Sir Robert Peel

03 December 2011

Sir Robert Peel

Sir Robert Peel (5 February 1788- 02 July 1850) is known by many Titles, 2nd Baronet, Prime minister, Member of Parliament and Home Secretary. During his tenure as Home Secretary (1822-1827) He founded the Metropolitan Police, whose members are called “Bobbies” in England and “Peelers” in Ireland in his honor.

Peel was born in Bury, Lancashire, England. His Father the 1st Baronet was one of the richest textile industrialists of the early industrial age in England. Peel graduated from Christ Church Oxford with a double major of Classic Literature and Mathematics.  He is credited with the development of the Tamworth Pig, by breeding Irish stock pigs with the local pigs in the town of Tamworth where he lived.

Politically, Peel’s career had a somewhat dubious start his first post was as a member of parliament from the “rotten borough[1]” of Cashel, Tipperary. Rotten Boroughs were a side effect of the early industrial age in Great Britain. They were one time strong heavily populated agricultural centers that were abandoned by the general population seeking jobs in the new industrial towns that were springing up all over England and Ireland at the time.  Peel won un-opposed in a county with only 24 voting members.

From that inauspicious start Peel proved himself to be an able politician moving through the ranks of English government. Although he rose to lead the conservative Tory party in England Peel himself was rather moderate and very forward thinking.  His list of political accomplishments is extensive so we’ll focus mainly on his forming of police forces in Ireland and England for purposes of this paper.

Peels first move towards the creation of the “modern policing” started in 1813 in Dublin, Ireland where he proposed setting up a specialized police force. He did this while an under-secretary in Ireland.  However, his goal for the creation of police force for England and Ireland really didn’t take off until the passing of the Metropolitan Police Force act of  1829 this allowed not only for the creation of police forces in England and Ireland replacing  parish constables[2] and watchmen[3].  The first section of the original act established a police force in the London metropolis under the direction of two commissioners who were to be Justices of the Peace.  Section 4 allowed for forces to be created outside of London it stated “a sufficient number of fit and able men shall from time to time, by the direction of His Majesty’s Secretaries of state, be appointed as a Police Force for the whole of the district”

Section 6 made it an offence for the owner of a public house to harbor a police officer during the hours of his duty. Section 7 outlined the powers of the new police force.  A constable was empowered to apprehend “all loose, idle and disorderly Persons whom he shall find disturbing the public Peace, or whom he shall have just cause to suspect of any evil designs.  All Persons whom he shall find between sunset and the hour of eight in the forenoon lying in any highway, yard, or other Place or loitering therein, and not giving satisfactory account of themselves.” Sections 8 made it an offense to assault or resist a Police officer. The other sections dealt with the handing over of police powers from the parishes to the new police force with existing night watchmen and constables to remain in place until the new force could take over.  The sections also allowed for additional parishes to be added to the Force when they could be added effectively.

During this time Peel was also able to reform criminal laws in England. He reduced the number of crimes punishable by death, repealed and consolidated existing criminal statutes.  Peel’s Acts which further consolidated laws and attempted the creation of a system of codes. It was later replaced by the Criminal Law Consolidation Acts of 1861. Peel also reformed the “Gaol [4]system” in England and introduced paid gaol positions.  He also implemented inmate educational programs.

These days there is a group of principles attributed to Peel based on his philosophy on policing, though Peel himself never actually produced a list of them himself. According to Wikipedia the principles most directly connected to Peel are.

  • Every police officer should be issued a identification number, to assure accountability for his actions.
  • Whether the police are effective is not measured on the number of arrests, but on the lack of crime.
  • Above all else, an effective authority figure knows trust and accountability are paramount. Hence, Peel’s most often quoted principle: The police are the public and the public are the police.

From his works scholars of the twentieth century have developed a set on nine principles called the Principles of Policing which still to this day influence modern policing philosophies.  Although many people refer to these as the Peelian Principles of Policing there is no known list ever directly authored by Peel himself.  These are.

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 the public approval of police actions.

3)      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.

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 favor 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, 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 upon 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

The nine principles above outline and influence the current philosophies of modern policing even though Peel, the person who influenced them, lived almost three hundred years ago.

Peel’s contributions to England and Great Britain on the whole were many; Both in the ways he in which he served them and what he was able to accomplish.  There is perhaps one thread or theme that appears throughout his works and connects almost everything he did in his life.

Peel was definitely a humanitarian during his time in government.  He reformed over four hundred and fifty acts covering not only policing but areas he felt there needed to be change. He was a man of principles and was not beyond placing the well-being and safety of others ahead of his own political ambitions. He frequently found himself in opposition with many powerful people in his day over issues that lesser men might have capitulated to in order to save their own “political lives.”  Peel for example, in order to relieve some of the suffering of the first great potato famine in Ireland got the import tax on corn removed. Doing so forced him to resign his position as the head of the conservative party in England.

Even after his retirement from official positions in the English government, Peel continued fighting for the things he believed in, on 28th June 1850 he gave an important speech on Greece and the foreign policies of Lord Palmerston that supported English expansion against the wishes of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, on his way back to parliament the following day he was thrown from his horse and seriously injured.  Days later he succumbed to his injuries and died, 2 July 1850.

It can be said that Sir Robert Peel is definitely on the short list of those individuals whose contributions to society have truly endured the test time. He has influenced and inspired other people to rise up and make their own mark on the world in which we now live.  August Vollmer and his student O.W. Wilson might not have been able to have the influence on American Policing they did had it not been for the base ideas set forth by Peel and his vision on how a successful, responsive,  nonpartisan, and closely linked to the people they serve,  a police agency should be.







Works Cited


“Law enforcement – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Dec. 2011. <;.

“Robert Peel – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Dec. 2011. <;.

“Robert Peel : Biography.” Spartacus Educational. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Dec. 2011. <;.

[1] A borough that was able to elect a representative to Parliament though having very few voters, the choice of representative typically being in the hands of one person or family.

[2] Constable:  A Peace Officer with limited authority typically in a small town, usually associated with Great Britain.

[3] Watchmen: a member of a body of people employed to keep watch in a small town at night.


[4] Gaol: A place for the confinement of people accused or convicted of a crime. i.e. Jail.  Gaoler: Jailer

About MartyW47

Attending Triton College. Studying Emergency Services Management & Criminal Justice. Currently employed @ MPPD & Aflac. After 30 years out of school I'm back in College and having a Blast!
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2 Responses to Sir Robert Peel

  1. reocochran says:

    This was very interesting and I appreciated your coming to see me on my post today! Take care, Marty!

    • MartyW47 says:

      Thanks Reo! It was an interesting post you put up. I always love poking around museums of all sorts, but war and rail museums are my favorite! 😉

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