Jostling for Space: ‘teaching about policing’ or ‘teaching for policing’?

Looking historically and at current developments within policing today, we suggest there is a (soft) distinction between ‘teaching about policing’ and ‘teaching for policing’.

SCharmanSSavageSarah Charman and Steve Savage are Reader in Criminology and Professor of Criminology respectively at the Institute of Criminal Justice Studies, University of Portsmouth.

In this piece we situate ‘teaching policing’ within a longer term historical framework and on this basis reflect on the current challenges of teaching policing in the light of the Police Education Qualifications Framework (PEQF) and the status of higher education institutions (HEIs) alongside that agenda. In both respects we suggest a (soft) distinction between ‘teaching about policing’ and ‘teaching for policing’.

To clarify, ‘teaching policing’ should be seen as much more than teaching police officers or police staff about policing. It is of course significantly concerned with teaching those directly involved in policing, but it also embraces teaching programmes concerned with policing and related subjects within other undergraduate or postgraduate degrees, most commonly criminology degrees – many students from which become police employees in due course. We would argue that the content of teaching policing to police officers (increasingly ‘for policing’) should not depart too much from the content on offer to the non-police officer students (‘about policing’). We will explain later.

To begin, we can look at the long history of teaching policing in the university context. As one of the authors has argued before, we can, at the risk of some over-simplification, periodise university provision for policing (and more generally police working relationships with universities) into three phases: the ‘sponsorship’ phase; the ‘partnership’ phase; and the ‘contract’ phase.

The ‘sponsorship’ phase dates back to the 1970s and ran until the late 1980s, and relates to the secondment of individual police officers to universities to study on a degree of their choice as a full-time (but salaried) student. The best-known scheme of this type was the ‘Bramshill Scolarship’, but a number of individual police forces, mainly the larger metropolitan ones, ran schemes of their own. Those chosen were typically at sergeant or inspector rank, and the ethos at the time was to give opportunities for university study for ‘high fliers’ who did not have that opportunity when younger – this was after all a scheme which ran at a time when the graduate was almost an unknown figure in the police. Often, they chose to study Law, and often at leading universities. A generous scheme indeed for the very small number lucky enough to be selected.

The ‘partnership’ phase ran from the late 1980s (the University of Portsmouth began its first such programme in 1988) and is only just being fully replaced by the machinery of the PEQF. This involved universities forming partnerships with police forces to deliver jointly designed or agreed policing related education to selected cohorts of police officers (whose fees were often paid by the force as part of continuing professional development), normally under the banner of degrees in policing or police studies. A key feature of such programmes is that they typically covered police-related themes that were not covered in police training itself. Subject areas such as criminology, criminal justice, the politics of policing and the sociology and psychology of policing were examples of this.

Growing financial constraints for police forces, rising part-time student fees and an increasing emphasis on ‘value-for-money’ meant that not only did partnership schemes lose the financial basis on which they partly depended – force funding for student officer fees – but all educational schemes were placed on a ‘return on investment’ basis, often narrowly so. This opened the door to the ‘contract’ phase in which a partnership relationship was giving way to a ‘client- contractor’ one, with the police as commissioning client and HEIs as contractor. Early versions of this appeared with some of the ‘foundation degrees in policing’ where the degrees in question were designed as integral to police training within the client forces. Furthermore, they were often delivered in the universities by recently retired police trainers. Was this in danger of becoming ‘business as usual’ as a form of ‘police training on the university campus’?

Of course, the PEQF has taken the contractual model very much further. Police forces, or groups of forces, have been putting the police constable degree apprenticeships and degree holder education programmes out to competitive tender with (some) HEIs competing to run them. More will follow with Masters level programmes.

