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Need for Accountability (From Modern Policing, P 42-52, 1981, David Watts Pope and Norman L Weiner, eds - See NCJ-88605)

NCJ Number
J A Rhind
Date Published
The British police's formal accountability to the law, local government, the central government, and to individual citizens appears to give the police great independence, but the informal accountability process based in public opinion is influential in constraining the police in the use of their independence.
The police, primarily under the authority of the chief constable, are given discretion to enforce the law as they see fit so long as they do not violate the law in so doing. Although the chief constable is answerable to the courts for policy and management, the courts depend upon someone bringing an action before a judgment can be made. Experience indicates the court's power is limited to directing a chief officer to uphold the law. The immediate control and organization of policing is left to 43 separate chief officers and 43 local Police Authorities. Police Authorities consist of local councillors and magistrates, with the latter limited to one-third of the total committee membership. The Police Authorities are responsible for maintaining an adequate and efficient police force for an area. Local government has no power over the Police Authorities. With reference to the central government, the police are technically independent; however, the freedom of the chief constable from central government is not absolute. The chief constable must accept central regulation over pay and conditions of service and is limited by the inability of local financial resources to back an independent stand; the chief officer must explain his/her actions if required to do so and finally must face the possibility of being dismissed. Under the formal complaint system, any citizen aggrieved at the behavior of a police officer up to chief superintendent rank can lodge a complaint. There has been criticism, however, because all investigations into police malpractice are conducted by the police themselves. Still, although the formal system of accountability appears to give the police a great deal of independence to set policy and implement it, the informal pressure of public opinion exerted directly from the public and through political channels constrains the police from adopting unpopular policies and practices. Six notes are listed.