Scrutiny can help public confidence

The Daily Post has highlighted the increase in the use of community resolutions by North Wales Police and concerns that the scheme may be being used inappropriately for violent offences.

I’m a big fan of community resolutions. The justice system can sometimes feel like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut – except that by the time the sledgehammer arrives on the scene everyone has moved on. In contrast to going to court or issuing a police caution, community resolutions require the perpetrator to face up to what they have done soon after they were caught and to make appropriate recompense to the victim. Evidence shows that community resolutions can have much more of an impact in deterring offenders from further crime, as well leaving victims more satisfied that the impact the offence had on them has been recognised and that action has been taken to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

The biggest criticism of policing in North Wales in recent years is that the imposition of top-down targets translated into officers taking perverse decisions which undermined public confidence. The solution to this – and to similar problems in lots of other public services – is to ensure that front line officers are expected to exercise their discretion. “Do the right thing” is the new mantra. Of course there needs to be a clear framework around decision making and clarity about what is right needs to be tested through open debate and discussion.

It would be inappropriate to discuss individual cases in public, but someone needs to look at the detail to understand what is happening and draw out the lessons for improvement. That is exactly what North Wales Police Authority did when concerns were raised over the use of restorative resolutions for violent offences. A small group of members reviewed cases to satisfy themselves that police officers had used their discretion appropriately. A report was then prepared which didn’t go into the detail but which confirmed that the members were satisfied with what they had seen.

The task of holding the police to account has now passed from now abolished Police Authority to Winston Roddick as the North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner. He needs to look into the cases rather than simply saying that it would be inappropriate to interfere. Did officers exercise their  discretion  appropriately in all cases? If he takes the view that it was not, he should ask the Chief Constable to consider what action is needed. This could include providing further guidance to officers and/or further safeguards being  put in place to check case files before decisions are finalised in particular types of case. The Chief Constable might disagree and argue that the decisions made were correct or that the small number of cases where decisions were inappropriate are best dealt with through guidance to the officers concerned rather than by making the system as a whole more bureaucratic.

Either way, we should know the outcome of the review and that those responsible for police governance have their eye on the ball. This will help to build public confidence – a statement that it is not for the Commissioner to interfere instead leaves the impression that the wrong decisions are being made and nothing is being done about it.

As Chief Executive of North Wales Police Authority I did some serious thinking about the role of Commissioner and how the Government’s flawed framework could be made to work by someone who was determined to act with integrity and wanted to be inclusive. I wrote a paper on the subject which you can read here:

The Good Commissioner

When I consulted several people on drafts of the paper I was met with the same question: “So are you going to stand?” In truth I hadn’t decided to stand when I started writing the paper but the process of writing it convinced me I had something to offer. That was not to be and so now I am looking for another way to serve, but the advice remains very relevant to those who were elected last  November. If you live in North Wales and you are interested in getting involved, you might like to apply for Deputy Commissioner – closing date 30 May 2013.

One thought on “Scrutiny can help public confidence

  1. Excellent post. The temptation to get a “good quick result” has to be monitored. There’s a lot of (boring) slog involved in achieving this, and it looks as though no-one is doing it – or would be thanked for their efforts when they do. The crucial test is whether the victim was happy with restorative justice or had been pressurised in any way. The Chiefs bristle at the suggestion, but it should be checked.

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