We would argue that this longer-term trajectory has involved a transition from HEIs offering teaching about policing to them being increasingly contract-bound to deliver teaching for policing. Teaching-about-policing is about content being primarily academically driven according to subject disciplines and assessed primarily through theoretically informed critical analysis. Teaching-for-policing is about teaching being directly driven by police sector defined professional competencies and approved on the basis that it does so. Of course, the two are not mutually exclusive. Teaching-about-policing has usually had one eye on ‘what police officers might want to know’ to aid professional development. Furthermore, many recent teaching-about-policing programmes have included teaching-for-policing elements such as the pre-join Certificate of Knowledge in Professional Policing offered within criminology degrees. Nevertheless, there seems to be no doubt that the balance between the two has shifted towards the teaching-for-policing end of the spectrum.

Many within the HEI sector have welcomed this shift and some indeed have played active roles in programme design on that basis. The HEI sector, or at least parts of it, has exhibited support for this agenda shift by actively seeking to play a part in the PEQF. The PEQF, after all, does institutionalise and formalise a central role for HEIs in the police learning and development scene – in place of the voluntary and permissive relationship between the police service and HEIs typified even within the ‘partnership’ model outlined earlier. However, we would just urge that as the shift towards ‘teaching-for-policing’ progresses we should not lose sight of what ‘teaching-about-policing’ has contributed and continues to contribute to our understanding of policing and that we avoid as much as we can a continuation of existing models of delivery rather than transforming to alternative methods of delivery.

There is therefore a potential danger that what is taught and how it is taught within the ‘teaching-for-policing’ agenda may drift towards ‘business-as-usual’ and not the fully transformational shift which many of those behind the design of the PEQF have been seeking. Inevitably, the anchoring of policing degrees in pre-designed professional competencies places major constraints on the curriculum and its assessment with the potential to sideline critical reflection.  The achievement of these competencies becomes the only desirable outcome of the learning process; the ends are therefore all important, the means become largely irrelevant.   However, there is some degree of flexibility within those constraints in terms of what is taught and how it is taught and by whom.

There is a case for claiming that criminology should be as central to police education as medicine is to nursing.  Indeed, it is encouraging that criminologically driven concepts such as procedural justice and restorative justice are now mainstream within police learning and development design. These are theories whose origins lie in research allied to ‘teaching-about-policing’. As sociologists and criminologists (we would say this wouldn’t we?) we would make a plea that criminology, the politics of policing and the sociology and psychology of policing, all get fairly and fully represented in teaching-for-policing programmes, whatever the time and space constraints of a curriculum which must deliver professional police competencies.

 

Contact

Dr Sarah Charman, Reader in Criminology, Institute of Criminal Justice Studies, University of Portsmouth.

Professor Stephen P. Savage, Professor of Criminology, Institute of Criminal Justice Studies, University of Portsmouth.

Emails:

sarah.charman@port.ac.uk

steve.savage@port.ac.uk

Twitter:

@sarahc2612

 

Images: courtesy of the authors

When Police Racism is Denied, Does it Go Away?

The Macpherson Report remains a touchstone in and a flashpoint for debates on institutional racism within the London Metropolitan Police. Twenty years after its publication, how well does the capital’s police force fare today in the face of accusations and denials of racism? This article casts a critical look at the evidence to expose how institutional racism within the “Met” remains an uncomfortable reality that cannot be denied without denying the facts, ignoring the truth, or remaining willfully blind to it.

25LF

Dr. Lambros Fatsis is currently Lecturer in Sociology and Criminology at the University of Southampton and the winner of the British Society of Criminology’s ‘Blogger of the Year Award’. In September 2019, he will join the University of Brighton as a Lecturer in Criminology.

 

Amid a plethora of Home Affairs Committees, events, debates, and impassioned commentaries that interrogate the legacy of the Macpherson report and muse on the current state of the London Metropolitan Police, as far as institutional racism is concerned, recent statements by the Met Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, do much to spark further interest in and controversies around the issue. During a Home Affairs Committee session on the Met’s progress in implementing the recommendations of the Macpherson Report, including steps taken to address that report’s findings on institutional racism in the police, Cressida Dick reportedly said that the Metropolitan Police is no longer ‘institutionally racist’ and stressed that the label itself is ‘toxic’ and ‘unhelpful’. Insisting that the force has been ‘utterly transformed’ since Macpherson’s time, the Met Police chief added that: ‘The label now does more harm than good, it is something that is immediately interpreted by anyone who hears it as not institutional but racist – full of racists full stop, which we are not. It is a label that puts people off from engaging with the police. It stops people wanting to give us intelligence, evidence, come and join us, work with us’.

