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Bringing fairness and impartiality to community scrutiny panels

In this post, Montell Neufville looks at police community scrutiny panels and outlines 'PLANTER', an acronym used to help panels evaluate use of force incidents

Montell Neufville has been working to bring trust and confidence in policing for more than a decade. He chaired a community scrutiny panel from 2015 to 2021 and another from 2021 to the present. He has been involved in the recruitment of police officers, officer training, and officer mentoring. In this article, he shares his views on community scrutiny panels and police accountability.

Community scrutiny panels

Police community scrutiny panels were first introduced in 2014 by His Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) under the Best Use of Stop and Search scheme (BUSSS). In 2021, many scrutiny panels began looking into police use of force. Scrutiny panels are managed and coordinated across the country by a variety of organisations, police forces directly, PCC offices, or independently commissioned to provide the service.

Having independent oversight of the police is an important mechanism for ensuring accountability, transparency, and legitimacy in policing. It fits into more recent report recommendations such as those in the Casey Review (although Baroness Casey's focus was on London and the Metropolitan Police, the same principles apply across the country).

If having independent oversight of police action is a benefit to both the police and to communities, what are the problems and barriers faced by community members involved in scrutiny panels?

Firstly, some police officers do not like scrutiny in the same way that some teachers don’t like Ofsted. Many police officers often feel that community members don’t understand the problems and challenges they face doing their jobs, what factors went into their decision-making, and often officers feel that feedback from community scrutiny panels is inconsistent.

Secondly, panels themselves can lack legitimacy if they do not represent not only the local population but those most likely to be stopped and searched. Many young people don’t want to be on scrutiny panels, feel their voice wouldn’t be listened to, or panels meet at times when young people are usually in education. Many people from diverse communities lack trust and confidence in policing, they feel that their decisions won’t be listened to, and there are those who don’t want to give their details to the police (which is often necessary - in particular for those police forces who want all panel members to be formally vetted).

The third problem is that some of those who work in policing can easily manipulate the process and sway the decisions of panels. They can deny the resources panels need to be effective, refuse to feed back to officers or, give feedback in a diluted way. If panels lack the trust and confidence of senior leaders in policing, then the feedback can go nowhere, which will often lead to panel members losing confidence in the process and leaving.

The fourth problem is inconsistency in the feedback from panels. Their members won’t all attend every meeting due to personal circumstances, some have people with strong opinions, others have people with lots of knowledge, and new people join while others leave. This means that exactly the same situation can be graded differently by a panel leading to officers losing confidence.

So what are the solutions?

Panels should have a strong chair who builds a good relationship with police senior leaders. They should recruit from diverse communities including people from a variety of ages. All panels should have independent training provided by community members, charities, or community groups. Finally, they need to have a toolkit to ensure consistency with their decision-making, ensuring that even when panel members change, the conclusions they arrive at will be similar or the same, and stands the test of time.

The acronym 'PLANTER', which has been endorsed by the College of Policing, is a tool to help this process. PLANTER has been devised to address many of the problems in the context of police use of force. PLANTER stands for:

P - Proportionate

L - Length of time force is used

A - Did the actions warrant force to be used in the first place?

N - Was it necessary to use force? (Based on the threat, risk, or harm posed)

T - Was the type of force used the minimum necessary?

E - Ethical

R - Reasonable

The toolkit comes with a score-sheet: Green (1,2,3,) amber (4,5,6), and red (7,8,9). Panels should receive independent (non policing training) on the toolkit.

The chair has a critical role in ensuring that the panel remains impartial, that everyone has their say in a polite and professional manner, and that the decisions are communicated to the officers with a feedback loop back to the panel.

The PLANTER toolkit can be found at the College of Policing website here.

All blogposts are published with the permission of the author. The views expressed are solely the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of StopWatch UK.

About the author

Montell Neufville.

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