The major difference between policing in a
democracy and policing under non-democratic regimes is public accountability.
In a non-democratic regime the police are solely accountable to the ruler,
the state, the party or interest group in power or those in control of
the government. Police in a democracy are accountable to a multiplicity
of bodies: their superiors, the police administration, their peer officers;
elected councils and legislatures, the courts, citizens of their community,
and indeed all of society. They are not accountable to only one structure,
e.g. their superiors or a civilian review board (Stone and Merrick).
This view of the police promotes flexibility, growth and development
in an environment where there are multiple guarantors of compliance
with community standards and practices.
The Commission of Policing Structures
of the United Nations International Police Task Force (1996) has developed
a set of principles that act as a guide for training new police officers
in countries ravaged by war and civil conflict (Stone and Ward). These
principles are fundamental and applicable to democratic policing. They
- Police need to protect rather than impede freedoms in a democratic
society and provide a safe and orderly environment where these freedoms
can be exercised;
- Police are not to be concerned with people’s beliefs,
movements or compliance with government policies and regulations unless
laws are being broken;
- Police are concerned primarily with the preservation
of safe communities and the protection of life;
- Police are governed
by a code of conduct that compels them to apply the criminal law
equally to all people, and conduct their activities with respect for
dignity and basic rights of all persons; and
- Police are accountable
to the public and all structures established for this purpose.
In addition to improved collaboration between external
and internal oversight and enhanced accountability, other measures can
lead to the enhancement
of civil governance:
- Case processing Several preliminary studies suggest
that an elaborate, highly structured and legalistic complaints process
may be just as damaging to the complainant as the initial cause of
the complaint. Systems established to receive complaints need to be
accessible, stream-lined, non-bureaucratic, compassionate and as ethically
and socially sensitive as humanly possible. A more elaborate and structured
approach can be preserved for a small minority of exceptional cases.
Complaints need to be resolved quickly and informally, if possible.
The use of mediation and dispute resolution techniques, alternative
and restorative justice approaches need further exploration (McLaughlin
and Johansen). Complainants deserve simple, practical and full explanations
of what happened and resulted in their complaint.
- Prevention of misconduct
While reports of police misconduct have not
been eliminated (and likely never will be), many steps have been taken
by police forces during
the last thirty years in attempting to reduce the use of excessive
Most studies addressing this issue suggest that a relatively small
number of officers generate the majority of complaints (Terrill and
143). Studies of police forces suggest relatively inexperience officers
who are unable to handle the demands of their work are more prone to
using force inappropriately. An "early warning system" for
more vulnerable officers needs to be considered.