The Met Police Commissioner, therefore, seems confident that: (a) institutional racism in today’s Met is a thing of the past, (b) that it harms the reputation of the force, and that (c) when the term is used we hear the word “racist” louder than the word “institutional”; thereby thinking that the police is populated by racists. She then reassuringly claims that not only is the Met not ‘full of racists’ but that this misperception damages the relationship between the public and the police and undermines citizens’ confidence and trust in the force, while also discouraging potential recruits to join. As a result, institutional racism is suddenly pronounced dead, the definition and meaning of the term becomes misunderstood, and we are left to consider the reputational damage of institutional racism on the Met, instead of worrying about its impact on those who suffer from its consequences. On all three counts, this is a deeply unsettling statement which denies the facts, distorts what words mean, and prioritises the public image of a civil force of the state over its accountability to the public that it ostensibly serves and protects.

Starting with the premature obituary of institutional racism within the Met, it should be read against the latest evidence which clearly points to its existence today. Relevant research findings unambiguously demonstrate racial disparities and disproportionality in the use of stop-and-search, the Gangs Matrix, or the policing tactics used to tackle knife crime and clamp down Black music genres like grime and drill. Last year alone, an influential report for Stopwatch and Release by LSE academic Michael Shiner and his colleagues did much to demonstrate the discriminatory effects of stop and search, echoing earlier evidence from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, a Criminal Justice Alliance briefing, and other oft-quoted academic research (here, here, and here). The Met’s gang database (the Gangs Matrix) fares just as badly with two damming reports by Amnesty International and Stopwatch exposing its racist logic, as did the Information Commissioner’s Office which noted ‘the potential to cause damage and distress to the disproportionate number of young, black men on the Matrix’. Buttressing claims of the effectiveness of stop-and-search as a vital tool for fighting knife crime, a report by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies condemned the overall approach as ineffective, unjust and damaging to the people that it (cl)aims to protect, as did the Youth Violence Commission which advocates for a public health alternative. As for the policing of UK grime and drill music, my own research demonstrates how the discriminatory policing of both genres serves as a unique case study of institutional racism within the Met today.

Were this not enough, on her visit to the UK last year the UN Special Rapporteur on racism, appeared ‘shocked by the criminalisation of young people from ethnic minorities, especially young black men. They are over-represented in police stop and searches, more likely to face prosecution under the country’s joint enterprise provisions, and are over-represented in the prison system’. None of this is secret knowledge and even a cursory glance at the government’s Race Disparity Unit ‘ethnicity facts and figures’ on stop-and-search and arrests would suffice to convince anyone of the discriminatory treatment of Black people by the police and other UK criminal justice system institutions.

Factual evidence aside, the Met Police Commissioner’s comments are also striking for the way they misrepresent what institutional racism actually means. In Macpherson’s famous formulation, institutional racism ‘consists of the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness, and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people’. The institutional origins of racist behaviour and discriminatory outcomes are not separated in Macpherson’s definition, as they are in Cressida Dick’s interpretation of the term. Yet, she argues that people somehow mentally uncouple the two when the term is used, while also claiming that the term implies that the Met is ‘full of racists’ instead of pointing to a collective failure of an organisation whose processes and attitudes are to blame. The difference between Macpherson and Cressida Dick is that the former points to racism as a feature of the institutional structure and collective mentality of the Met, whereas the latter misunderstands racism as individual prejudice alone. In so doing, a structural characteristic of an entire organisation is denied, and attributed instead to a few individuals who independently act out their own prejudicial attitudes as individuals. Individual officers therefore appear unaffected by their socialisation into an institutionally racist mindset, nor do they act as a team in line with that institution’s logic and unwritten rules. Since racism, according to the Met Commissioner, is an individual trait it has nothing to do with the institutional make-up of the organisation, and since it does not characterise the entire force it cannot exist. The term institutional racism, however, refers to racist attitudes that are built into organisations by design, with the assumption being that individuals take on the prejudices of an organisation and do not act independently of it, especially when they work in groups.

