Question 3: To whom do the police account? To what extent do current arrangements enable the police properly to account to the community for their actions?
The community demands accountability from the police. The community has conferred upon the police powers which are not conferred upon ordinary individuals in the community. In any democratic society based on the rule of law and responsible government, it is fundamental that police independence be balanced with accountability. Accountability in definition would constitute by holding police responsible for what they do, organizationally and/or individually, by seeing their policies and practices and what they claim authority to do as things that should be open to scrutiny and that they should be prepared to justify1.
This essay will be discussed in two separate parts in the context of police accountability. On the one hand, to whom the police are answerable for their actions? On the other hand, what extent would current arrangements hold the police accountable to the community for their actions?
2. TO WHOM DO THE POLICE ACCOUNT?
Accountability implies some form of explanation and justification, usually a public one2. It does not mean direction or control with operational policy being decided by some outside body3. Control of day-to-day operations rests firmly with the Chief Constable, although he is subject to scrutiny and influence by the Home Office and the government3. This is an apparent breadth of police accountability, through formal and informal channels. They face a range of audiences-not merely the public and senior officers but local and national politicians, judges, the media, as well as formal complaints4.
It is further important to consider the main areas of accountability prior to discussing details of the arguments as to whom the police are accountable. Principally, I would highlight the operational5 aspects of accountability here, though short outlines of other issues will also be mentioned to better understand of the arguments of police accountability.
A. Areas of accountability:
There are three main areas of accountability to be considered within most policing organisations which are: a) Financial; b) Personal and c) Operational5. All of them are to some extent the responsibility of the Chief Officer of Police. If there is some degree of police independence, then, given the hierarchic nature of police organisations, this translates into a great deal of personal independence for the Chief Officer in the governance of the organisation, and therefore personal responsibility for any perceived failings in the organisation6 .
Financial accountability of police to the Home Office (on behalf of the government) is not particularly controversial7: since the escalating cost of policing are recognised within the organisation, it is right for police authorities to show how the money is spent8. Police services have large capital assets to manage, buildings and vehicle fleets, for example, and the principles of effective management of these are, perhaps, not wildly different from the principles any business, which would rely on for getting the best value for money from its shops, factories, warehouses and vehicles. What does cause problems is trying to fit policing outcomes into the sort of profit and loss balance sheet to which accountants are accustomed.
Police services are now subject to much more stringent financial accountability than they have been in the past. The object of this accountability has also changed: although the police service is still accountable to its police authority, the police authority is no longer a part of local government but a separate entity9. Although the chief officer prepares the budget, this requires the police authority’s agreement, but it is the Home Office which determines the aggregate grant. In a subtle but important shift of emphasis, police are now more financially...
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