Posted: Thursday 14th May 2015
Do you trust the police? There has been a lot of media coverage over the past few years which looks at this deceptively simple question. The Rotherham child sex abuse cases and the Tomlinson death have been two recent high profile stories about the police letting down local communities. Avon and Somerset police have equally not been immune to stories of concern.
This question lies behind the new initiatives on Stop and Search and the culture and ethics reviews which the Avon and Somerset police force is progressing this year. And it’s also a question which has exercised our PCC, Sue Mountstevens, since she took office. It’s a significant reason why the Independent Residents’ Panel (IRP) was set up; to allow ordinary people the role of scrutinising and reviewing how the police work, specifically about how the police review and investigate complaints made against them.
But we panel members can only really fulfil this important role if we are also trusted. Trusted to be fair, thorough, challenging, and impartial. This latter characteristic is vital. We are not doing our job properly if we can’t step back and be honest about whether the police have got it ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ on each complaint they investigate and we review. We can’t just assume that the complainant is always ‘right’ and the police always ‘wrong’, or vice versa.
At our last panel meeting and review session (20th April), the hardworking and helpful head of the professional standards department (PSD), Supt. Paul Richards, pointed out that we as panel members have to continue to get the support and trust of local residents if we are to be effective. I like to think that Paul and his department trust us to give honest and helpful feedback, and our panel has developed a very good relationship with him. But both he and we know that this relationship can’t become cosy or ‘institutionalised’.
With this in mind therefore, we are reviewing our ‘terms of reference’, the document which formally describes our role and our authority and limits. It makes sense to make sure there is a limit on our term of office, just as school governors and members of management committees or charity trustees can only serve in the role for a stated maximum period. So we are reviewing this to bring our panel in line with other public body limits on active service. By doing this we hope to maintain our freshness and impartiality, and not become stale or blasé about the job we do. We also recognise that a turnover of membership will allow space for new recruits to the panel in the future, which is itself an important principle of democracy and accountability.
If you’ve read this blog, do you have views on this or indeed, any aspects of the work we do? Please let us know as we really want feedback on our work which we do on your behalf. This applies to all residents in Avon and Somerset, those who work in the area and of course, to serving police officers and staff! The link to our reports page on the PCC’s website is and you can also send comments to the PCC’s office by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.