December 10, 2020 by Ray Guidetti

Foiling a Cops & Lobsters Perception: Through Technology, Transparency & Trust

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Transparency and trustLike most cops, I grew up on the job adhering to the immortal words of Sir Robert Peel that the “police are the public and that the public are the police.” Peel, known as the Father of Modern Policing, established the London Metropolitan Police Force in 1829. Throughout my career, I found myself referencing Peel’s principles as I navigated the gauntlet of challenges that policing so often presents to those responsible for carrying it out. Admittedly, I never questioned why we – the law enforcement community worldwide – considered Peel’s guidance as eternal. In my mind, he was infallible and that was all that mattered. Yet today, with the strident calls for police reform I am revisiting the values Sir Peel was trying to convey with the hopes of better understanding this man and what his principles can offer us today. 

Historical Perspectives

Robert Peel was born February 5, 1788, in Lancashire, England, and died on July 2, 1850, in London, England. In full, Sir Robert Peel, 2nd Baronet, was considered shy, was a quick-tempered, courageous, stubborn, often autocratic administrator with a first-class intellect, and exact memory with a great capacity for work, which coalesced him into outstanding parliamentary debater in the 19th Century.[1] Peel, born to a wealthy cotton manufacturer, was educated at Harrow and Oxford, and in 1809 occupied a parliamentary seat. In 1822, after many difficult assignments in government, Peel accepted the post of secretary of state for the home department and a seat in the cabinet. His first assignment was to radically reform the criminal laws, which then led to a wholesale restructuring of the criminal code. Mounting crime convinced him that legal reform should be accompanied by improved methods of crime prevention.[2] In 1829, Peel spearheaded the Metropolitan Police Act, which enabled him to design and establish the first disciplined police force for the Greater London area.  This force soon came to be known as Bobby’s boys and later simply as “bobbies.”

Remarkably, not everyone was excited about the bobbies. Many opposed a uniform force being sent into neighborhoods to quell disturbances. The uniformed force was considered no different than military soldiers. In one satirical cartoon, Peel is depicted inspecting and applauding his newly created Metropolitan Police Force. The words associated with him connote a sense of suspicion felt by the public towards the police at this time. ‘My lads,’ he says, “you are always justified in breaking the heads of the public when you consider it absolutely necessary for the maintenance of the public peace … for, according to the law, they have no business in your way”.[3] The sketch points out that the police may be no different than the military, more specifically they are just “raw lobsters.” The meaning behind this is that raw lobsters are blue and only turn red when boiled: the suggestion being that the police in their blue coats were only a pot of hot water away from becoming the red-coated army.[4] With many sharing this notion that the police were no different than an occupying army, Peel needed a mechanism to ensure that his bobbies were distinctive and not a cloaked component of England’s red coated army. To that end, he established his nine principles for the police to adhere to as a means to ensure that they were different from an occupying army and were solely there to protect and serve the communities they represented.

Principled Efforts

Today, now more than ever, in the face of intense public scrutiny, it is critical that the policing profession, at all levels, embody Peel’s principles as a framework to underpin the need for transparency as an essential building block of trust within the community. Peel knew that mutual respect between the police and the community is forever rooted in transparency and accountability. It is therefore vital that policing in general, as well as new reform efforts, always focus on policy, recruitment, training, implementation standards and accountability practices. Those five components shape a policing culture and behavior in the field.

For the first hundred years of policing since Peel’s work, little had changed regarding technology. In fact, the technology of 1830’s London was narrowly focused on machinery and architecture. Yet, it was not till almost one hundred years later, with the advent of the automobile and voice communications that policing practices began to radically change to expand the reach and deployment of peace officers. However, it has been the last twenty or so years, where things have really exploded – technically speaking – placing the police on the precipice of a technological revolution. While the human condition has not changed much since Peel’s times, technology has. Technological advancements have become an incredible force multiplier for the police to improve crime prevention practices. Today the police have at their disposal a myriad of capabilities that are bolstered by increasing software applications, LTE, and “the Cloud.” These same advancements, when coupled with Peel’s age old principles, can aid a policing organization with advancing their own transparency and accountability efforts.  

