middle way for Northern Ireland?
This is the third of a series
of working papers being published by Democratic Dialogue to work through
otherwise apparently intractable problems associated with negotiating
a settlement of the Northern Ireland conflict. Previous papers, also available,
have looked at the 'consent principle' and electoral systems. Democratic
Dialogue welcomes comment on its contents, which are not intended to be
definitive but to stimulate constructive discussion and debate.
© Democratic Dialogue 1998
Northern Ireland appears to
face a hopeless dilemma on policing. Unionists stand for defence of the
policing status quo; nationalists reject piecemeal reform of the
RUC, while republicans call for its disbandment. Government measures—the
Police Bill and proposals for enhanced accountability—have won support
But this Democratic Dialogue
paper, kindly contributed by Mike Brogden, professor of criminology at
Queen's University and UN adviser to the South African police, argues
there is a positive way forward. Prof Brogden presents the case for two-tier
policing as a global trend with particular potential for Northern Ireland.
Crudely put, two-tier policing
would sustain a specialised RUC to deal with continuing challenges of
terrorism, intercommunal offences and other serious crime. But, alongside,
it would introduce a community policing service, unarmed and locally accountable,
addressing the quality-of-life concerns at street level using techniques
of mediation and problem-solving.
Prof Brogden believes this
approach can reassure unionists as to their security while offering to
nationalists now a service they can endorse and participate in. Without
minimising the practical difficulties, he contends that the 'downsizing'
of the RUC and the establishment of this new (and cheaper) service could
be managed within a 'peace dividend' over a transitional period.
While calling for further research
and discussion, Prof Brogden stresses that this would not mean handing
policing power to paramilitaries, colluding with localistic sectarianism
or creating avenues for corruption.
On the positive side, his proposal
would not only provide an avenue out of a political impasse. It would
also offer a sensitive and effective response to the profound desire from
disadvantaged communities in Northern Ireland for a means to address the
concrete problems that often loom much larger in people's lives.
There is no simple resolution
to the quandary of police reform in Northern Ireland. Every option has
its opponents and would be difficult to implement.
But a recent survey reported
by the Belfast Telegraph suggests there is a common denominator
in the plurality of views across the two main religious communities: a
two-tiered policing structure could attract broad acceptance. This is,
moreover, an inexorable resolution: cosmetic changes, such as in recruitment
patterns (the issue the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has addressed)
Indeed, failed attempts to
alter the composition of the police in the north of Ireland have a long
history. As long ago as 1863, the then Belfast City Police were disbanded
by a commission of inquiry, following major disturbances and the sectarian
bias displayed by a predominantly Protestant force. One recommended solution
was the recruitment of more Catholics ...
There is no point either in
attempting to change the Royal Ulster Constabulary to a more effective,
'crime-fighting', force or to a 'community-police' service. The history,
culture and current priorities, in training and practice, of the RUC reflect
the tradition of centralised, continental, gendarmerie forces, not the
model of the London Metropolitan Police. The ancestor of the RUC officer
was not the 'tythingman' (parish constable) of medieval England but the
gendarme of a European Ministry of Police—a model that co-existed with
a second tier of local policing.
'Slimming-down' will disgruntle
many—inside and outside the RUC—while solving none of the major challenges
facing the organisation. And for those who still believe the RUC can be
abolished, logistical as well as political problems seem insurmountable.
The answer is reform—but structural,
Northern Ireland possesses
over three times the police (man)power per capita of Great Britain. The
8,500-strong RUC is backed by some 3,000 full-time and 2,000 part-time
reservists. This police-to-population ratio of 1:106 compares with 1:350
in Britain, and 1:512 in Sweden. It costs the Northern Ireland Office
some £660 million per annum to police some 1.6 million people.
The force's composition is
skewed by religion, gender and race. The religious pot-pourri is about
88 per cent Protestant and 8 per cent Catholic. A markedly higher proportion
of senior officers are Catholic (presumably having joined before the 'troubles')
than of the lower ranks. There is evidence that the composition of the
civilian support staff is similarly skewed, although not so much.
About 13 per cent of RUC members
are women, who comprise 14-16 per cent of forces in Britain. Women are
concentrated in the part-time reserve, more than half of whose members
are female. Only one woman has reached superintendent rank, significantly
short of the norm in Britain.
Fewer than 1 per cent of RUC
members are from ethnic minorities. While this is little different from
the proportion of minorities within the larger population, it is not however
a satisfactory figure, given migration in the UK and Ireland and the critical
need to create diversity in policing.
