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Public perceptions of police accountability and decision- making

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Public perceptions of police accountability and decision- making Maria Docking Home Office Online Report 38/03 The views expressed in this report are those of the authors, not necessarily those of the
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Public perceptions of police accountability and decision- making Maria Docking Home Office Online Report 38/03 The views expressed in this report are those of the authors, not necessarily those of the Home Office (nor do they reflect Government policy). Public perceptions of police accountability and decisionmaking Maria Docking Home Office Online Report 38/03 Contents Acknowledgements List of Tables List of Boxes Summary 1. Introduction Police authorities Previous research Recent developments Aims of the research Methodology Structure of this report 2. Perceptions of policing and crime Policing Crime How the findings differ between the subgroups Summary 3. Information about policing Knowledge of policing Information needs and ways in which they can be delivered How the findings differ between the subgroups Summary 4. Public participation in decision-making Police accountability Police authorities How the findings differ between the subgroups Summary 5. Conclusions and recommendations Perceptions of crime and policing Information about policing Public participation in decision-making, police accountability and police authorities Recommendations References List of Tables 1. Sample structure 2. Perceptions of policing and crime broken down by subgroups 3. Participants information and knowledge of policing broken down by subgroups 4. Information given to participants on police authorities 5. Perceptions of police accountability and police authorities broken down by subgroups List of Boxes 1. Police authorities key roles and responsibilities Summary Background and aims The Home Office is keen to promote the involvement of citizens in decisions about how they are policed and seeks to increase the citizen focus of policing. The role of police authorities is central to community engagement and feeding back the public s views in order to hold the police force to account for the delivery of services. The purpose of the study was to examine how police authorities engage with the public in dialogue, identify the benefits to the police service and suggest ways in which police authorities could enhance this role. This report concentrates on one aspect of the study the focus groups. The specific aim of the focus group was to examine public awareness about, and views on, police authorities and public accountability in policing. Other aims were to gather public views on who they hold responsible for crime prevention and their general perceptions of crime and policing. Methods Fourteen focus groups were carried out between November and December 2002 with participants from a broad cross section of the general public. The groups consisted of five to eight participants (with one group having ten). The composition of the sample was structured in terms of: age; ethnic group; gender; socio-economic group, urban/ rural environment; and one group consisted of participants for whom English was not their first language. The study was carried out in co-operation with the Association of Police Authorities (APA). We are grateful for the APA s help and encouragement. Findings Perceptions of policing and crime There was a consensus amongst participants that police visibility and accessibility were issues of key importance. They felt that they did not see officers patrolling on foot often enough and that local police stations were inaccessible. There was a perception that police priorities were inappropriate, response times too slow, and that a police officer s attitude and communication skills were key to whether the public considered them to be doing a good job. However, there was some recognition that there are restraints on the police, such as the perceived high crime levels, which makes it more difficult for them to be effective. Minority ethnic groups felt that the police discriminated against them. The participants believed that crime levels are high and many of them did not feel safe. However, this may be due to a lack of appropriate and accurate information. There was a strong view that the community has a role to play in crime prevention. Information about policing The focus groups suggested that the public was, in general, poorly informed about policing and tended to see policing only in terms of preventing and dealing with crime. However, most seemed aware of the limits of their knowledge and wanted more communication, information and involvement. The non-english-speaking group in particular did not have even basic information about services and language was perceived as a real barrier to accessing information and services. The highest priority was given to information of practical use such as their rights when stopped and searched. Feelings were mixed about whether information was wanted about how well the police are performing (many expressed no interest, those that were interested expressed concern over how performance would be measured and about the usefulness of statistics). What interest there was related to performance information at a very local level and it was felt that this should be linked to policing priorities. Television was thought to be a good way of communicating information as were public meetings, and information in other languages. There was a consensus that information should not only be available on the Internet, as some people would not have access. Public participation in decision-making, police accountability and police authorities There was a general consensus in the focus groups that the public does not participate in decisions about policing and that they should have an opportunity to state their opinions. However, there was some cynicism about whether it would make a difference. Awareness of police-public consultation was low. The vast majority had not previously heard of police authorities. The few who had heard of them generally did not know what they were or what their role was. The name 'police authority' did not signal an identity separate from the police more generally. When participants learned more about the role of police authorities, they thought that they were necessary and useful, if they were effective. However, many people were sceptical as to whether they were effective, largely because of their low public profile. There was a strong view that police authorities should publicise themselves more effectively. Most people saw police authorities' independence from police