Let’s take a look at a few of Peel’s principles to see how technology can bolster an agency’s connection to those they serve. 

  •  To recognize always that the power of the police to fulfill their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behavior, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.

Public approval starts with transparency. Today, in-car and body worn camera technologies can provide the public a fuller understanding of the actions and behaviors of the police in the field when in contact with the citizens they represent. It is not enough to deploy these technologies alone. Instead, they must be wedded to robust policies, procedures, and training mechanisms that utilize the information gathered in the captured videos to better evaluate police performance, aid in early warning mechanisms, and to provide transparent information to the public. Of equal importance to meeting community expectations are the technologies that can assist with situational awareness, rapid response and aid, and focused investigations. Incident awareness, mapping, gunshot acoustic detection, license plate reader solutions, rapid ballistic and DNA examinations, video and data analytics powered by artificial intelligence can all enhance relationships with the community because of their objective nature.

  • To recognize always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing cooperation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.

In the wake of the tragic events of September 11, 2001, the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States provided guidance to enable greater information exchange and interoperability practices across all levels of government. Whereas this effort awakened law enforcers and counter terrorism professionals to share information broadly it also opened their eyes to the value of citizen input towards developing robust homeland security capabilities. Today, these same information sharing technologies aimed at counter terrorism can also offer the public opportunities to communicate information related to crime and disorder, as well as provide information related to suspected abuse by the police. Smart phone video captures by the public when combined with other information and evidence collected by the police can provide a greater understanding of incidents for which the public has a critical need to know what happened. Starting with community engagement, and working through call intake, dispatch, analysis, investigation, judicial review, and incarceration, today’s innovative technologies can better connect the community to the police and offer jurisdictions smart and trusted policing solutions.

  •     To recognize always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.

Growing up in the New Jersey State Police, General Order #1, promulgated in 1921 by then Colonel Norman Schwarzkopf, was the primary decree we all aspired to comply with. It stated, that “It shall be the duty of the members of the New Jersey State Police to prevent crime and pursue and apprehend offenders. Members should bear in mind that the prevention of crime is of greater importance than the punishment of criminals. The force individually and collectively should cultivate and maintain the good opinion of the people of the State by prompt obedience to all lawful commands, by a steady and impartial line of conduct in the discharge of its duties and by cleanly, sober and orderly habits and by a respectful bearing to all classes.” 

Schwarzkopf’s order underscores this principle of Peel. Fortunately, there are countless applications that law enforcement can rely upon within an intelligence-led policing framework to identify, assess, and address crime. The applications, often underpinned by analytics, offer policing agencies greater opportunities for prevention whether it be through problem-solving policing measures, strategic enforcement, or even the ability to influence legislation.  Furthermore, today’s technologies can bring more objectivity and precision to policing in terms of generating the accurate and unbiased information needed to identify and stop the types of criminals that society is most concerned about. 


The observance of Peel’s principles today are enduring as they were 180 years ago when he created them. His ideas help define how an ethical police force is really just an extension of the public it serves. For me, it’s clearer now that Peel’s principles provided the leadership and guidance needed to keep his “Peelers” out of hot water thus avoiding the perception that they were only “red devils” cloaked in blue. His guidance remains as relevant as ever. It provides law enforcement agencies with a framework for advancing transparency, integrity, and accountability when exercising the powers of their office. By layering today’s technologies onto Peel’s principles, police agencies can dramatically increase the levels of trust within the communities they serve. 

[1] Gash, N. “Robert Peel: Prime Minister of United Kingdom”. Britannica., June 2020.
[2] Ibid
[3] Grant, Charles Jameson. ‘Reviewing the blue devils, alias the raw lobsters, alias the bludgeon men’ from The Political Drama. Estimated 1834-35.
[4] Ibid

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