Information on support for
the RUC is contradictory. A variety of polls suggest the RUC is no less
favourably perceived than forces in Britain and elsewhere. There are suggestions,
however, of major methodological flaws—for example, in the failure evident
in a recent survey to receive responses from those in areas like the lower
Falls in Belfast who are likely to be the most antagonistic.
Comparability with Britain,
the Republic of Ireland and abroad is meanwhile highly problematic: policing
may have a quite different meaning to respondents in Northern Ireland.
The experience of armed, para-military style policing is distinct from
that of the population in Britain; expectations of the RUC as a community-style
police may be correspondingly low. And where the RUC is perceived antagonistically,
consent to policing may mean little more than a consent to its non-interference
in local practices.
Thirdly, poll evidence of RUC
support flies in the face of social reality. It is hard to understand
how the republican military campaign of the last three decades could have
been sustained without considerable minority opposition to the RUC—out
of all proportion to public reaction to the British police services and
the Garda Síochána.
In any case, polls commonly
confuse attitudes to the RUC with views on 'policing'. It is important
to distinguish between those who are anti-RUC and those who are
anti-police. Communities need and support policing; the question
is whether they need and support the policing identified with the RUC.
The RUC, as Graham Ellison
has recently documented, never enjoyed the supposed 'golden age' characteristic
of British forces. In particular quarters, it has always been perceived
as an armed occupying agency—and has acted reciprocally, as an armed patrol
force, especially in border areas. The RUC (like its predecessors) never
was a British-style police.
Finally, training in the RUC
has of necessity given primacy to self-protection in a manner atypical
of British forces. The rank-and-file culture of front-line officers has
inevitably been conditioned by a security-conscious environment. Any attempt
to transform the RUC to a British-style service ignores not only history
and culture but especially the alternative, distinctive policing model
from which the RUC derives.
Whatever happens to the 'peace
process', the 'new' RUC must retain a major security as well as 'crime-fighting'
capacity. The eventual phased release of some 600 convicted paramilitaries—belonging
to clandestine but still organised groups—could be a destabilising element
even in a future peaceful society. Such releases, and continuing minority
support for paramilitary organisations, could to lead to an increase in
organised crime, such as racketeering, in certain communities.
Northern Ireland is an armed
society. Well over 100,000 weapons are held legally—albeit mostly airguns
and shotguns—and a large if inherently countless number illegally. Offences
involving armed force will be a problem for many years. There must always
be a trained and armed police force to meet that threat.
According to official statistics,
Northern Ireland has the lowest crime in western Europe. But there are
reasons for doubting the accuracy of these figures. There is likely to
be much under-reporting in Catholic areas. Many criminogenic activities
by young people may have been displaced, albeit temporarily, into activities
against the 'security forces'. Many violent offences (such as fire-bomb
attacks on the police or army) are grossly under-recorded, as is community
intimidation of minorities. Crimes in the household, white-collar crimes
and offences by state personnel are equally badly reported, though likely
to be high in Northern Ireland. Generally, there is no reason to believe
Northern Ireland is an especially peaceful society—although in particular
contexts, such as drug abuse, there appears to be less of a problem.
or community policing?
There is little point in RUC
reform which pays no dividends in social order, quality of life and crime
control. But reform advocates should not delude themselves that making
the RUC apparently better at crime-fighting or community policing will
actually have beneficial effects.
Doctrinal reforms emphasise
mobile patrols, emergency response and investigation. But in practice,
as the evidence shows, such orthodox changes generally do not work.
The conventional tactic for
'crime-fighting', and fighting fear of crime—the random mobile patrol—is
largely a waste of resources, which inhibits community contact. Quickening
the response to emergency calls has no perceptible effect on arrests (the
chance of one drops below ten per cent one minute after an offence) and
what most victims want is predictable, rather than rapid, response. Nor
are crimes normally solved—in the sense of offenders being arrested and
prosecuted—through criminal investigations by detectives. Generally, crimes
are solved because offenders are immediately apprehended or someone identifies
them; if neither obtains, the chance that a crime will be solved falls
below one in ten.