forces as crucial and the way members are selected was seen as the key to independence. There was some scepticism about the role of members nominated by local authorities, with more approval of the concept of independent members. There was concern that there might be 'a closed shop' or 'old boys' network' and that members might have too close a relationship with the police. Reasons suggested for why public consultation might not work included public apathy, public disagreement over priorities, and a lack of expertise and confidence. A lack of response from the police authority would also make people lose interest. Conclusions Police authorities, forces and other organisations should improve the provision of information to the public about policing and crime, according to the needs of local communities. Police authorities should seek to improve public engagement and participation by using more innovative methods which are appropriate for their local communities, and by giving greater emphasis to marketing themselves. A wider debate is needed to discuss the role of authorities in community engagement. 1. Introduction Background The Home Office has led the development of a comprehensive reform agenda for policing in England and Wales. One of the central elements of this agenda is to increase the citizen focus of policing so that there is improved communication and engagement between the police and their communities. Policing should also reflect citizens perspectives in policymaking, decision-making and service delivery. It is therefore important to conduct research to ascertain what the public currently thinks of policing and issues such as accountability and governance, in order to inform the reform agenda. The Home Office carried out a research project which examines how police authorities, which are charged with public consultation and holding police forces to account for delivery of services, currently engage with the public. It also assesses how the current system could be made more effective. The research project methodology consisted of three separate elements. Firstly, a telephone survey was conducted of all police authorities in England and Wales. Secondly, case studies were carried out in six police authorities, including interviews with police authority members and staff, representatives of police forces, local authorities, Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships (CDRPs) and voluntary organisations. Greater details of these elements of the project can be found in a separate report ( The Role of Police Authorities in Public Engagement, also available as an RDS Online Report). This report analyses the third element of the study: focus groups that were carried out with members of the public. It concentrates on the views, opinions and knowledge of the general public on policing and police authorities which were gained from the focus groups. It was seen as important to provide a separate report illustrating the focus group findings in more depth in light of the importance of citizen views in the policing reform agenda. This report enables police authorities and forces, other practitioners and policy makers to see what various sectors of the public want and expect in terms of policing and accountability. It provides information to help understand the barriers towards involving people in decision-making, and how to overcome them. It may also suggest ways that the public s expectations can be managed, and community trust and confidence in the police and accountability mechanisms can be improved. This is particularly relevant and timely considering that confidence in the police, while still relatively high compared with other criminal justice agencies, has been declining (Flood-Page and Taylor, eds., 2003). Confidence and satisfaction with the police may increase if the public feel that the police are in tune with their views and priorities. Policing in England and Wales is accountable to, and managed by, a tripartite structure consisting of the Home Office, chief constables and police authorities. It is their responsibility, at differing levels, to ensure that the police are performing adequately and to take action if they are not. Policing priorities are set centrally by the Home Office in the form of the National Policing Plan, and locally by the force and police authority in their policing plans. Police authorities There is a police authority for every police force in England and Wales. Most authorities consist of 17 members nine councillors, three magistrates and five independent though some have more. Councillor members are chosen by local authorities (or joint committees of local authorities) and local magistrates are chosen by Magistrates' Courts Selection Panels. Applications to become independent members are advertised. A selection panel consisting of a councillor or magistrate member of the police authority, a person appointed by the Home Secretary, and a third person chosen by the other two panel members produces a list of suitable independent applicants. The Home Secretary chooses a shortlist, which is sent back to the councillor and magistrate members, who make the final selection. Police authorities were established by the Police Act (1964) 1 with the exception of the Metropolitan Police Authority which was established by the Greater London Authority Act (1999). Police authorities have a variety of roles and responsibilities (set out in Box 1). These include consulting the local community about the policing of their area and their priorities, and monitoring the performance of the force in delivering the policing plan. The public can only give police authorities their views on the police if they know that such channels exist and know how to use them. Authorities need to be transparent and visible in order to account to the public for their own performance and that of the local force. Police authorities, therefore, have a crucial role to play in fulfilling their statutory responsibility to consult the public in an efficient and effective manner. Box 1 Police authorities key roles and responsibilities There are 43 police authorities, one for each force area. They must: make sure arrangements are in place to consult the local community about the policing of their area and their priorities; publish an annual local policing plan and a best value performance plan, setting out the policing priorities, performance targets and the allocation of resources; monitor the performance of the force in delivering the policing plan; report to the community on performance during the previous year; appoint the chief constable and other very senior officers and deal with some complaints and discipline issues; under the Best Value initiative, scrutinise police activity for possible improvements; and publish