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Can Police Services Deliver Sound and Safe Restorative Practice
Les Davey, Chief Executive, IIRP UK

Posted 2000-08-12

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Presented as a workshop during "Restorative Practice in Action," the 2nd International Conference on Conferencing & Circles, August 10-12,2000, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

With the growth of police-led and serviced restorative practice world wide and in particular, with regard to the wide interest and opportunities for implementation in the UK (England & Wales with regards to the Crime & Disorder and the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Acts), it is perhaps timely to examine and explore some of the arguments for and against police involvement and use of such practices.

Professor James (Jim) Dignan from the Department of Law at the University of Sheffield tends to stand out as the most qualified in the UK, to offer balanced and constructive comment upon police involvement in restorative practices, through his wide and long term experience of research and evaluation in the field over many years. The vast majority of the questions and comments that follow were either written or stated by Jim over the last three years.

We will first be examining some of the concerns raised, before exploring how they may be satisfactorily addressed through good training and practice or perhaps in other ways. Although we may not be able to address all of these questions; we will try to use the available time, drawing (through discussion) on the collective wisdom in the room, to identify appropriate processes, safeguards, solutions and advice on best practice. At the end of this session we can take forward our conclusions into the session ‘Restorative Policing’ that follows and is hosted by Paul Schnell and David Hines in Jupiter 3.

So lets start by examining the questions posed:

"…‘hidden agenda’. …long standing frustration at the perceived failure of the courts to deliver a sufficiently punitive response to offenders… …belief that the adoption of a ‘conferencing’ approach could help to rectify this defect, particularly where the police themselves act as conference organisers and facilitators."

R?It is true in my experience, that part of the attraction of restorative practices to police services and individual officers is the fact that it appears to offer a process that engages the person who has offended, requires them to be made accountable and take responsibility for the harm caused by their inappropriate behaviour. Part of the process of raising awareness amongst staff and acceptance of the need to change, is by flagging up these differences.

It is an inescapable fact, that young persons who chose to go through a conference will more often than not find it tougher and more challenging than the alternative of a court appearance, where they are basically asked only three questions (Name, Address, Guilty or Not Guilty), before the professionals kick in speaking for, to and at them but rarely engaging them or requiring them to take any responsibility for the harm caused by their actions.

This though is only one of the many advantages of restorative practice over the traditional system. With quality training and good practice standards for both services and facilitators, it need not be viewed as a negative aspect for police involvement.

 

"…absence of standards and safeguards… …this could pose problems in relation to certain forms of family group or community conferences: notably those in which police are not only actively involved in identifying suitable cases for referral, but also in conducting the conferences themselves…"

As well as adopting national standards such as those produced by Mediation UK and the Restorative Justice Consortium in the UK for instance, services should develop their own protocols and charters describing the services offered and means of complaint when they do not come up to standards described.

Another method of ensuring high standards is through the accreditation of training and delivery. As well as international bodies offering accreditation (such as Real Justice and the International Institute for Restorative Practices), on a national level in the UK for instance the new National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ) in Mediation (Community Mediation Evidence Route) offers assessment of individual facilitators by trained assessors against detailed performance criteria, leading to a nationally recognised qualification.

Services could also choose to assess their own facilitators against these and other standards.

 

Are police services and facilitators capable of being: "…studiously neutral and even-handed in attending to the needs of all the parties who are involved…" ?

I have always found this question rather strange, as it is invariably aimed only at police officers, yet other agencies that offer services are not subject to the same questions around neutrality. Probation Officers, Social Workers, Teachers, Offender and Victim services/advocates have all been involved in Mediation and Conferencing in the UK and worldwide. They too cannot be held up as being neutral purely because they represent a particular agency. Even facilitators drawn from the community will have their own baggage and motivation, which brings them to want to provide such a service.

Each individual brings his or her own prejudices and preferences to the role of facilitator. In fact, police are the only service I can think of who deal with the needs of all sections — offenders, victims and communities at the time, often whilst the conflict and harm is still being caused!

Careful selection, appropriate training and the ability of facilitators (no matter what their background or organisation/agency), to leave their baggage at the door, treat all participants with respect and offer them fair process is the best way to ensure neutrality. If this is achieved, the background of the facilitator becomes unimportant to the participants and they are likely to be satisfied with the process regardless of the outcome.

"Arguably, a more constructive (and certainly a far less contentious) role for the police within such conferences might be to act as representatives of the broader community interest…" ?

I have no problems with local officers attending conferences as a representative of the community they serve. I have seen many examples where local beat officers have been the main catalyst to the formation of residence groups on new housing developments for instance. This has been noticeable in the new city of Milton Keynes, where having formed several neighbourhood watch schemes in the area, these have gone on to become the nucleus of a later formed residents group.

Police hold a fairly unique position within their communities. There appears to be an acceptance generally that because of their role and status of the office of constable, they command respect and standing within their communities. Local Police are also seen as a good barometer of the current issues, particularly in relation to law and order and therefore able to input this during a conference.