What makes all the above so difficult to stomach is not a logical fallacy, which mistakes something structural and systemic for something individual or (co)incidental, but a dangerous argument which shows little regard for the casualties of such structural arrangements. To perceive institutional, structural, systemic racism merely as a ‘toxic label’ is to deny how toxic the reality of it is for the people and communities that are disproportionately affected by it. Worse still, it reveals a denialist logic which refuses to admit the existence of institutional racism, thereby discounting the relevant evidence. Such a stubborn stance contradicts the Met’s self-understanding as a professional police force which acts on the basis of evidence in order to oversee public safety. On the contrary, such statements give the impression that the Met chooses to defend itself instead of protecting the public to whom it is accountable, and that it chooses to tackle crime by strangling the facts that should guide its mission, its ethos, and its conduct.

Pretending that institutional racism is a thing of the past, is to fail to see how and why it is present today. Yet, the Met chief seems either unable to see all this or willfully blind to it all. If it is the former, she could be dismissed as inadequate. If it is the latter, she might be suspected of being dangerous. Either way, she seems disconcertingly vulnerable to the siren call of hawkish policing and deaf to the evidence that renders it illegitimate. Her pledge to ‘relentlessly’ pursue gangs through increased stop and search doesn’t simply clash with evidence that this police power is ineffective, discriminatory and unjust, but also jars with the lack of concrete evidence to link knife crime and gang membership. Such a stance does chime well, however, with the government’s recent promise to increase stop and search powers and relax rules of conduct to make criminals ‘literally feel terror’. Similarly, the Met chief’s refusal to acknowledge institutional racism as a reality within the force that she leads, eerily echoes statements by the new head of No. 10’s Policy Unit, who famously dismissed institutional racism as a ‘myth’ and decried the establishment of the Race Disparity Audit as serving a ‘phoney race war’ that is ‘dangerous and divisive’.

Twenty years after Macpherson diagnosed the Met with institutional racism steadfast refusals to see it, point to a reluctance to see what is evident through facts. We should, therefore, be reminded that when ‘racism is how the world is seen’, as Sara Ahmed brilliantly put it, ‘it remains possible for racism not to be seen’.

This article gives the views of the author, not the position of the institution he works for.

 

Contact

Lambros Fatsis, University of Southampton

Twitter: @lfatsis

Copyright free image courtesy of Pexels

 

 

 

Academic Integrity and making a difference

The Police Education Framework and academic delivery

EmmaWilliams

 

Emma Williams is the Director of the Centre for Police Research at CCCU. Her interests are police professionalism, rape investigation, gender and policing and police legitimacy. Previously Emma worked as a principle researcher in the Metropolitan Police Service.

 

 

The Police Education Qualification Framework (PEQF) has fundamentally changed the approach to police recruitment and the conversation about how new officers embark on a ‘professional’ career. Three entry routes dictate that ALL joiners must now have a degree (a College of Policing approved degree no less); or they will undertake a conversion programme through the higher education diploma in policing (DHEP); or the police constable degree apprenticeship (PCDA) which ultimately gives them a degree at the end of three-year probationary period.

I use the term conversation above in the context of the recruitment issues. However, there have been an abundance of conversations about this huge change to policing which have been difficult, controversial, challenging and personal. There have been disputes between police and academics, academics and academics, police and police and policy makers and all of us. Whatever the longer term outcome of this reform, there continues to be a binary conversation about what should and should not be considered as credible and useful knowledge in the practical policing world.