a three-year strategy plan, which must be approved by the Home Secretary. Previous research There has been very little previous research on public views on participation in police decision-making or accountability. Relevant studies include Public expectations and perceptions of policing (Bradley, 1998), which found that all of the different social groups had little knowledge of police activities or the rationale for them, but that different socio-economic groups were predisposed to different styles of policing and engagement. In the context of Northern Ireland, Policing, accountability and young people (Hamilton, Radford and Jarman, 2003) found that young people believed that the police lacked sympathy and understanding towards them and any successful engagement would have to overcome these factors. The British Crime Survey (BCS) covers issues such as policing priorities, trust and confidence, and fear of crime. The BCS has highlighted a fall in public confidence in the police over the last few years, although they still receive the highest ratings of all the criminal justice agencies (Flood-Page and Taylor, eds., 2003). The BCS has also found that the public tends to overestimate the level of crime in England and Wales and are often pessimistic about the chances of crime happening to them (Simmons and Dodd, eds., 2003) and have varying views on what police priorities should be (Flood-Page and Taylor, eds., 2003). Research was carried out by the National Consumer Council (2002a, 2002b) on consumer attitudes towards involvement and representation, and views of consumer and representative organisations. They found that people are fairly ambivalent about getting involved, that they would be more likely to do so if an issue has direct personal impact, and that they tend to see involvement in terms of making an individual complaint. They also found that people were most concerned about issues with a relatively direct, localised and immediate impact on their 1 Established in their current form by the Police Act (1996). lives and some were sceptical about whether giving their views would actually make a difference (ibid.). The Audit Commission (2003a, 2003b) carried out some research covering the accountability of, and public trust and confidence in public services. They found that people trust individuals more than organisations as trust is based on relationships and familiarity, along with their own experience and that of friends and family (Audit Commission, 2003b). Public trust in the accountability structures of public organisations is driven by various factors including useful and credible information, the existence of external watchdogs, personal contact, and whether they are seen to be honest and trustworthy (ibid.). The police were rated the worst out of three services on providing information although they were the most likely to be thought to be controlled by an independent watchdog (ibid.). Public trust in local authorities is low (and lower than in the police). The public did not think that public services would listen to their views, and public awareness of regulators is also low (Audit Commission, 2003a). Where appropriate this report refers to the previous research evidence. Recent developments The Home Secretary has indicated that he is interested in exploring changes, in the short and longer terms, to clarify and strengthen accountability arrangements for policing in England and Wales (Home Office, 2003). He has set out four principles for any changes: the need to protect the political independence of the police; the need for clear accountability mechanisms to support more effective services; transparency about who is responsible for tackling crime and holding the police accountable; and improved public understanding of policing and its effectiveness. In the short term, the Home Office has already established a programme of work to develop citizen focus in policing. A joint Home Office and Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) project has been established to develop national standards for the quality of contact between the police and the public. The Home Office is developing a new Police Performance Assessment Framework, which emphasises public satisfaction and confidence as a measurement of performance. The Home Office and Her Majesty s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) have worked together to ensure that inspection protocols also support the drive for increased citizen focus. Increasing involvement of the voluntary and community sectors in crime reduction is also being considered. The Home Office and the Association of Police Authorities (APA) have set up a National Practitioner Panel to generate a knowledge base in the area of consultation and citizen focus and to devise a strategy for disseminating good practice. This project also involves three pilots in police authorities to test more innovative ways of building dialogue with the public and it will build on the findings of this research. Aims of the research The broad aims of the study were to examine how police authorities engage the public in dialogue and identify the benefits to the police service. It also aimed to suggest ways in which police authorities could enhance this role. The specific aim of the focus groups was to examine public awareness about, and views on, police authorities and public accountability in policing. Other aims were to gather public views on who they hold responsible for crime prevention and their general perceptions of crime and policing. The project was carried out with the co-operation of the APA and we are grateful for their encouragement of the study. Methodology Fourteen focus groups were carried out between November and December 2002 with participants from a broad cross section of the general public. The composition of the sample was structured in terms of: age; ethnic group; gender; socio-economic group; and urban/rural environment. The groups consisted of five to eight participants (with one group having ten) and were structured as follows: Table 1 Sample Structure Group Socio economic Age Gender Location Rural/Urban group 1 ABC Female North Rural 2 ABC Male Midlands Urban 3 C2DE Female South Urban 4 ABC Male Wales Rural town 5 C2DE Female Midlands Urban 6 C2DE Male South Urban 7 ABC1 60+ Female South Urban 8 C2DE 60+ Male North Rural 9 C2DE 60+ Female Wales Rural town Group Minority ethnic Age Gender Location Rural/Urban groups 10 African Caribbean Mixed South Urban 11 Pakistani Male North Urban 12 Indian Female South Urban 13 African Caribbean 60+ Mixed South Urban 14 Pakistani (non- English language) Female North Urban An external recruitment agency recruited the groups. Home Office researchers facilitated each group
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