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Independent police scrutiny panels move online

One of the most important jobs that my team and I do is to hold the police to account.

And, although the lockdown continues, I am pleased to say that COVID-19 has not brought this work to a halt.

Over the last few months, many aspects of regular life have gone virtual – from nights with friends to work meetings and even Government press briefings.

This week will see our Independent Scrutiny Panel meetings moving from a conference table to a computer screen for the first time.  

A laptop showing multiple people on a video conference call.

These meetings perform an incredibly important function.

Local people from a wide range of different backgrounds, and with a range of different points of view, volunteer to sit on these Independent Scrutiny Panels, and share their thoughts on how the Force is performing and what it could do better.

Why do we do this?

Well, in this country, we have always operated a model of ‘policing by consent’ – going right back to the days of Robert Peel. What this means is that the police’s power comes, not through fear, but through the fact that the public chooses to accept their authority.

British policing is not about force, but about drawing strength and support from those who are being policed. That is a tradition that differentiates us from many other countries – and is something of which I think we should be proud.

COVID has made scrutinising police more important

Having an independent group look at the work of the police has become more important during the COVID lockdown, not less.

Last month, I asked my office to take a detailed look at a randomly selected sample of the cases in which fixed penalty notices were issued during the lockdown, and I was pleased to say we were reassured by the quality of the decision making made by officers.

This took place more quickly than the usual round panels, as I knew it was important, in a rapidly evolving situation, to scrutinise the police’s work as a matter of urgent.

Now, the independent Out Of Courts Disposal panel will meet this week to once again look at another sample of anonymised cases, and give their thoughts on whether or not the fixed penalty notices were issued appropriately.

Views fed back to Force

Whatever their view, we will make sure their responses – both good and bad – are fed back to the Chief Officers, as always happens after a panel meeting.

Over the next few weeks, our other panels will meet virtually to examine other aspects of Dorset Police’s work.

The Customer Service Improvement Panel, for example, examines the Force’s interactions with the public, through its 101 non-emergency phone line, website and social media channels, as well as services such as Neighbourhood Policing and Victims’ Bureau. The panel looks at waiting times for people phoning the 101 line, examines how quality is assessed, and takes ideas from other organisations and private companies who deal with large numbers of calls from the public.

It’s often said that any piece of work is improved by having a fresh pair of eyes take a look at it – and that is very much my approach when it comes to scrutinising the police.

Scrutiny panels are a way in which ordinary members of the public get to look at the work of Dorset Police, have their say and help make a difference.


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