In academia what counts as ‘credible’ knowledge and research in the police service has been debated extensively (Chan, 2003; Charman, 2017; Fleming and Wingrove, 2017; Williams and Cockcroft, 2019). Indeed, the drive to professionalise the police through academic qualifications is certainly not new. Some universities have been delivering police education for many years both within the UK and internationally. However, this is the first time that an organisation overseeing a wider professionalisation agenda in policing has provided a platform to formalise this, standardise it and roll it out nationally for all officers.

There are so many issues that feature within the debates about this decision. They range from the curriculum content being too prescriptive and not academically independent, academic work not being practically relevant, too many cops being involved in programmes and therefore the PEQF being a recreation of police training, de-professionalising serving cops through this process, not encouraging diversity and limiting accessibility to the service: these are just a few of them. This article covers some of my own concerns about a number of these issues.

Essentially the aim of both education and research, in a policing context, is about enhancing reflective practice and informing decision making. It is not about replacing the learnt, tacit knowledge held by officers, it is about incorporating something different to better understand wider context and the complex environment within which they operate. Unfortunately, many have conflated the PEQF with the evidence based policing mantra and the notion of introducing a pure scientific and prescriptive approach to encourage compliance in police officers. The top down curriculum requirements that universities have to sign up to in order to gain COP approval doesn’t help this perception and therefore universities involved in this new era of police education need to ensure that there is integrity in the delivery of the programmes and reflection of where academic theory meets police practice.

Central to all our research and teaching at Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU) is the practitioner. We use their experiences to enhance and develop what needs to be a flexible curriculum that meets the fast changing nature of the policing world. Yes, part of the curriculum will be focused on imparting knowledge of ‘what works’, originally seen in the application of new public management to policing in the 1980s. However, universities have a responsibility to additionally impart to police students the invaluable work of police sociologists such as Punch, Holdaway, Heidensohn, Muir and Bittner whose insights remain imperative to the constitution of police knowledge and understanding. The topics of their work remain prominent in policing today: Discretion, mental health, community policing, race and gender. Indeed, as Jock Young (2004) argued, the role of criminological research as an administrative method to consider ‘what works’ in crime prevention and reduction reinvented and narrowed the discourse of criminology. We have an obligation to make sure the same thing does not happen in teaching and researching policing studies.

Myself, Jennifer Norman and Mike Rowe (2019) recently wrote an article addressing these issues and one concern we raised was that the PEQF has been perceived by many as a method of de-professionalising the personal identity of police officers by teaching a curriculum that is about compliance, risk aversion and prohibiting innovation. There are police officers who firmly believe that the PEQF is trying to drive a future of cloned police officers who will all leave university with exactly the same blueprint of police knowledge ready to deliver a certain ‘type’ of policing when they enter the working sphere. It is vital that higher education institutions offering the PCDA, DHEP and preservice degree maintain some independence in the design of their courses. It is the WAY they are delivered that is key. It is our role as academics to give officers the tools to think critically, problem solve and be reflective – it is not to give them information about what they should do and when, or, as some commentators believe, turn them into managers by Mcdonaldising police knowledge (Heslop, 2011).

As Brown et al (2018) argue policing is a social institution that deals with both developing legitimacy and public trust and with processes such as deployment, operational practice and workforce planning. The latter and its association with accountability, targets and rational process is just one part of what officers do. Innes (2010) described police research as either being focused on the ‘motors’ that drive change and reform or on the ‘mirrors’ which deepen contextual understanding of ‘real’ police work through reflection. Those who perceive the PEQF as offering only a tightly defined curriculum with the research components being focused on efficiency and understanding ‘what works’ argue that the importance of richer ‘mirror’ research is diluted down. Arguably, it is this contextual knowledge that will aid officer reflections when they make decisions about their behaviour and actions: this is what is ethical and moral here for police legitimacy.

