Policing: Art or Science?

When Sir Robert Peel created the first civil police force in 1829, he clearly envisioned the service as a craft and not a profession.  The tasks assigned to these forerunners of modern policing were in the gritty business of keeping the public peace and bringing thieves and other law breakers to justice.  In fact, Peel designed the starting pay scales so low to ensure that men accustomed to a gentile life would not be attracted. (A condition that later triggered the first police strike.)  In a letter to the Duke of Wellington sometime after the launch of the Metropolitan Police, Peel revealingly said,

“The chief danger of the failure of the new system will be: If it is made a job, if gentlemen’s servants and so forth are placed in the higher offices.” 

Sir Robert, I believe, would have been in sympathy with the view that policing is more an art than a science, more a craft than a profession.  Once at odds, today these positions are approaching convergence. Science and technology increasingly dictate the structure and the tools of everyday policing.  Educated people are needed to understand these new conditions and carry out the functions. A professional attitude towards the work is a public expectation. But the practice of policing, while now using highly technical and scientific tools, remains very much an art.

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3 Responses to “Policing: Art or Science?”

  1. Gary Cordner says:

    I agree with you Bob. I think there are few other occupations that combine elements of art and science, craft and profession, mind and body. And fewer still that incorporate elements of danger, authority, and discretion. Look forward to reading your book. It was great seeing you in DC at the PERF conference.

    • Bob Lunney says:

      Gary:  I found the PERF meeting informative and provocative, but left with question.  If, indeed, as we were told by several presenters, policing is in need of an intirely new operating platform and business plan, then who is working towards a solution?  

  2. Dean Albrecht says:

    Hi Robert!  Your book was a thoroughly enjoyable read and provided new insights for me personally on the rise and fall of community policing in Edmonton.  Clearly, what you saw occur in Northern Ireland, when the "old felt hat" reasserted itself, has happened to most (if not all) community-centered police organizations of the 1980s and 90s.  I share your question; "who is working towards a solution"?  We appear to be in statis until either visionary leaders or external crisis motivates another era of self-reflection within the policing community.  Best Regards, Dean (EPS retired).

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