Chapter 5: Accountability and Investigation

5.1 Autonomy and Accountability

The police must remain autonomous and free from the influence of government and mass media. Law enforcement executives should not be forced into decisions based upon the dictates of a mayor, premier, prime minister, or the media. Law enforcement executives should remain autonomous and concern themselves with the effective and efficient operation of their agencies to achieve an ethical law enforcement agency with high standards and values. Likewise, officers on the line must remain impartial, and, in doing so, should avoid comment on political and judicial matters. This does not mean that officers do not have the right to comment like everyone else, but that their comments should not be made in their capacity as police officers.

While the independence of law enforcement is important, oversight of law enforcement is also crucial. Oversight includes ensuring agencies are accountable to the public for resource allocation, are fiscally responsible, and have law enforcement policies and procedures. Law enforcement agencies must balance the need for accountability with the need for independence, but doing so can create tension. According to Reiner (2010) there are four ways in which law enforcement is held accountable:

  1. Officers are charged and prosecuted for crimes (under the Criminal Code or the Police Act).
  2. Officers are held civilly liable in court.
  3. Judges ruling on cases find the evidence brought before them is as inadmissible.
  4. Judicial review of policy forces changes upon the police.

Griffiths (2013, p.58) further identifies six processes that hold police accountable in Canada:

  1. Political accountability to governing authorities
  2. Legal accountability through the courts
  3. Accountability to administrative agencies
  4. Freedom of information legislation
  5. Community policing committees
  6. Special ad hoc mechanisms such as royal commissions

In cases that may not warrant a criminal investigation, police officers in British Columbia are governed by statutes. In British Columbia, municipal police officers are governed by the Police Act and RCMP officers are governed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act. Offences alleged under these acts are often investigated by police officers in their own agencies. For more serious and/or high-profile cases, police officers from other agencies may conduct the investigations. These are known as internal investigations, professional standards investigations, or police act investigations.

These specialized investigations are conducted by units within departments, which are often referred to as Professional Standards Units.

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5.1 Autonomy and Accountability by Steve McCartney and Rick Parent is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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