New York City Police Commissioner William J. Bratton has said he swears by them and always carries a copy. “My bible,” Bratton told The New York Times, referring to the Nine Principles of Policing, which form the backbone of the law enforcement philosophy known as community policing.

Sir Robert Peel, considered the father of modern policing, is frequently credited with developing the principles in England during the early 19th century. However, there is doubt that Peel actually compiled the principles himself. Instead, some historians bestow that honor on Charles Rowan and Richard Mayne, the first commissioners of London’s famous Metropolitan Police.

Almost 63 million U.S. residents age 16 or older had at least one contact with police in 2011, the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics reported. About half of the contacts were initiated by members of the public, with the other half initiated by police, such as during traffic stops.

Most of the people who interacted with law enforcement believed officers’ behavior was appropriate, according to the bureau’s study, which was released in 2013.

But recent police-involved shootings, including the much-publicized incident in Ferguson, Missouri, have renewed interest in the relationships among communities and their law enforcement agencies.

The Nine Principles recommend a cooperative framework for policing and suggest a more proactive stance to fighting crime. They call for the prudent use of force and demand absolute impartiality to the law. The principles also can be seen as encouraging police to develop community partnerships, engage in problem solving and create an internal structure that reflects the community policing philosophy.

The principles “inform the vision of collaborative policing that I believe is essential to healing the divisions that exist between the police and the communities we serve,” Bratton wrote on his NYPD blog in March 2014. 

The Nine Principles of Policing contend that:

    • The basic mission of policing is to prevent crime and disorder.
    • In order for the police to perform their duties, the public must approve of police actions.
    • Police must have the public’s willing cooperation in obeying the law in order to win and maintain the public’s respect.
    • The greater the level of public cooperation the less the need for the use of physical force.
    • Police gain and keep public favor by constantly demonstrating absolute impartiality to the law, not by pandering to public opinion.
    • Police use physical force to secure observance of the law or restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning isn’t sufficient.
    • Police should maintain a relationship with the public that honors the tradition that police are members of the public who are paid to perform duties that are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare. In other words, the police are the public and the public are the police.
    • Police should direct their actions strictly toward their functions and never appear to take over the judiciary’s powers.
    • The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.

COPS Office Celebrates 20 Years

Nearly two centuries after the Nine Principles of Policing were established, the philosophy of community policing continues to be widely practiced.

The Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) is marking its 20th anniversary in 2014. A division of the U.S. Department of Justice, the COPS Office said it has distributed more than $14 billion in funding since its inception, including for the creation of 125,000 additional police officer positions nationwide. The agency also provides training to law enforcement officers and community members.

“As recent events have demonstrated, good relations between police and the public are vital to our safety and well-being,” the COPS Office said in a November 2014 statement.

Other law enforcement organizations also support community policing.

Each year, the International Association of Chiefs of Police recognizes agencies for “outstanding community policing initiatives.” The 2014 winners included departments in Highland Village, Texas; Leesburg, Virginia; Madison City, Alabama; Boise, Idaho; and Nassau County, New York.

“The philosophy of community policing is more relevant and necessary today than ever before,” Todd A. Miller, chairman of the association’s Community Policing Committee, said in an October 2014 statement.

“Citizens need to trust the police and feel that they are partners in addressing community issues,” he said.

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