in 1829.

Nine principles have been taught in Criminal Justice classes for decades and 9 principles have been listed in police stations for more than a century. So nine seems to be the magic number, but is it correct?

Since around 2007 or 2008, twelve (12) so-called Peelian principles have appeared and these are strikingly different from the original nine. Of course, it is not uncommon for additional information to come to light as scholars and researchers gain additional insights into history and new documents are discovered. So the questions posed are, “Are there 12 or 9 principles of Sir Robert Peel?” and “How can we be certain which set is correct?” Also, does it matter?

The 12 Principles of Policing?

There are two main texts which some believe state conclusively that there are 12 Principles of Policing by Sir Robert Peel. These are

However, on careful examination of these texts, the authors state that there are Nine Principles of Policing, not 12 as some on the web are wrongfully suggesting.

Cover of "Introduction to Criminal Justic...
Cover of Introduction to Criminal Justice

Still, because there are some obscure University Textbooks which are telling of 12 principles and there is a mounting body of support on the Internet for these, a full discussion is in order.

Evidence for the existence of additional principles does exist, though whether these were part of the original principles of Sir Robert Peel we cannot say. None of the booklets the Bobbies supposedly carried have survived. Also, there exists the question of whether it even matters for modern police work?

The Principles Sir Robert Peel were penned nearly 200 years ago at a time when society was very different. Perhaps new principles were needed shortly after creating the initial nine and if these are not part of the original principles, perhaps they should form a new set.

Regardless of the case, in order to consider the 12 Principles of Policing as they appear in modern textbooks, we would do well to consider the original 9 as they have appeared in both times past and in modern form.

The Traditional 9 Principles of Policing

As stated at the outset, there have traditionally been 9 Principles of Policing by Sir Robert Peel. According to, in 2014 the HMIC has taken to returning to the Principles of Robert Peel in police work in England. The article pointed out that the head of the HMIC, Chief Inspector of the Constabulary Tom Winsor is taking the lead in getting the national forces back to the basics of Sir Robert Peel’s Principles, especially the ninth principle which reads, “The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.”

The BBC also cited Chief Inspector Winsor as admitting in a report, “Prevention is far better than cure in policing. Who could argue that a rape detected is preferable to the same rape prevented, a murder solved is better than a life saved, or the arrest of a pedophile is better than the children in question never coming to harm in the first place?” Better for who? In other words, his statement is just the opposite of what Sir Robert Peel recommended in the first principle. Bear this in mind as we proceed, for these concepts lay at the heart of understanding the truth regarding this controversy of 12 principles versus nine.

Here are the Nine Principles of Policing by Sir Robert Peel…

Peelian Principles, as published by the Independent Police Commission of England and Wales. These are not the “original principles” as published in 1901 by Lee, but are certainly readable, though incomplete in many ways. Of course, that matters little if the 12 principles are the true principles.

  1. “The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.
  2. “The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions.
  3. “Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.
  4. “The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.
  5. “Police seek and preserve public favour (sic) not by catering to public opinion but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.
  6. “Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice (sic) and warning is found to be insufficient.
  7. “Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and 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. “Police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary.
  9. “The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.”

Notice first, how clear and concise these 9 principles are when reading. Ask yourself, does this sound like something from the 19th Century?

Let’s then try another version, this time from the Durham Police Department in Durham, UK. On the website and presumably in the station is a very nice looking pdf image of the Principles of Sir Robert Peel. These are representative of the same principles as listed by WL Melville Lee in 1901. These can be read in full here. For sake of discussion and brevity, let us simply look to the first, second, and last principles of Robert Peel as listed on the Durham Police website and provided by Lee.

  1. “The basic mission for which police exist is to prevent crime and disorder as an alternative to the repression of crime and disorder by military force and severity of legal punishment.
  2. “The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police existence, actions, behavior and the ability of the police to secure and maintain public respect.
  3. “The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.”

Comparing the Two Versions of the 9 Principles of Sir Robert Peel

In order to settle the controversy surrounding the 12 principles versus 9 principles of Sir Robert Peel, we must first resolve a minor issue with the Nine Principles as they often appear in both the UK and the US. In so doing, this will also help us gain better insight into the 12 Principles as they are listed in modern textbooks.

