Witnessing the Death of Policing by Consent - Part 2 of 3

Updated: Jun 9, 2020


Photo by Max Bender on Unsplash

Policing by Consent

“’…policing by consent’ suggests that police authority comes from public acceptance of their legitimacy and fairness rather than through force alone.” (Fuller, 2020) In my last post we looked at three of Robert Peel's Nine Principles of Policing. Let's examine closer, Peel’s Principle number 4, regarding the use of force,

  • 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)

Derek Chauvin’s violation of this tenet through the unjust, illegal, and excessive use of force that killed George Floyd, may have worldwide impact on the ability for agencies to “police by consent”.

This begs the question, “Can citizens elect to withdraw their consent to be policed?” The UK’s Home Office has indicated on the same page as above principles, “No individual can chose to withdraw his or her consent from the police, or from a law.” (Home Office, 2012)


But I think that is short sighted and frankly, incorrect, and apparently so does Minneapolis City Council.


Nine of the twelve members, announced June 7 that they had voted and vowed “ending policing as we know it.” (Associated Press, 2020)


A council member also tweeted, “We are going to dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department,” (WIllis, 2020)

Source- Twitter - Jeremiah Ellison

Merriam-Webster defines consent as,

1) a verb - giving assent or approval: agree, 2) noun – compliance in or approval of what is done, or 3) agreement as to action or opinion. All three fit when applied to “policing by consent”. (Merriam-Webster, 2020)

According to the legal definition, consent is a voluntary, deliberate, willing and the act of reaching an accord. (West's Encyclopedia of American Law, Edition 2, 2008) Can consent be withdrawn? By virtue of the definition of consent, it appears it can be…it certainly can be in other voluntary acts (sex, negotiation, rights of access). If it is truly policing by consent, and that consent is withdrawn by a public who says, “We no longer trust you to do what is right.” That places police agencies in a precarious situation. Already there are calls for the defunding of the police. (Mukherejee, 2020) (Stockman & Eligon, 2020) Many others are broaching and writing about this question – Google displays page after page of articles, all following the same train of thought.

Without respect and acceptance, the only option police are left with is fear and force. “…when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” (Trump, 2020) Not at all appropriate and certainly not consent. Not by a long shot.

There appear to be three options right now,

  1. The public completely withdraws their support from government and police and adopt their own set of rules. Police and public relationships decline into anarchy and miniature “police states” or “militarised states” emerge[1],

  2. The government and public remove their support and defunds state sanctioned police organisations, brings in military law to establish control and ushers in an era of police privatisation.

  3. We seize the opportunity and open the door to better relationships between the police and public. We need to completely redesign the police service from the ground up to better meet the needs of the community, have greater accountability, better transparency and more effective oversight. What we have clearly doesn’t work and needs a lot of work.

Some might say that #2 is coming, fast. But I would like to think we are a long way from a science fiction like dystopia that sees individuals and communities paying for policing like an insurance plan or living in the shadow of an occupying military force.

In Part 3, I briefly examine what the reboot might look like. Part 1 is available here,


[1] Fox News is reporting that on the heels of the call to defund the police, gun sales in the US have seen a dramatic spike. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CjUtJxGJ0pI

Works Cited in the Series

Associated Press, 2020. CTV News. [Online] Available at: https://www.ctvnews.ca/world/minneapolis-council-majority-backs-disbanding-police-force-1.4973684 [Accessed 07 06 2020].

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].

WIllis, J., 2020. The Appeal. [Online] Available at: https://theappeal.org/minneapolis-city-council-members-announce-intent-to-disband-the-police-department-invest-in-proven-community-led-public-safety/ [Accessed 07 06 2020].


87 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All