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“Governing policing in a democracy - A primer”. Philip Stenning Professor in Criminology Keele University. What is “democratic policing” thought to require?

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“Governing policing in a democracy - A primer”

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Governing policing in a democracy a primer l.jpg

“Governing policing in a democracy - A primer”

Philip Stenning

Professor in Criminology

Keele University


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  • What is “democratic policing” thought to require?

  • What does “democratic policing” imply for the (political) governance and accountability of the public police - i.e. for the police/government relationship?

  • What does “democratic policing” imply for the role of “communities” and citizens with respect to policing?

  • (If time) What are the implications of the recent “pluralisation” of policing for the implementation of “democratic policing”?


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“[W]hat is democracy? It is rightly equated with regular elections; an active parliament; an accountable executive, army and police force under the control of an elected civilian government; an independent judiciary; transparent public accounts system; human rights commission, ombudsman and more.

But these mean nothing without a true embrace of the culture of democracy, and its overriding idea that ordinary citizens should have a say in how they are

governed. That does not happen overnight.”

- Don McKinnon, Commonwealth Secretary-General,

in a letter to The Guardian, 27th September, 2006, p. 33.


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“In a democratic society, the police serve to protect, rather than impede, freedoms. The very purpose of the police is to provide a safe, orderly environment in which these freedoms can be exercised. A democratic police force is not concerned with people's beliefs or associates, their movements or conformity to state ideology. It is not even primarily concerned with the enforcement of regulations or bureaucratic regimens. Instead, the police force of a democracy is concerned strictly with the preservation of safe communities and the application of criminal law equally to all people, without fear or favour.”

- United Nations International Police Task Force, 1996.


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“regime policing” (CHRI, 2005 & 2006)

  • Protect the government rather than citizens

  • Answer predominantly to the regime in power and not to the people

  • Are responsible for controlling populations rather than protecting the community

  • Tend to secure the interests of one dominant group

  • Are required to stay outside the community


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“democratic policing” (CHRI, 2005 & 2006)

  • Seeks to create the security environment which best promotes democracy

  • Is accountable to the law, and is not a law unto itself

  • Is accountable to democratic structures and the community

  • Is transparent in its activities

  • Gives top priority to protecting the safety and rights of individuals and private groups and protects human rights

  • Provides society with professional and ethical services

  • Is representative of the community it serves

  • Orders its organisational design to best achieve these ends, and demonstrates internally adherence to the principles of good governance


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“Essential characteristics” of democratic policing(Bayley, 2006)

  • Police must be accountable to law rather than to government

  • Police must protect human rights, especially those that are required for the sort of political activity that is the hallmark of democracy

  • Police must be accountable to people outside their organisation who are specifically designated and empowered to regulate police activity

  • Police must give top operational priority to servicing the needs of individual citizens and private groups


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Six criteria for “democratic policing” (Marenin, 1998)

  • Effectiveness

  • Efficiency

  • Accessibility

  • Accountability

  • Congruence (with local values etc.)

  • General order (avoiding “particularistic expressions of coercion”)


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“In our judgment [a] new beginning cannot be achieved unless the reality that part of the community feels unable to identify with the present name and symbols associated with the police is addressed…..[O]ur proposals seek to achieve a situation in which people can be British, Irish or Northern Irish, as they wish, and all regard the police service as their own.”

- Patten Inquiry Report, 1999: 99, para 17.6


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The relationship between control and accountability

"When we speak of the responsibility of statutory authorities, we are referring to two parallel and interlocking mechanisms. The first is the mechanism of control, which extends from the controlling person or institution to the controlled statutory authority. The second is the mechanism of answerability or accountability. The control mechanism provides a means for ensuring that the statutory authority acts, or refrains from acting, in certain ways. The answerability mechanism provides information to the controller, and may indicate the occasions in which the control mechanism is to be brought into play.”

- Goldring & Wettenhall, 1980: 136


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Accountability/control matrix


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Independence - broad interpretation


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Independence - limited interpretation


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Levels of police decision-making

  • Resourcing - how much, and what kinds of, funds, equipment, staffing etc. will be made available to an organization

  • Organizational structure and management - how the organization will be structured, organized and managed

  • Organizational policies - general policies that the organization will be expected to adhere to in its operations

  • Priority-setting - the determination of priorities with respect to how the resources of the organization will be deployed

  • Deployment - how the organization will deploy the resources available to it, either generally or in particular circumstances

  • Specific operational decision-making - how a particular police operation/investigation will be handled and managed


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Accountability/control matrix


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Options for local “democratic policing”

  • “Local” organisation of public police services, with local police governance authorities - reflecting the reality that most crime and disorder problems that the police are called upon to respond to are quite local in character

  • “Local” structures for community “consultation” and accountability with respect at least to policing policy and identification of policing priorities

  • Tiered public police organisation and governance, as in many countries such as Canada and U.S.A (and more recently the UK)

  • Tiered accountability - local accountability for local policing, regional or state accountability for regional/state policing, and national accountability for policing of national and international policing problems


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“a state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory”

“[T]he modern state is a compulsory association which organizes domination. It has been successful in seeking to monopolize the legitimate use of physical force as a means of domination within a territory. To this end the state has combined the material means of organization in the hands of its leaders, and it has expropriated all autonomous functionaries of estates who formerly controlled these means in their own right. The state has taken their positions and now stands in the top place.”

- Max Weber, in “Politics as a Vocation” (“Politik als Beruf” Gesammelte Politische Schriften (Muenchen, 1921), pp. 396-450) - originally a speech at Munich University, 1918, published in 19l9 by Duncker & Humblodt, Munich


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