Where I differ with the statement, is that I believe this is an additional role police can play in conferencing; not the alternative advocated. Police are at the forefront of conferencing internationally and in several cases have been the catalyst to the introduction and subsequent legislation that has followed. Thames Valley Police, as acknowledged by Jim Dignan in this paper, ‘appears to have been highly influential, and quite possibly critical, in shaping this aspect of the current youth justice reforms.’ in England & Wales. So far from backing off from conferencing, I see police as central to the delivery and co-ordination of conferencing activity, before we even consider the next statement.

 

"…it is certainly conceivable that the adoption of a restorative justice approach could also transform the attitudes of individual officers both with regard to their own role, and also in relation to those victims and offenders with whom they come into contact."

Police officers exercising their bone-fide right to deliver reprimands and warnings to young people and cautions to adults in a restorative style, coupled with a restorative process to deal with complaints and grievances, has the potential to develop a truly restorative organisation.

If we look at the traditional approaches to dealing with police complaints and discipline issues, complainants are rarely satisfied, whilst police have little confidence in how these issues are dealt with. The 'adversarial' approach used is not trusted, and there is little likelihood of honest and open disclosure. With the traditional systems' focus on blame and sanctions (punishment), denial is commonplace. Reflection, learning and behavioural change are not strong features. The almost total reliance on formal adversarial processes to deal with workplace issues such as harassment and discrimination has the potential to isolate complainants. Subsequently, the potential for further harm is very real, limiting the preparedness of complainants to come forward.

When such matters are dealt with restoratively in an across the board manner, all areas of policing and the public served are subject to restorative and fair processes. Members of a truly Restorative Organisation will use such language and behaviour in their every day dealings with their colleagues and the public alike, in an ‘informal’ setting. By addressing harm and conflict in this manner, at the time it occurs, not only will the number of cases requiring the use of more ‘formal’ processes inevitably decrease; more importantly, the further damage and harm caused to all individuals involved will be minimised.

 

"there are no guarantees that ‘police led’ schemes necessarily produce more victim satisfaction. Some research evidence suggests that they can, in some circumstances leave victims very dissatisfied indeed: Blagg and Smith (1989) found that many victims were unhappy with police-led reparation initiatives in the UK. The police are capable of manipulating, ‘recruiting’ victims for their own ends (to punish offenders) as social workers are for their ends (treatment via a ‘learning experience’)."

There is a risk of victims being used to service the needs of the system, and it is only through the setting and maintenance of clear policy guidelines on assessment and access to the service that fair process can be monitored and ensured. These guidelines need to cover such things as criteria for selection — nature/seriousness and type of offence, clear admission where appropriate (i.e. not always the case — community problem solving), ‘offenders’ history and background, the victims circumstances, restitution and compensation issues, recommendations of the investigating officer etc.

It is important to consult local victim services during the implementation and development of any scheme, to ensure that guidelines meet victim’s needs as fully as possible. It will be important to see what role they will play, if any in the provision of services to conference participants. This is equally the case with community groups and other local representative bodies.

 

Do police officers possess the skills, knowledge and capability to deliver true restorative practice?

I have come across a wealth of talented, intelligent, articulate innovative and intellectually sound officers in my 27 years of policing. This has not been rank specific and has pervaded all departments and policing areas. With the right selection procedures and appropriate training (having trained around 500 officers in conferencing to date), I KNOW that the police service have no shortage of good potential facilitators.

Police officers regularly have to deal with conflict and harm at the time or shortly after it has occurred. Tempers are still frayed and the situation is still volatile and explosive. Officers quickly learn to use good communication skills, tact and diplomacy to resolve such situations. They necessarily develop the ability to negotiate, reason and assist parties in resolving conflict through giving appropriate advice and offering solutions to the affected parties. If the same experienced officers cannot prepare, organise and run a meeting between the affected parties some two weeks later when they have all calmed down and have a clearer idea of what they want to see come out of such a meeting, then I would like to know who is better placed, trained, experienced and able?

All of this said however, they do not need the later skills for conferencing, as it is not:

  • Advocacy - which aims to speak on behalf of one party.
  • Arbitration - facilitators do not prescribe solutions or options for agreement.
  • Counselling
  • Guidance or
  • Advice giving
  • Investigation or interviewing

     

    What are the possible dangers posed to the Restorative Justice movement if poor practice is left un-checked?

    There is a real danger of services using a process they call restorative justice when in fact it is a behavioural change program. The exclusion of victims from the process in all or only very few exceptional cases for instance due to resource and capacity problems. Though the program may still produce good outcomes for most participants, it cannot be termed truly restorative and should therefore not claim to be so. Being open and honest about restrictions on access to the service offered is very important if damage to the movement is to be avoided.

    Safeguards

      • Legislation and accompanying guidelines, organisation policy / rules etc;
      • Clear service outline to all participants
      • A separate complaints system
      • Accreditation of service and facilitators
      • Structured training and feedback
      • Supervision and ongoing support

    Enough from me - my final question is addressed to the floor for open discussion:

    What are the tangible benefits involvement can offer the police service?

    Footnote

    Unfortunately, time did not allow us to work through all of the above issues. For further reading on this subject, I would recommend an excellent paper by Paul McCOLD, Ph.D., and Director of the International Institute for Restorative Practices, titled:

    ‘Police-Facilitated Restorative Conferencing — What the Data Show’.