Last week, after an eight month inquiry, the Committee produced its evaluation of accountability of local policing and publicly launched its report ‘Tone from the top - leadership, ethics and accountability in local policing’.
The Committee shared key findings of the inquiry, and heard insightful presentations from a panel of speakers - James Dipple-Johnstone Commissioner of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, Dame Shirley Pearce Chair of the College of Policing and Julia Mulligan Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for North Yorkshire and representative of the Associations of PCC’s - on complaints handling, police leadership and public engagement respectively. Julia told the audience that she: “welcomed the report, its fair and in-depth assessment of PCCs, and how it enables us to look at and learn from what we’ve done”.
I found the inquiry into policing accountability fascinating. As someone who has worked in the health service and a former teacher, I was particularly keen to hear how any changes or initiatives might affect the decisions made by a front line police officer. Reflecting on the panel’s discussion, here are some conclusions that I have drawn on leadership in policing, appointments of chief police officers and Police and Crime Panels:
PCCs and Chief Constables share responsibility for establishing an open and honest culture in their police force that is rooted firmly in the Seven Principles of Public Life and policing values. Leaders need to identify best practice in implementing the Code of Ethics, learn from others, and demonstrate to the public through the Police and Crime Plan how they will measure success. Initiatives, such as establishing independent Ethics Committees can add valuable insights, but alone they are not enough. High standards of behaviour and ethics need to be part of the bloodstream of the organisation and visibly championed and exemplified by those in leadership positions.
Although the current process for appointing chief police officers must be based on “merit, fairness and openness” it may not be as transparent and robust as it could be. The launch event left me with the impression that some people have very little confidence in the current appointments process. There is an indication that in some cases personalities and pre-existing relationships may influence the appointments process, and there is not sufficient access to appropriate, independent advice.
The benefits of encouraging a diverse and wide range of applicants, and cross-pollination of officers between forces are clear. Good practice in selection and appointment processes should be replicated by all PCCs, to ensure a fair and well understood process which commands public confidence.
Police and Crime Panels
Police and Crime Panels are operating at varying levels of effectiveness in the scrutiny and support they provide to PCCs. Effectiveness of panels depends heavily on the commitment and expertise of their members and support staff. Panels appear to benefit from a genuine status at a local level, and a role which is distinguished from councillors’ existing and often competing responsibilities. Some panels are performing well while others are struggling to hold their PCC to account. The Committee suggested in its report that a more strategic and less transactional approach by Panels would help address this.
I look forward to hearing how the Committee’s recommendations are received by those carrying out the important job of policing on behalf of the public.
A collection of audio recordings from the launch event is available here.