I am not suggesting that these concerns will play out in the delivery of all programmes nor am I suggesting that it is simply the content of the programmes that need debating in this conversation. Indeed, our own research at CCCU with our police students found many organisational factors that inhibit officers even being able to apply their new knowledge in practice (Williams et al, 2019). However, the fact that these structural issues are reported to relate to factors such as hierarchy, risk aversion, performance measures and prescriptive tool kits does leave me asking: Is the critique of the curriculum actually right and does it actually reinforce or justify current police processes? Our respondents saw these organisational factors as obstructing discretion and limiting the use of the reflective methods we encourage in our classrooms. If we as academics delivering these programmes want to change this, we need to be creative in the way we deliver the content, and diverse in the approach we take to covering notions of ‘good’ police research. Indeed, we need to not recreate the status quo but influence officers’ ability to challenge it, be different and furthermore, work with organisations to develop environments where they staff feel safe to do so.

Finally, and I guess this is the most controversial part for us all, is my hope that universities don’t become driven by the commoditisation of police knowledge. We need to ensure universities do not deliver prescriptive courses which do not make translatable the important theoretical criminological and sociological perspectives that are so critical to understanding police business today. This also relates to how the PEQF may impact on current officers’ sense of professionalism and the value placed on their own experience. Reinforcing the application of top down processes within the police organisation through top down learning and tightly defined notions of knowledge may constrain the use of new ideas and personal expertise. We must not deliver ‘off the shelf’ teaching which restricts understanding and the application of the type of situated knowledge that is so pertinent in the police environment. We do need to capitalise on the ‘diffused and seminal intelligence of the rank and file’ (Sklansky, 2008:11), allow for their reflections and the wider use of various forms of academic knowledge.

I very strongly support the drive to encourage further collaborations between the worlds of academia and policing but I hope we can remain objective and independent. That is our role. Universities are about learning, thinking differently and testing new ideas. They are not about delivering teaching methods that promote a equals b – in fact we should be problematising those notions. If we really want to recognise and support the role of the professional here we need impart rich knowledge that allows them to apply their own professional knowledge to a wide range of situations alongside the reflection of academic learning.

The PEQF has a real opportunity to instil new knowledge in the police organisation. Qualifications are not in place to deliver an army of ‘narrow minded experts or scientific freaks’ (Jaschke and Neidhart, 2007: 306). If the content is not delivered ethically and in diverse ways, it might be that the PEQF becomes viewed as yet another prescriptive tool to govern officers’ behaviour and confirm the status quo.

 

Brown, J., Belur, J., Tompson, L., McDowall, A., Hunter, G., and May, T. (2018). Extending the remit of evidence-based policing. International Journal of Police Science & Management Volume 20 (1), 38-51.

Chan, J. (2003) Fair Cop: Learning the Art of Policing. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Charman, S. (2017) Police Socialisation Identity and Culture: Becoming Blue London: Palrgrave

Fleming, J. and Wingrove, J (2017) ‘We Would If We Could … but Not Sure If We Can’: Implementing Evidence-Based Practice: The Evidence-Based Practice Agenda in the UK.  Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice, Vol 11 (2): 202–213.  https://doi.org/10.1093/police/pax006

Heslop, R., (2011). The British police service: professionalization or ‘McDonaldization’? International Journal of Police Science & Management, 13 (4), 312–321.

Innes, M. (2010) A ‘Mirror’ and a ‘Motor’: Researching and Reforming Policing in an Age of Austerity, Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice, Vol 4 (2): 127–134, https://doi.org/10.1093/police/pap058

Jaschke, H.G. & Neidharte, K. (2009). A Modern Police Science as an Integrated Academic Discipline: A Contribution to the Debate on its Fundamentals. Policing & Society, 17 (4), 303-320.

 

Contact

Dr Emma Williams, Canterbury Christ Church University

Email: emma.williams@canterbury,ac,uk

Twitter: @emwilliamscccu

Website: https://cccupolicingandcj.wordpress.com

 

Images: courtesy of the author and Unsplash

Safeguarding the rights of police detainees?

Official policy makes the Independent Custody Scheme visiting ineffective to safeguard suspects detained in police custody.

J Kendall

John Kendall is a retired solicitor. With no intention of writing about it, he worked as a volunteer custody visitor. He found it puzzling, and, as nothing academic had been written about it, wrote a PhD about the scheme, on which his book Regulating Police Detention is based.

