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Inside the Ethics Committee at Avon and Somerset Constabulary - Part Two

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In March, as part of the inquiry into local policing - leadership, ethics and accountability, the Committee published an overview of the implementation of Avon and Somerset’s Ethics Committee. Professor Allyson MacVean of Bath Spa University, who is working in conjunction with Avon and Somerset Constabulary, has provided the Committee with an update on how the Ethics Committee is progressing.

Since developing and implementing the Ethics Committee in March, two committee meetings have been held. At a monthly meeting officers and staff from the Constabulary are invited to present their ethical dilemmas. The dilemmas are reviewed by the Chair and two Vice-Chairs prior to distribution and consideration by members of the Ethics Committee. The Deputy Chief Constable and the Police and Crime Commissioner are members of the Committee, but have also taken on the role of Police Advisors so they are able to answer any questions relating to operations or strategy that otherwise may not be known.

Four ethical dilemmas were submitted to the committee for the inaugural meeting. Two of these dilemmas related to organisational policy: naming police officers and staff at point of charge and whether the term ‘whistleblower’ had negative connotations for officers and staff. One dilemma concerned an operational matter about whether drivers who were recorded as being over the legal drink drive limit should be named to the local media on point of charge. The fourth dilemma related to the closure of a staff sports club and the distribution of remaining funds to the members. It soon became apparent that in order to fully consider the complexities concerning each dilemma presented to the Ethics Committee, that it would only be possible to consider three dilemma’s at each meeting.

The experience of the first two Ethics Committee meetings suggests that this model can support members of the police organisation, from chief officers to frontline staff. The deliberation of ethical dilemmas has provided new way of thinking about how individual members of the organisation undertake and consider day-to-day decisions. It is already evident that - better decisions can be made by the wider considerations of the Ethics Committee.

The Ethics Committee is facilitating positive challenge to decisions without any fear of repercussion either between colleagues or up through the ranks. The environment enables officers and staff to articulate logical and rational considerations and suggestions which are valid and well founded. An experienced committee Chair, along with the engagement of chief officers and the Police and Crime Commissioner, has been key to encouraging openness to constructive challenge within the constabulary.

There have already been three ethical dilemmas presented for consideration at the third Ethics Committee meeting, one of which relates to body worn cameras. I believe that future progression of the Ethics Committee will be really seen when the dilemmas that are submitted are not purely reflective discussions, but require proactive suggestions and considerations for the decision making process of the referrer.

Professor Allyson MacVean is Senior Research Fellow at the School of Society, Enterprise and Environment at Bath-Spa University. She was the founder and first Director of the John Grieve Centre for Policing and Community Safety. Prior to this position, Allyson worked in the Serious and Organized Crime Unit at the Home Office. Her interests include police intelligence, the policing of investigations, policing child sexual abusers and police education. Her books include co-editor of The Handbook of Intelligence Policing (OUP, 2008), Policing Paedophiles on the Internet (New Police Bookshop, 2004) and Sage Course Companions: Policing (Sage Publications, 2007).

The Committee of Standards in Public Life is currently in the process of drafting the final report of its inquiry into local police accountability, which it intends to publish in late June 2015. You can follow the progress of our inquiry on Twitter. You can also sign up for email alerts from this blog and email alerts from our GOV.UK homepage.

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