Enhanced clearance rates are
not related to changes in the quality or quantity of police. As one north
American expert has put it, "If criminals noticed the increased efficiency
of the police, they certainly didn't seem to care." Neither the size of
police establishments nor their budgets has any clear impact on recorded
or 'cleared up' crime. The crime effectiveness of the RUC is determined
by other factors than whether armoured Land Rovers are replaced by thin-skinned
Traditional police reforms
are most fallible in dealing with so-called 'victimless' crimes—such as
drug abuse and prostitution. Most police reform ignores these and other
misdemeanours which are often perceived as a communal priority—rather
than the serious crime stressed by police culture, organisation and command.
Most calls to the police relate to problems other than serious crimes
which police departments tend to see as garbage work. As the experience
of police liaison committees indicates, quality-of-life issues dominate
communal demands—not high-level crime-fighting.
Conversely, foot patrols are
important because—while there is some doubt about how much they help to
reassure citizens and, especially, to 'catch criminals'—the activities
encountered by patrol officers (often banal incidents) include the deviant
behaviours that concern most people, most of the time. While a foot patrol
does not reduce crime, it can increase public satisfaction with the police
and can also reduce the fear of crime. If there is one clear demand from
Northern Ireland communities, it is for a return to the (albeit mythical)
'bobby on the beat'.
Converting the RUC in its present
framework into a community-policing institution is, however, equally fraught.
Community-policing practices have a quite different lineage from that
of the RUC. Commonly, they develop from small-town rural forces (as in
the US) or stem from the tradition of the unarmed patrol constable (as
in England and Wales). In countries which have similar gendarmerie traditions
to Northern Ireland—Austria is the obvious case—community policing within
a monolithic structure is perceived as the antithesis of appropriate police
work. In Austria, community problem-solving is not even regarded as the
proper province of the police.
There is no short-cut—as the
South Africans have most recently found—through which a unitary policing
institution focused on dealing with anti-state crime can be transformed
into a crime-fighting force or a community-police service. A metamorphosis
in structure, not simply of practices and recruitment, is the only resolution.
Police reform without changing
structures means devoting resources to traditional, bureaucratically safe,
approaches that no longer work—if they ever did. Cosmetic change has been
tried many times before. Transforming policing in Northern Ireland entails
taking a fundamental look at the policing organisation and process.
The civilian structures related
to the RUC also require reconstruction. Despite the continuation of innovations
from David Cook's period as chair of the Police Authority (PANI)—especially
in transparency, the radical entrepreneurship of certain new members and
the recent implementation of 'Nolan-style' controls on membership—the
authority remains (with minor exceptions) a publicity body for the RUC.
Its message is one-way: explaining the RUC to communities, not holding
the police to account on behalf of the community.
There is no local accountability,
a crucial matter given the fragmented character of society in Northern
Ireland. And it is difficult to understand in what ways PANI holds the
RUC accountable regionally. Despite compositional changes, it is an unanswered
question as to what function PANI members play in this regard.
Despite serious attempts to
broaden membership, there is no significant representation of the minority
community's views on PANI (in part, a function of the current opposition
to membership by the SDLP and Sinn Féin). Membership has changed considerably
but the degree of representation of minority viewpoints remains questionable.
Increased Catholic membership is not the same as increased nationalist
or working-class inclusion. Nor is the Police Authority unique as a non-elected
body: questions of its accountability must be linked to the non-accountability
of other quangos to the wider community.
Related bodies such as Police
Liaison Committees and Lay Visitors seem to be similarly skewed in membership
(especially in class terms). Inevitably, given the history of Northern
Ireland, the Lay Visitors mirror other lay aspects of the criminal justice
system—such as the Prison Visitors—including their inadequacies.
The mainstream paramilitary
ceasefires represent a major opportunity. This is not so much to start
policing afresh in Northern Ireland as to reconstruct policing—to
meet progressive professional policing requirements and civilian demands
for a qualitatively enhanced police service which is equitable and locally
accountable. There is a congruence between inexorable developments in
western policing generally and public demands.
Northern Ireland has a substantial
civil society. The 'troubles' brought into many self-help agencies, unconnected
with the paramilitaries, executing functions which would be carried out
by government bodies in other societies. The tradition of 'sorting things
out' is one of the major strengths of Northern Ireland's civil institutions.
In many urban areas, people have managed to survive amidst the more banal
misdemeanours, reasonably independently of a police force which has necessarily
had other priorities.
There is a reservoir of voluntary
groups (such as Victim Support and Mediation Network, and many smaller
organisations), who use lay personnel able to conduct the local mediation
and related tasks which are critical to community policing. They have
a significant contribution to make to a reconstructed police service.
