10 Tips for Police Internal Oversight

by Antoine Hanin · September 25, 2014.

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)[1]. 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.

  1. Ensure clear legal definition of the body that will lead the process of internal oversight and clearly define its roles and responsibilities.
     
  2. Vest the inspectorate’s personnel with the legal authority to conduct judicial investigation.
     
  3. Clarify the exact powers of the inspectorate within the overall chain of internal oversight[2] of the police service in question.
     
  4. Grant inspectorate personnel the right to independently deal with any case that falls within their authority.
     
  5. Provide the inspectorate the ability to make independent decisions related to oversight, without disregarding ministerial guidelines.
     
  6. Provide the inspectorate a high level of operational autonomy, while ensuring the protection of its staff.
     
  7. Ensure that staff appointments are based on objective criteria.
     
  8. Ensure that the staff who are appointed have clean records.
     
  9. Grant inspectorate staff direct access to the persons who are dissatisfied with the functioning of the police.
     
  10. 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.

[1] For more information on the principles of SSR, including accountability, please refer to document, SSR in a Nutshell.

[2] 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

Discussion

Bernard Bélondrade
Oct 27, 2014 11:11:04 AM

Cher Paulo

La question soulevée est intéressante. Elle pose le problème de la différence entre les notions de surveillance et de contrôle de la police ou pour le dire autrement peut-on donner le même sens à ces deux notions?

Sémantiquement, dans la langue de Voltaire - notamment pour l’Académie française- il n'y a pas différence fondamentale entre les deux mots. Dans la langue de Shakespeare – dont je ne suis pas un expert- je ne suis pas persuadé qu’il  y ait une plus nette différence dans le contenu de ces deux concepts.

Il  convient aussi de s’interroger sur la pertinence de différencier les notions « d’externalité » ou « d’internalité » concernant ces deux notions de contrôle et de surveillance. Ce travail semble pertinent compte tenu du rôle de la police dans une société, de ses activités, de son organisation, de ses missions, des pouvoirs personnels dont dispose tout OP, de son rôle social et des dommages que peuvent générer de mauvais comportements.

Si l’on s’intéresse à la provenance du regard porté sur l’action de l’officier de police, à savoir de l’intérieur de son institution ou de l’extérieur de celle-ci, et en le croisant avec les deux notions de contrôle et de surveillance, on peut déterminer une typologie par rapport aux conséquences directes que peut avoir une dénonciation, une plainte sur l’agent incriminé ou sur un service particulier.

La plainte peut  tout d’abord n’avoir aucune conséquence directe et immédiate sur la modification à court terme du comportement du fautif ou ne générer aucune sanction, ce qui est le cas le plus fréquent des dénonciations de la presse, des usagers, de services comme ceux de l’Ombudsman ou médiateurs, des organisations non gouvernementales (ONG), ces types de dénonciations relevant de l’idée de surveillance, ici externe à l’institution.

Mais cette  action de surveillance peut aussi être interne au service concerné, comme celle d’un collègue de patrouille qui va se plaindre, souvent verbalement, d’une mauvaise attitude de son second mais qui n’aura pas plus d’effet direct sur la personne incriminée. Ce cas de figure n’est pas anodin et on le rencontre très fréquemment dans les institutions policières qui disposent de références éthiques solides assorties d’un haut niveau de loyauté interne. Il faut ajouter que ce rôle est parfois mal perçu au sein de certaines institutions policières dans lesquelles la valeur de solidarité est plus importante que celle d'honnêteté de l'agent ou de respect des valeurs de la personne humaine. 

En revanche, la dénonciation peut au contraire avoir des conséquences directes sur la personne ou le service dysfonctionnel. Tel est le cas de l’action d’un chef hiérarchique qui sanctionne toute mauvaise action constatée chez un de ses subordonnés, ce qui relève alors du domaine du contrôle interne. Essentiel, ce rôle de la hiérarchie conditionne en fait le fonctionnement général du service concerné.

