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Pockets of good practice

Independent scrutiny panel for Beds, Herts, and Cambs highlights successes

After the Louise Casey report highlighting shortcomings with the Metropolitan police, the importance of how police use their powers in other parts of the country has become more topical.

To help improve legitimacy and further build public confidence the Joint Protective Service department (JPS) which covers Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire; armed officers, dog support officers and roads policing officers has solicited independent community oversight of their use of force by its officers which is chaired by Montell Neufville, one of the country's best known and longest serving police ethics advisors and panel chairs.

Montell through his community-based social enterprise gained a wide, diverse group of residents from the three counties into the scrutiny of the policing division. Members of the JPS community scrutiny panel established in 2021 learned about the different methods and types of force used by officers to protect themselves, members of the public and property. They all attend a training session where scenarios are discussed taking into account the risks faced by officers, possible situations that they would encounter. They also look at police powers and policies relating to the use of force and apply an even handed framework. These include the criminal law act, the Human Rights Act and a range of additional policing powers.

Every time an officer has to use force as part of their duties, they record the circumstances, action, and reasons. This is also recorded on their body worn video cameras. The JPS scrutiny panel meets quarterly to review the body worn videos, the officers account and all other records enabling them to provide feedback using PLANTER. This is then graded from green 1 to red 9.

The acronym PLANTER means;

P-Was the amount of force used proportionate for the risk faced by the officer?

L-Was the length of time the force used acceptable?

A-Did the actions of the member of the public warrant force to be used?

N-Was it necessary to use force to protect the officer or members of the public?

T-Was the type of force used, the minimum appropriate level to achieve compliance?

E-Was it ethical to use force in the situation?

R-Was it reasonable for the officer to use force?

One of the aspects of the panel is its diversity and inclusivity. It has people from different areas of the three counties, different ages and a range of ethnicities. This has been a recommendation to police forces from a number of significant reports including the McPherson report, The Criminal Justice Alliance report Stop and Scrutinise, The National Police Race Action Plan and also the Louise Casey Report.

The panel has been in force for two years, meeting quarterly and virtually, it has reviewed numerous uses of force by police officers and the innovative grading system enables the panel to accurately reflect their views on the officers’ actions based on objectivity rather than being subjective.

The basis of the panel is in line with the recommendations outlined in the HMICFRS report on Disproportionate Use of Police Powers, a spotlight on stop and search and the use of force and with recommendation from the Independent Office of Police Conduct (IOPC). Montell said:

The panel acts as a vital tool to help maintain trust and confidence in the police from all communities covering this wide area. It is recognised that officers sometimes need to use force in the performance of their duties to protect people and property, but this force must be justified, reasonable and proportionate.
The panel, helps to ensure openness and transparency, currently includes a mix of people, both males and females of different age ranges and from various backgrounds. We feedback into our communities so its important that we have people from many different parts of the thre counties and use additional methods such as radio shows.
We grade use of force using a process I developed then measure this using Green1,2,3, amber 3,5,6 and red 7,8,9. At our last meeting we looked at three videos. They were graded two at green 1 and one at amber 6. The amber 6 received management advice.

JPS Superintendent Paul Sandwell who is the force operational and tactical lead said: “We are committed to learning and being open and transparent in relation to our officer’s use of force. We know how important it is that our communities have trust in what we do, so we welcome the introduction of this panel, it not only provides reassuring positive feedback to our officers, but also public perspective learning which ultimately benefits our working practises and the communities we serve.”

By Montell Neufville, Independent scrutiny for Beds, Cambs and Herts joint protective services command – specialist operations. Originally published on 8 May 2023.

For further information please email Montell [link]

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.

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