Local Accountability and Police Discretion


Someone made a comment the other day on Twitter about there being a fine line between a bravery award and a disciplinary. That got me thinking about the Government’s push for local accountability and discretion. (Bear with me – there is a connection!)

If police services are to be really accountable to public we need to ask the public what they want, and try to respond to that. This means that neighbourhood policing services provided will be unique and tailored to the situation – not simply a matter of fitting an incident into ready-made boxes of police procedure. This means that the victim and others involved need to be asked what they want as a resolution. This means that two apparently similar incidents may be dealt with differently.

Don’t misunderstand me – the public are not the sole arbiters of what policing should be, but then neither are the police – it is a process of give and take, of debate and discussion, and of finding the best outcome for all involved. After all most victims of crime place punishment of the offender fairly low down their list of wants – after an apology, restitution and reassurance that it won’t happen again.

So what is the problem?

This does mean though that there has to be differences in approach depending on what people and communities want. This could well be construed by the media and public as ‘postcode policing’. This discretion means that sometimes things will go wrong. I was discussing this issue with the IPCC the other day and whilst errors and mistakes should be avoided, when they do happen, the public, the government and the media must allow the space for forces and individuals to learn from their mistakes. This is a big change from the current culture.

The trade off

So what could the police offer in return for this focus on learning from mistakes rather than the castigation and risk averse guidance that we are more familiar with?  ACPO has been working on a risk based open and transparent decision making model for some time, and it was presented at the ACPO conference this summer. In essence it allows officers and forces to explain why a decision was taken, and the thought process that led up to a decision. If followed properly it both encourages officer discretion and consultation about the desires of those affected, and provides transparent justification for decisions. When things go wrong (as they undoubtedly will) it allows forces to learn from mistakes and improve things in the future.

If adopted across the service the model will allow officers and staff to exercise their discretion, safe in the knowledge that whilst their decisions may be challenged and examined, the outcomes of their actions alone will not lead to a disciplinary rather than a bravery award.

Will the media allow this approach to work? Let me know your thoughts by commenting below.

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One Response to Local Accountability and Police Discretion

  1. Amazing post. I have bookmarked your site. I am looking forward to reading more

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