Policing in 1923 (You’ll be surprised!)

Officers outside the police station, Madison, Wisconsin, 1935
Officers outside the police station, Madison, Wisconsin, 1935

Peel’s Principles are quite evident in most training schemes, department policies and rules and regulations. But as we all know practicing them is not so easy and if we were to rate our departments on how well they adhered to Peel’s “Principles of Policing,” we might all be dismayed.

Nevertheless,I have always been fascinated by the foresight Peel was able put into the nine-point directive for new officers of the London metro police (believed to be co-authored incidentally with Charles Rowan and Richard Mayne).

From my former department in Madison, Wisconsin, I came across the 1923 edition of departmental rules and regulations. As I read through it, I found very high expectations existed in 1923 regarding the conduct of police officers.

The Madison city ordinance at that time empowered the state-mandated Board of Police and Fire Commissioners to establish educational requirements as they may “deem necessary.” There was no stated requirement for a police applicant to have completed any formal education; however, applicants were required to be tested as to their ability to read, handwrite, and write a report from “the substance of a matter communicated orally” and to be able to add, subtract and count money.

Here’s some specific advice from that booklet:

Advice to Young Policemen (sic)

You have recently been appointed, and are about to assume the responsibilities of an office the duties of which are much more varied and difficult, and the trust of which is of much more importance to the public and yourself, than is generally admitted. 

You are to assume the duties of an executive officer of criminal law, of the ordinances of a large city, and as a conservator of the public peace, your acts will at all times be subject to the observation of the public; and on the course which you pursue depends not only much of the welfare of the community in which you move but the credit of the Department in which you belong, and your own success as an officer and a man.

At the commencement, do not forget that in this business your character is your capital. Deal honorably with all persons, and hold your word no matter when, or where, or to whom given… 

The commission’s advice, however, goes further regarding a number of important points that could be applied to police today. They were expected also to:

Be alert, know your beat and the people who live and work there; make yourself useful and aid [those on your beat] in all their lawful pursuits.

And while on their beat:

Lend a willing ear to all complaints made to you… The most unworthy have a right to be heard” and a word of comfort to the afflicted or advice to the erring costs you nothing, and may do much good.

I would hope police training officers say the same thing today to any man or woman beginning police work.

Today, and in the time of Peel, the area in which police find themselves most under criticism is when they must use force to make an arrest. The Madison commissioners in 1923 were not unaware of this and they reflect Peel’s principle regarding force:

Whenever it is necessary to make an arrest… use not more force than is necessary to protect yourself and secure your man. Keep perfectly cool. Maintain a perfect control of temper… one who can govern himself can control others.

The Commissioners also gave young officer’s advice about testimony in court:

If you are called to the witness-stand, give your evidence clearly and distinctly… an no account let any personal feeling creep into your testimony… and never give or have as a reason that you made an arrest, that ‘he was saucy.’

And, finally, with regard to personal conduct:

Remember in your official duties you are continually and eminently exposed to the thousand of snares and temptations of city life… beware! be ever on your guard… Select your associates with care ‘A man (sic) is known by the company he keeps.’”

And so it was and so it is.