Note: this blog post is also available in French.
Internal oversight of a police service is key to ensuring its smooth functioning. It also meets the criteria of accountability, a key characteristic of security sector reform (SSR). SSR aims to not only improve the effectiveness of security and justice services, but also to enhance their accountability and good governance.
Given the central role of the police in service provision to the population, its direct interaction with the public and the powers that are typically conferred to the police, it is vital to ensure that police officers adhere to high standards of quality and behaviour in their work. Internal oversight can help ensure that these standards are met, thereby preventing inappropriate behaviour or practices, abuse of power and corruption. Ideally, the work of an internal oversight body should be complemented by independent external oversight mechanisms.
Our purpose here is to focus specifically on the internal oversight of a police service. Through a wide-range of experiences in this field, ISSAT has been able to closely examine and support a variety of reform processes focusing on the issue of internal oversight. Internal oversight is a sensitive topic since it can lead to the questioning of certain practices that are deeply rooted within the traditions and culture of the police. Improving internal mechanisms to monitor peers, identify abusive behaviour of police officers, including the most high-ranking, is not an easy task. Willingness to undertake such reforms must come from the highest level of hierarchy. Integrity and professionalism are core values that are essential to effective internal oversight. Real guarantees for the protection of those engaged in internal oversight and genuine authority are also required if any serious reform is to occur.
These issues, as well as others, are listed below in our top 10 tips to improve the internal oversight of a police service. The purpose of this blog is not to dictate the manner in which internal oversight should be carried out. Each police service is unique and the context within which it operates varies from country to county. Rather, this blog aims to provide 10 key tips that we believe are the most important when attempting to ensure effective internal oversight.
Ensure clear legal definition of the body that will lead the process of internal oversight and clearly define its roles and responsibilities.
Vest the inspectorate’s personnel with the legal authority to conduct judicial investigation.
Clarify the exact powers of the inspectorate within the overall chain of internal oversight of the police service in question.
Grant inspectorate personnel the right to independently deal with any case that falls within their authority.
Provide the inspectorate the ability to make independent decisions related to oversight, without disregarding ministerial guidelines.
Provide the inspectorate a high level of operational autonomy, while ensuring the protection of its staff.
Ensure that staff appointments are based on objective criteria.
Ensure that the staff who are appointed have clean records.
Grant inspectorate staff direct access to the persons who are dissatisfied with the functioning of the police.
Develop the inspectorate’s capacity to collaborate with all other national oversight bodies responsible for ensuring the proper functioning of state services.
This blog was written based on the field experience of the ISSAT team in Burundi, when supporting the SSD programme of the Netherlands. For more information, please feel free to contact ISSAT or download the Audit Report of the Inspectorate General of Public Security in Burundi.
 For more information on the notion of internal control, see the DCAF Toolkit on Police Integrity (page 327) http://www.dcaf.ch/Publications/Toolkit-on-Police-Integrity
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