First, compare the first principle from the HMIC with the version Lee published in 1901, which hangs in police departments such as in Durham, UK.

  1. “The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.
  2. “The basic mission for which police exist is to prevent crime and disorder as an alternative to the repression of crime and disorder by military force and severity of legal punishment.”

Certainly, one is longer, more winded as we may call it today, but also written very much to the point. The longer version, the 1901 version, also adds that the reason for the police existence is “an alternative…to military force.” Today, we take this idea for granted, but when Sir Robert Peel established the LMP in 1829, the alternative at the time was for persons to be arrested/detained by military forces and punishments were often severe. Thus, this stood as a reminder to Peels Bobbies that their job was helping society avoid harsh dealings from a military-style force.

Now consider the second principle:

  1. “The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions.
  2. “The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police existence, actions, behavior and the ability of the police to secure and maintain public respect.”

Once again, we see that in the modernized version, the wording is more concise. This fits for in the 19th Century, many such writings were rather wordy (just read the Declaration of Independence for example). However, there is more because, in the Principles of Policing version of 1901, it is pointed out to police that they must maintain public respect. This is lacking from the modernized version, which weakens the principle considerably.

And the final, 9th principle:

  • “The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.
  • “The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.”

As we can see, there is but a single word changed from the 1901 version of Robert Peel’s Ninth Principle and the modern version, “them” was changed to “it.” This does not alter the meaning, but rather fits with modern grammar because “them” refers to persons, not things or concepts.

Much could be written on the ninth principle. Consider that although the modern version is somewhat weakened by the lack of verbiage, the ideas presented make sense for police who would be sent into the public for the first time after the public was accustomed to dealing with the military forces in such matters. However, it must be noted that the 9th principle is somewhat naive. Read why at Peels 9th Principle: Is Police Efficiency the Best Measure of Performance/Success?

The Principles of Sir Robert Peel would have been very useful to the Bobbies in carrying out their mission and the principles as listed in the 1901 version make their mission and how to achieve it abundantly clear. With that thought in mind, let us now revisit the 12 Principles of Policing and compare these to the original or basic nine. We should see some overlap and there will naturally be three additional principles. We will isolate these and determine if they would have fit in the original set of principles which Sir Robert Peel’s Bobbies carried with them in their daily duties.

The 12 “New” Principles as Compared to the 9 Original Principles of Policing by Peel

In order to determine whether the 12 Principles of Peel which have abruptly made an appearance in the last several years can rightly be attributed to Sir Robert Peel or not, in whole or in part, it is necessary to first compare the listing to the original Nine which are indisputably the principles upon which Sir Robert Peel founded the LMP and his Bobbies.

Following are the 12 principles as they appear in the two works cited at the beginning of this article.

English: Sir Robert Peel, Chatham
English: Sir Robert Peel, Chatham (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
  1. “The police must be stable, efficient, and organized along military lines.
  2. “The police must be under government control.
  3. “The absence of crime will best prove the efficiency of the police.
  4. “The distribution of crime news is absolutely essential.
  5. “The deployment of police strength by both time and area is essential.
  6. “No quality is more indispensable to a policeman than a perfect command of temper; a quiet, determined manner has more effect than violent action.
  7. “Good appearance commands respect.
  8. “The securing and training of proper persons are at the root of efficiency.
  9. “Public security demands that every police officer is given a number.
  10. “Police headquarters should be centrally located and easily accessible to the people.
  11. “Policemen should be hired on a probationary basis.
  12. “Police records are necessary to the correct distribution of police strength.

Here is how these alleged 12 principles of Peel breakdown.

The First principle here stated…

…in no way reflects the first traditional principle for while Peel certainly did create a quasi-military force, the intention as we have already examined was to avoid militarism; that goal has largely failed in recent years as SWAT teams and STRIKE forces often yield military weapons and conduct operations in military ways such as when serving “no knock” warrants.

Of course, it could also be argued that such tactics are necessary given the firepower that police often face from organized crime groups and street gangs. However, the first stated principle in the twelve seems to reflect the Ninth original principle in that it recommends police be “efficient.” So the first of the new 12 is indeed new and thus a fail.

Read Also: Are Sir Robert Peels Principles of Policing Still Useful Today?

