Whereas offences against property have of late increased in and near the metropolis; and the local establishments of nightly watch and nightly police have been found inadequate to the prevention and detection of crime, by reason of the frequent unfitness of the individuals employed, the insufficiency of their number, the limited sphere of their authority, and their want of connection and co-operation with each other: And whereas it is expedient to substitute a new and more efficient system of police in lieu of such establishments of nightly watch and nightly police, within the limits herein-after mentioned, and to constitute an office of police, which, acting under the immediate authority of one of his Majesty’s principal secretaries of state, shall direct and control the whole of such new system of police within those limits.
So goes the preamble of the Metropolitan Police Act of 19 June 1829, which established the organisation we know today. As every child should know, Sir Robert Peel was the moving force behind the Act. The Met was actually founded and operational a few months later on 29 September. Its first two commissioners were Sir Charles Rowan and Richard Mayne. The City of London was excluded from these arrangements, running their own force, as they do to this day.
Much is made – rightly – of the so-called Peelian principles, although there is no evidence that he himself devised them:
- The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.
- The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon the public approval of police actions.
- Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observation of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.
- The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.
- Police seek and preserve public favour not by catering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.
- 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, and warning is found to be insufficient.
- 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 upon every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
- Police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions, and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary.
- The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it