Police Audit

Enduring Accountability and Best Practices 


Police Accountability and Reform

In Canada, similar to other western democracies, the police enjoy a position of high regard and trust by the public. A position consistently held for many years regardless of police scandals that plague individual police organizations from year to year. For the most part, Canadians are satisfied with the policing product that is provided them for their tax dollars. Satisfied because, other than a scandal of significant merit and/or attention by which change is demanded, we are assured by the chief of police or superintendent that things are fine and to trust that everything is under control. Such assurances, when a department is shaken by scandal, are made in the guise of promises of "greater oversight" by police management and careful due diligence to prevent such a thing from occurring again and to trust the police, once again, to keep their house clean.

But, organizationally, what does it entail to keep ones house clean especially with such agencies as the police who, internally, are secretive and suspicious of any outside poking and prodding? The public is assured that everything is fine and running smoothly regardless of the dearth of available information of whether or not best practices are being followed. And, when a best practice is suggested it is tempered with the coda that policing is a situational enterprise and thus the best practice is watered down so as to tailor it to a specific community (a discretion left to the police chief until removed by public/political pressure).

There is no sufficient reason as to why this practice needs to continue. The police should be audited by an outside agency. As Sheila Fraser, FCA Auditor General of Canada, has illustrated time and again, an audit brings light to dark corners and reveals practices that need to change or even eliminated; change that may not be obvious to those within the organization or who are unwilling/unable to bring it about. Typically, the most opportune time is either in response to crisis or when new blood, a new chief, is brought in (from an outside agency not promoted from within). However, this is not sufficient, as is evident from the continually cycling of scandals which plague departments across Canada, an audit of a police department should be a regular occurrence.

The movement of recent years is towards civilian monitoring of police departments and police audits. The momentum is evident through the recent creations of such organizations as CACOLE, the Canadian Association of Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (patterned upon NACOLE, the National Association of Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement in the United States). CACOLE is an organization whose members are civilian oversight agencies across Canada, which, for the most part, strictly focus on disciplinary issues. This is a step towards police reform as it brings in accountability. But more is needed. The system, as it works at present, only addresses the `bad apple' and does little in examining the barrel itself, a barrel, that the public is assured by the police, is sound.

The police audit is the tool needed with which to examine the barrel; the police organization itself. Similar to a social audit, the police audit examines the policies and practices of the police organization and compares them to current best practices (as determined by those used and recognised throughout the policing world) as well as determining whether or not those practices that are in place are being followed with due diligence and that supervisory oversight is more than just a promotion and pay increase. For example, when more men and more money is demanded of the city, is it justified just because a report is tendered by police management to the police board or city council? If change is demanded, and the public assured that it has been implemented, how is this determined other than the assurances of the police themselves?

Why Conduct a Police Audit?

If the cycle of scandal is to be broken, an audit is necessary. The public needs to know that their police department is accountable and transparent. Granted there are sensitive issues and information that cannot be made public, but audits proceed under the auspices of confidentiality undertaken by the auditors involved. Best practices can be examined and accountability investigated without disclosing particular details. An audit allows for the police organization to realise its full potential through the professional expertise of the auditors, auditors who are trained rather than operating ad hoc as has been the case up to now. The police audit is an investigation into the organization as a whole: its policies, procedures, chain of command, organizational structure and whether or not accountability is present. The audit can cover all of these areas, some areas, or entail a particular focus such as police shootings or police use of force. To date we only have the word of the police that things are running as they should, as efficiently as they should. But without a bottom line to answer to or shareholders to be held accountable, how do we know? Some argue that this is the responsibility of Police Boards however, Police boards are politically motivated and the tenure of members short term, thus, organizationally, the Police Board itself suffers from a short memory.

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