The Second principle here is a bit of a no-brainer because…

…if we assume that Peel established the LMP under the direction of Parliament (he was a member of the House of Commons), then it goes without stating that the police would be a government agency. Thus, this principle seems more of an insult to the intelligence of anyone reading it and fails to meet, with any modicum of reasoning, what Sir Robert Peel would have stated. As will be discussed shortly, Sir Robert Peel was not the kind of person to insult the intelligence of another so to claim these are his words are an insult to the man. Thus, the second principle of the 12 fails.

The Third Principle of the new 12…

…is the same as the Ninth principle of the original set, though worded slightly different and a somewhat weakened version. Notice it leaves out the part about the “evidence of police action in dealing with” crime. This is an important element of the principle for it demonstrates, as cited by Chief Inspector Winsor of the HMIC, that police activity does not necessarily translate to crime prevention. The way this principle is stated in the new 12-Step version suggests something quite different as if the “Ends justify the means.” Thus, while similar to the Ninth Principle in the original version, the third largely fails.

The Fourth Principle in the new alleged 12 principles of Peel…

…seems to reflect the second and third in the original, but weakly. Although in the original Nine Principles of Sir Robert Peel the matter of the news is never mentioned, certainly it stands to reason that the news would be a fitting way for the public to hear of police duties and thereby render greater support. However, this is NOT what number 4 says. It says explicitly “Crime News.” The expression, “crime news” is a largely modern phenomenon. Newspapers in the 19th Century carried more upbeat information, political news, and even included poetry and short stories. Although outlandish crimes made news, general crime did not, unlike today. Thus, number 4 fails.

English: Statue of The Right Honourable Sir Ro...
English: Statue of The Right Honourable Sir Robert Peel Bart. This is the statue of Sir Robert Peel MP for Tamworth until 1850 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Principle Number 5 in this set is interesting, for… 

…it indicates more of a modern, sociological approach to police management rather than information Peel would have placed in the hands of his Bobbies when walking their beat.

Would he have wanted them deciding when and where to patrol? Or would it have made more sense that they would have been assigned an area to work?

Alleged Principle Number 5 finds no correlation in any of the original and for the purposes of the police officer on duty, already deployed, this would be nonsense. Thus, number 5 is a fail as regards the principles Peel would have issued to his Bobbies in general. However, Peel may have issued such a principle to those in charge of the force, so number 5 is not a total fail, simply questionable.

Number 6 of the alleged 12 principles of policing by Peel…

…reflects, to a large extent the original principle number 6, although not as wordy. Thus, this seems more like a version of the original. A paraphrased edition. Number 6 is a match, though a weak one, and as such is a Pass.

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Number 7 seems to reflect the original Seventh Principle of Sir Robert Peel inasmuch as it states that the public perception of law enforcement is important to fulfilling their mission.

Principle 7 in the modern set does not state it in the same terms as the new principle does, which is rather vague and misleading. For instance, what is a “good appearance?” This certainly may depend on the neighborhood or the situation. Many undercover officers wear rough clothing, sports tattoos, and go unshaven so as to gain the respect of those they are seeking to infiltrate. Also, a “good appearance” today is quite different from just 50 years ago. This one fails largely because it is vague; anyone who has studied the speeches of Sir Robert Peel and any other of his writings can attest that he was never vague. Seven is a fail.

Little needs said about so-called principle number 8 because we may simply ask,

…what does the expression “proper persons” mean? Number 8 is vague and Robert Peel was never vague; wordy perhaps, but never vague. More than this nowhere does the concept presented in this so-called principle appear in the original set. Additionally, Peel consistently indicates in the original Nine Principles that police efficiency is dependent on public respect and cooperation, not having the “proper” persons in the job. Number 8 is an utter fail.

The idea presented in Number 9 appears nowhere in the original set or principles and of what use would this be to a police officer walking a beat?

Having a number to identify a police officer is something which has come to be a tradition in policing and early cops did have numbers, but whether Number 9 is something which originated with Peel is uncertain. If so, it would only be important to his supervisors. It is a supervisory and public concept, not something patrol officers would need to concern themselves with. Thus, as a principle of policing, number 9 is a fail.

Read Also: How Sir Robert Peel Influences Modern Policing

Principle Number 10, centrally locating police headquarters is something that Sir Robert Peel did.