 

Few police scholars, and hardly any members of the public, have heard of the Independent Custody Visiting Scheme. It is a substantial operation and an important part of the criminal justice system. Some 2,000 volunteers around the country combine to make unannounced weekly visits to check on the welfare of detainees in police custody throughout England and Wales.

I am a retired solicitor. I happened to read about the scheme in a local newspaper, and applied to become a custody visitor, with no intention of writing about it. I found working as visitor puzzling and looked for academic discussions of the scheme. I found none, so I decided that I would write about the scheme. Needing academic help, I wrote my PhD thesis at Birmingham University. The research has now been published by Policy Press in my book Regulating Police Detention: Voices from behind closed doors.

Book image

I carried out an in-depth local case study. I observed the visits and the general conditions in custody suites, and I interviewed visitors, police officers, civilian custody staff, defence lawyers, the manager of the local scheme, and perhaps most significantly, the detainees themselves. The scheme is supposed to be for the benefit of detainees, but no one had ever asked them for their views about it, or if they had, they had not published those views.  I contend that the results of my research are generally applicable because the same factors prevail in all areas: the statutory scheme, the statutory arrangements about custody, and the power of the police which, as I demonstrate, makes a strong impact on the visitors’ attitudes and their behaviour. It is particularly noticeable that they rarely challenge the police.

The Independent Custody Visiting Scheme is run locally by Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC).  By statute, the PCC are charged with securing the independence of the visitors from the PCC and the police. This is a remarkable conjuring trick, as the PCC have complete control over the hiring, training, managing and occasional firing of the visitors. The scheme lacks structural independence, belying its branding as independent. Visitors also lack independence of mind: they tend to arrive with, and/or develop later, attitudes similar those held by the police.

Custody visiting is part of the UK’s National Preventive Mechanism. It is, therefore a form of regulation, although the official line is that the scheme is here to reassure the public about conditions in custody, which ignores the fact that so very few people have heard about it.  Unannounced visits are a familiar principle of regulation. The original purpose of custody visiting was that unannounced visits would deter police conduct that might lead to abuse, neglect or death in custody, but this has been airbrushed out of the official literature about the scheme.   Visitors have little understanding of deaths in custody, and do not see that their work has anything to do with contributing to prevent the incidence of these tragedies.

The way that the visiting operates prevents the work from being effective. It makes no impact on police behaviour. The police do not respect the visiting, despite the party line supporting the scheme.  An even more serious defect is that the detainees do not trust the visitors. A central feature of each visit is meeting the detainees in their cells. These meetings come out of the blue for detainees who do not understand what the visitors are there for. The meetings are very brief and are supervised by custody staff. There is therefore absolutely no possibility that detainees would feel able to let the visitors know anything important or disturbing about their detention.

The national organisation for custody visiting, the Independent Custody Visiting Association, does not allow visitors to become members. Its only members are the Police and Crime Commissioners. It therefore lacks legitimacy, but few people realise this. ICVA plays an essential role in running custody visiting along the lines approved of by the Home Office and the police.

The purpose of custody visiting is to check on the welfare of the detainees, but official policy prevents the visitors from doing this work effectively. The scheme lacks legitimacy in that it makes no impact on the behaviour of the police. Custody is largely self-regulated, by the police. The existence of the scheme enables the police to argue that there is no need for further, outside regulation of police detention. If MPs, journalists and the general public knew the truth about the scheme, radical reforms could make the scheme an effective regulator of police detention, which, arguably might save lives.

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Book Prize

We were delighted to offer the chance to win a free copy of this book during November 2018.  The winner was mature student Melissa Pope, who is in her first year of studying Psychology with Criminology at Birmingham City University. She is really enjoying the course so far and praises the excellent teachers there. We hope she enjoys the book.

 

Contact

Gilbert John Kendall PhD, Visiting Scholar Birmingham Law School

johnkendall475@gmail.com

 

Images: courtesy of the author and Greater Manchester Combined Authority