Witnessing the Death of Policing by Consent

Updated: Jun 9, 2020

Part 1 of 3

Witnessing the Death of Policing by Consent

Photo by munshots on Unsplash

As a former police officer and use of force instructor, I watched in horror the very public murder of George Floyd by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Floyd, handcuffed and unresisting, lay face-down on the pavement pleading with Chauvin who casually knelt – hand in pocket, on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes[1]. His co-workers actively assisted and intimidated onlookers who urged them to get off him and let him breathe. The senseless injustice perpetrated on George Floyd has widened a gap in police/public relations to chasm like proportions.

The act has led to protests, riots and looting across much of the United States and abroad. Daily since this horrific event, we are seeing clashes between police and protestors. The situation continues deteriorating.

Policing needs a major redesign.

In much of the democratic world, police operate through a mechanism known as “Policing by Consent”. The concept is often attributed to Sir Robert Peel who founded the Metropolitan (London) Police in the U.K. in 1829[2]. There are nine principles – three of which form the main tenets of policing by consent,

  • Principle 2. To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.

  • Principle 3. To recognise always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing co-operation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.

  • Principle 4. To recognise always that the extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.

(Home Office, 2012)

The ability of the police service to effectively do their job with minimum force, relies on the implicit consent and co-operation of the public.

But what happens when the public no longer consents to being policed by the agency that is supposed to protect them? When trust, respect and confidence in the police are gone, what remains for the public is anger and fear. As has been demonstrated, without the tacit acceptance of police direction, little remains for the police to regain control but fear and force, neither of which are effective means for calming a community or restoring those so very important tenets.

Trust in the police had already been stretched by the many public shootings of black men and women who are “…nearly three times as likely as white to be killed by law enforcement”. (Streeter, 2019) Trust was further stretched due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the many “extra” powers granted them by governments (Fuller, 2020). Add to that the pent-up frustration of an isolated populace and many other injustices (perceived or actual) committed by various police agencies and individual officers from around the globe and you have a bomb with a lit fuse.

In Part 2, available here, explores further the concept of “Policing by Consent” and posit the question, “Can that consent be withdrawn?” Part 3 will explore the much-needed reboot and redesign of policing.

[1] The New York Times has reconstructed the murder of George Floyd using security footage, witness video and official documents. I warn you; it is graphic and very disturbing. https://youtu.be/vksEJR9EPQ8 [2] While widely quoted as “Peels Nine Principle’s”, there is no evidence of any link that Peel himself actually developed them. The origin of the principles is however, not the focus of this article. The focus is the reliance of these foundational statements on the framework of modern police services around the world.


Works cited in this series,

Fuller, G., 2020. The Conversation. [Online] Available at: https://theconversation.com/coronavirus-extra-police-powers-risk-undermining-public-trust-135644 [Accessed 03 06 2020].

Home Office, 2012. Gov.UK. [Online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/policing-by-consent/definition-of-policing-by-consent [Accessed 03 06 2020].

Merriam-Webster, 2020. Merriam-Webster Dictionary. [Online] Available at: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/consent [Accessed 5 June 2020].

Mukherejee, A., 2020. The Globe and Mail. [Online] Available at: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-are-we-ready-to-talk-about-defunding-the-police/ [Accessed 05 06 2020].

Stockman, F. & Eligon, J., 2020. The New York Times. [Online] Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/05/us/defund-police-floyd-protests.html [Accessed 05 06 2020].

Streeter, S., 2019. Lethal Force in Black and White: Assessing Racial Disparities in the Circumstances of Police Killings. The Journal of Politics, 81(3).

Trump, D. J., 2020. Twitter. [Online] Available at: https://twitter.com/MicahGrimes/status/1266268711125520386/photo/2 [Accessed 05 June 2020].

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, Edition 2, 2008. The Legal Dictionary. [Online] Available at: https://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/consent [Accessed 06 June 2020].

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