The location of the LMP was carefully selected by Peel himself; as a principle for use by his Bobbies, this one is silly. In fact, as can be seen from where we are thus far, most of these so-called principles appear to have arisen more from a study of his supervisory practices than actual principles of policing his officers would have carried in their pocket. Thus, one must wonder how such esteemed professors of Criminal Justice as the authors of some of these books containing the so-called “12 Principles” could have missed such a distinction. Number 10 is a fail.

So-called Peelian principle Number 11 is just silly.

On the surface, this concept sounds reasonable…BUT ONLY to a 20th/21st CENTURY reader.

The purpose of probationary hiring is to prevent wrongful firing lawsuits. These are mostly used when labor unions are involved. In 1829, there was NO POLICE LABOR UNION, thus, there was no need to state that police should be hired on such a basis. Sure, there were unions, but not for law enforcement. Too, why would the Bobbie on the street need such a reminder that he can be terminated at any time? As a new concept, the LMP, that was a non-sequitor. This principle is an insult to the intelligence of anyone reading it today and seriously calls into question the integrity of those who placed it into the textbooks in the first place. Abysmal FAIL.

Lastly, alleged principle number 12.

English: Sir Robert Peel, 5th Baronets, Grave ...
English: Sir Robert Peel, 5th Baronets, Grave (1) The above photograph shows the Grave of Sir Robert Peel, 5th Baronet, this Sir Robert Peel is not the same person, as the Sir Robert Peel that help found the modern day Police force. Although he is of the same family. This photograph 1545394 shows another view of this churchyard. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Police records are certainly necessary to the distribution of strength, but this so-called principle again is more of a supervisory concept than one for actual policing. In addition, this appears nowhere in the original Nine Principles of Policing by Sir Robert Peel so as such, we must attempt to reconcile it in some way, but cannot.

About the closest, we can come is the original Fourth Principle which discusses the proportionality of the use of force to public cooperation. However, that principle is contradictory to this newer one so that there is no correlation. Number 12 stands as a fail.

Of course, these “Fails” are only such IF these second 12 are not the original principles. Two of the original principles, in particular, demonstrate to us clearly, which set is the proper set of principles of Sir Robert Peel. Those are found in the original version by Lee, numbers Five and Eight.

Considering the Words of Sir Robert Peel in Relation to the Principles in Question

Sir Robert Peel was a staunch advocate of non-partisanship. One of the bills which he himself managed to get passed in the House of Lords and House of Commons in the days when he had attempted to retire from that public office and focus on the newly formed London Metropolitan Police involved attempts to get party politics out of Parliament because he saw the damaging effect it was having on the nation as a whole. Thus, in 1839 he managed to get the Controverted Elections Act passed, which sought to eliminate the influence of political parties in elections, most notably the Electoral College.

On his second attempt to leave public office, he stated of himself in third-person,

“For himself, the whole of his political life had been spent in the House of Commons—the remainder of it would be spent in the House of Commons; and whatever might be the conflicts of parties, he, for one, should always wish, whether in a majority or in a minority, to stand well with the House of Commons.”


For the duration of his life, Sir Robert Peel was a staunch opponent of “the conflicts of parties,” and this very ideology is reflected in the version of his principles as cited by WL Melville Lee in 1901. Principles 5 and 8 states in part that police must be “absolutely impartial” to law, ‘independent of policy’ and “never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary by avenging individuals or the state.”

Thus, Sir Robert Peels established the principle for his Bobbies that they should remain neutral as to the politics of the laws they enforce.

Police should never take the role of the judge upon themselves. And further, in the Fifth Principle, they are told to befriend all in the public regardless of “race or social standing.” This is very different from what we see in many police departments today for racial disparities are common and in some departments, racial profiling is not just accepted, but standard practice.

Still, these examples give us some insight into which of the two sets, the original 9 Principles of Policing or the newer set of 12 are the correct version. Certainly, the newer version offers nothing as regards principles which would be useful to police officers in their daily duties so these are certainly NOT the Principles of Policing by Sir Robert Peel. They are certainly fraudulent and false, not written by Peel, but someone wanting to rewrite history. Shame on these perpetrators. Rather than Criminal Justice, they should be teaching Mythology.

 Read Also: Sir Robert Peel and the Principles of Order

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