POLICE COMPLAINT AUTHORITY: ACCOUNTABILITY AND REVIEW

The creation of a fully-fledged independent investigating agency for police complaint authority(PCA) would be a most welcome development. But it may have much challenges along with opportunity to serve citizens a fair natural justice. An important issue to bear in mind throughout is that the needs of a new organisation(PCA) in its early days may be very different from an organisation(Police Department) which is fully operational and has been running for some time. Recruitment and training will have to be done on a far larger scale while the organisation(PCA) is being set up. The PCA civilian investigators will learn the skills necessary to investigate effectively as they gain experience from their investigations. A concern expressed by any individual is the quality of investigation that non-police civilian investigators will be able to achieve. There are three separate issues to consider when evaluating the difficulties PCA investigators will face: First, will PCA civilian investigators have the basic investigative skills to be good investigators? Second, how will they acquire knowledge of police practices and procedures? Third, will they successfully be able to break into the police culture and obtain the co-operation of police officers in their investigations?

Since the Investigative skills are not unique to policing. Investigation is fundamentally a generic skill, capable of being learned and applied within a wide range of different situations. Individuals from a variety of different backgrounds have the basic skills necessary for effective investigation. The main arguments made against civilian control is that it assumes investigation is a skill unique to policing. This is quite false. Almost all government departments and many private companies employ ‘inspectors’ or others who conduct inquiries and prosecute suspects. While some of these inspectors may be ex-police, this is not always the case. Any individual is not convinced by the argument put forward that only police can investigate police. Since it had observed and seen to other jurisdictions where this is not the case. Also, in our own jurisdiction, customs officers, immigration officials and Revenue staff all investigate cases and the government appears to have conceded that independent investigators. There are civilian oversight bodies in foreign jurisdictions which use substantial numbers of non-police investigators. For example, The Special Investigations Unit in Ontario (Special investigations unit) uses lawyers, social workers and labour board investigators. The Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) in New York is almost entirely made up of civilian investigators. Many of the junior investigators are recruited straight out of college. They complete an initial training course, and then are placed under the supervision of experienced investigators as they gain experience of investigations. Team managers have a minimum of fifteen years law enforcement/investigative experience and are veterans of agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Immigration and Naturalisation Service.The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) investigates suspected miscarriages of justice in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The vast majority of staff at the CCRC come from a non-police background.

As well as having the skills necessary for effective investigation, it is essential that investigators have substantial knowledge of police procedures and practices. The CCRB in New York is an example of a system where a well planned training course has been instituted. New recruits start with an intensive two week training programme. During this two week intensive training period, investigators are familiarised with the jurisdiction, authority, and rules of the CCRB. Along with interviewing techniques; the structure of the police department, methods for acquiring documentary evidence such as police and medical records; and Patrol Guide procedures and legal principles governing the use of force, search and seizure, and discourtesy.

The police complaint authority(PCA) has sufficient organisational independence from the police for an effective accountability mechanism. But it is still helpful if we get experience former police officers insights in investigating cases. With the  extensive research of civilian oversight bodies in other jurisdictions and came to the conclusion that the practical experience of police officers was a resource that could not be ignored in the setting up of a new independent body. In Queensland, the criminal justice commission has by far the most wide-ranging role in police complaints investigation of any oversight body in the world.They have found that the use of seconded QPS officers is vital to the effective investigation of complaints. The special investigations unit in Ontario is an example of an oversight body that experienced initial difficulties because of a lack of police experience. It was then forced to draft in large numbers of former police officers to cope with the backlog of cases. This then reduced community confidence in the organisation. A more structured initial approach, recognising the value that police experience could bring would have avoided these problems. The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) has also found the use of former police officers valuable to their investigations. As stated above, the majority of the investigative staff have non-police backgrounds, but staff with police experience are also used at the CCRC. They have benefited from having an ‘Investigating Advisor’ who is a senior ex-police officer and has been able to help others on procedural issues where they lacked experience. The CCRC also have several case review managers who are ex-police officers, and their practical experience of policing has been found valuable. The investigative staff of the PCA should comprise at least 75% civilians with no more than 25% former police officers. Investigations should take place in a team structure reflecting the above proportions. The PCA should have the decision as to who are selected as former police officers. Investigative teams should always be headed by a civilian team leader. Specific provision should be made for a comprehensive training programme for investigators.

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