Le contrôle peut être aussi externe ; c’est celui de l’autorité ministérielle de tutelle qui en cas de dysfonctionnement constaté peut prendre des mesures administratives générales pour le corriger (circulaires ministérielles) ou la haute hiérarchie policière elle-même  par la mise en œuvre de directives de redressement adéquates. Le contrôle judiciaire exercé sur les prestations des policiers dans le domaine des investigations judiciaires relève aussi de ce contrôle externe.

Cette différenciation entre les notions de contrôle et de surveillance, interne ou externe peut être utile pour clarifier qui fait quoi, quelles sont les actions à mettre en place  pour redresser des comportements fautifs. On peut aussi estimer qu’elle est purement artificielle.

On en retrouvera certaines déclinaisons dans le "e-learning" sur l’intégrité de la police, situé sur le site de l’ISSAT que je vous invite à parcourir. Cette réflexion mérite aussi sans doute d’être enrichie par de nouveaux commentaires. 

Bernard Bélondrade

Conseiller gendarmerie 

DCAF/ ISSAT

comment
Paulo Costa
Oct 20, 2014 2:41:27 PM

Dear Antoine,

You have raised a very interesting topic for discussion.

I am the Head of the Police Programme in OPS-1, DCAF and among other, we have a project that is intimately  related to the topic. 

For more information about the Police Integrity Building Programme please click on the following link: 

http://www.dcaf.ch/Region/Southeast-Europe/Projects/Police-Integrity-Building-Programme 

At the outset, I would like to start to say that from our perspective and most of the current literature on the topic, it's better to separate what is "oversight" from what is "control".

For the sake of this debate here is what we understand as "Oversight" and "Control" in the context of police:

Oversight, should be viewed as an accountability mechanism or system, external to the police service. This can include inspectorate bodies, Parliament committees, Civil Society Bodies that have formal and informal functions of overseeing the work of police.

Control, must be viewed as an internal mechanism to the police service. This is legally entrusted to specialized units within the police or to the police management directly.

Having this in mind, my first argument for discussion would be that we should talk about "Police Internal Control" and "Police External Oversight".

Looking forward to your opinion and further discuss the issue with you and other colleagues.

Best regards,

Paulo

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Antoine Hanin
Oct 1, 2014 2:05:14 PM

Thank you Aiko and Megan for pointing to this very interesting guidance note.

I would say that this very important point could be easily incorporated in Tips number 7, 8, 9 and 10.

The case of Burundi is interesting. Indeed the General Inspectorate of Public Security had a good gender-balanced staffing. It proved to attract more attention towards sexual harassment issues on women. However, no specific procedures or trainings were in place to tackle these issues. At the end of the day, it relied mainly on individuals within the Inspectorate to follow or not these issues, according to their specific sensitivities and skills.

Tip number 10, is crucial in this regard. The Inspectorate should have strong links with other oversight bodies such as the Ombudsperson, Human Rights Commissions who may be dealing with gender-related abuses, but also with the civil society organizations dealing with gender-based violence. Through enhanced collaboration, the Inspectorate could deal more effectively with gender-related complaints.

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Megan Bastick
Sep 30, 2014 4:25:51 PM

And to mention that the "Guidance Note on Integrating Gender into Internal Police Oversight" is available already in English, French and Bosnian.

A Russian version is available here: http://www.osce.org/odihr/118326

We are planning further translations into Georgian and Armenian.

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Aiko Holvikivi
Sep 30, 2014 4:06:24 PM

Hello Antoine!

Many thanks for sharing the insights of the ISSAT team in Burundi. And such concise and practical guidance is always appreciated.

I would also volunteer a tip from our experience at the DCAF Gender and Security Programme. Namely, to ensure that an internal inspectorate has the capacity to address gender-related complaints (adequate and gender-balanced staffing; trained in responding to issues like sexual exploitation, assault or harassment; and with a clear mandate to do so). More information is available in a recently published Guidance Note on Integrating Gender into Internal Oversight of the Police, developed by DCAF, OSCE/ODIHR and the OSCE Gender Section, available at: http://www.dcaf.ch/Publications/Integrating-Gender-into-Internal-Police-Oversight.

Looking forward to hearing more hints and tips!

Aiko

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