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Revamp of police discipline process

A new regime designed to significantly modernise disciplinary procedures in the Bermuda Police Service has been warmly received by key players in law enforcement.

Victor Marshall, a leading British authority on professional standards within police forces, said he was “hugely encouraged” by the level of support for the kind of system used in England, Wales and Scotland, which is based on a culture of “learning and improving rather than punishment and blame”.

Mr Marshall was in Bermuda last week to meet stakeholders including Michael Dunkley, the Premier and Minister of National Security, the Governor, George Fergusson, representatives from the Attorney-General's Chambers, the Department for Public Prosecutions and the Police Association to outline how the Home Office guidelines that he helped to establish and successfully implement in Britain could work on the Island.

The professional standards co-ordinator for the Police Superintendents' Association of England and Wales told The Royal Gazette that the system was “not just a new set of rules but a change of thinking”.

He said: “Policing is a very complicated area at times and officers won't always get it right. So you need a system by which officers can be held to account. That system should be neither lengthy, costly or punitive and should involve engagement with the public and the complainant.

“If there is a mistake or error, police need to rectify, apologise and put it right. If we get performance right, we get a better service to the public.

“It's not just about a new set of rules, it's about a new way of thinking of how we approach complaints that allows for more engagement between the public and officers.

“If we have a culture where everything is about blame and punishment, you get a risk-adverse police force that does not want to take difficult decisions.”

Mr Marshall arrived in Bermuda last Tuesday and spent the week providing stakeholders, including the Police Complaints Authority and the Human Rights Commission, with an overview of the ethos behind the disciplinary regime.

The system has already proved successful in England, Wales, Scotland and the Isle of Man, but Bermuda looks set to be the first of Britain's Overseas Territories in the Caribbean to adopt it.

“From here, I will go away and start to draft the framework and send it back to Bermuda for more consultation,” Mr Marshall added.

“Once the framework is agreed, it will require legislation to take it through and the idea would be for me to come back and do the training of managers and other agencies.

“This will be a system for Bermuda; it's not going to be shoehorned from somewhere else. It can work well in Bermuda, but some of the mechanics have to be specific to the Island.”

Paul Wright, the Deputy Commissioner of Police, hopes the new procedures will be in place next year.

“We would like to get the legislation sorted before the House breaks for the summer, but that will depend on the Government's legislative agenda,” he said.

“Having talked with all the stakeholders, one of the points that everyone agrees on is that the current 40-year-old procedures are out of step with modern practice.

“The current system rarely satisfies the complainants or the police officers and is based more on a culture of blame and punishment rather than learning and improving.

“We can learn from this new framework immediately and get line managers to speak with their staff and support them when performance does not reach expectations.”

In last month's Throne Speech, the Bermuda Government said it would introduce legislation to replace the old “out of step” discipline process contained in The Police (Discipline) Orders 1975.

Mr Marshall added: “People will want to see more detail, and that is understandable, and naturally the Police Association will want some kind of reassurance, as this is to a certain degree a leap of faith. But it is for the benefit of their members.

“I was very heartened to see the level of engagement. Over a very short period of time, we have moved a long way forward and have the opportunity, subject to the legislation being brought in, to have a new system in place in 2016.”

Welcoming overhaul: Paul Wright, the Deputy Commissioner of Police, hopes to get the legislation for the new discipline process before the House of Assembly by the summer (File photograph)

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Published December 14, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated December 14, 2015 at 8:16 am)

Revamp of police discipline process

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