This civil tradition (which reflects the core philosophy of community
policing) is a strength that needs reinforcing.
There is a documented demand
for this 'ordinary policing'. Opinion polls, for example, regularly emphasise
public support for the presence of reassuring foot patrols. Beat patrolling
does not require the heavy commitment in technology and training which
characterises the present RUC, and enjoys overwhelming public support.
pressures for change
Independently of the 'troubles',
the RUC is facing major pressures for change. A 'managerial', consumer
ethos is becoming the dominant philosophy of most police forces in western
Europe, north America and Australasia. In many ways, the RUC still epitomises
what E P Thompson once referred to as the (now-defunct) police feudal
baronies of England and Wales.
A different career trajectory
is, relatedly, emerging. Out has gone the academic qualification in law
and a background in CID and Special Branch; in are coming degrees in social
science and career progression through community relations. Managerialist
ideologies are replacing feudalism in police command, but the RUC is lagging
in that evolutionary process.
Government pressures (via the
Sheehy report and UK-wide expenditure restrictions) are likely to have
major effects on the RUC—for example, in the implementation of performance
indicators. Value-for-money requirements will have an inexorable influence.
To date, the RUC has been somewhat cushioned from the 'belt-tightening'
that has affected police services in Britain since the Home Office Circular
of 1984. But with expenditure currently running at £1,000 per annum for
every man, woman, and child in Northern Ireland, something has to give.
The RUC has also been relatively
immune from pressures to civilianise and privatise. In Britain (as, indeed,
in most European forces), many ancillary tasks (such as police station
reception) are conducted by less expensive civilian staff. Similarly,
functions such as static guard duty and especially the transport of remand
prisoners have been handed to cheaper private security organisations.
In a peaceful society, the value-for-money pressures for civilianisation
and privatisation will be irresistible.
normality of tiered policing
No one model of policing dominates
the western world, but unitary models such as the RUC are an exception.
Tiered policing is the west European and north American norm.
Most policework on the ground
in normal societies involves tasks for which much current technical training
is not required: barking dogs, responding to burglary victims, dealing
with neighbour disputes and so on. Officers may be over-trained for the
banality of beat policing.
In recognition of this, two
western societies in particular, France and Holland (both historically
having much in common with the old Irish Constabulary), have elevated
the importance of the local beat patrol, by developing a separate tier.
The Dutch system—often regarded by other professionals as a centre for
new ideas in policing—encompasses a second tier of local patrols, with
restricted legal powers. In those countries with unitary forces, some
aspects of tiered policing already exist—for example, in the employment
of civilian wardens to deal with humdrum traffic matters.
Yet police training (especially
in Northern Ireland) pays little attention to those mediation, problem-solving,
referral and diversionary functions which traditionally characterised
street patrols. While much of the history of the apocryphal village constable
is mythological, he (it was always he) was often able to 'sort things
out' without resort to arrest and detention. Street patrols do not require
qualifications in all the paraphernalia of professional police training.
There are clearly many matters—especially
violent offences (some ten per cent of matters dealt with by the RUC),
inter-community offences, more serious property crimes and political offences—which
can only be dealt with by a professional police officer.
The essence of new policing
must therefore be a two-tier structure—a low level police dealing with
quality-of-life issues and a high-level police service dealing with serious
and inter-communal crime.
The metaphor of traffic wardens,
as symptomatic of a two-tiered system, is intended to convey three notions.
Certain low-level law enforcement in Northern Ireland is already conducted
by non-police agencies. The skills required of such low-level policework
are quite different from professional policing involving criminal investigation
and related professional tasks. And the community tier deals mainly with
local quality-of-life issues.
While traffic wardens are not
universally popular, they are not perceived by minority groups as reflecting
any coercive or symbolic state functions. Any antagonism towards them
is a consequence of their exercise of their specific duties.
A community police service
committed to problem-solving practices is first of all a transitional
device—a desirable way of developing a working relationship between Catholic
communities and the RUC. An individual from a republican background who
spends a period in a local community police force will develop working
relationships with the larger RUC. One resolution of the RUC's lack of
an adequate supply of nationalist recruits is to allow such individuals
to prove themselves and their relationship with the RUC (and vice versa)
in the half-way house of a community police service.
Mutual trust is developed gradually
and incrementally: despite official statements to the contrary, there
is no short-cut to developing professional police legitimacy. A community
which does not accept the RUC in its totality may do so when it complements
a community service. The assumption that a force obtains consent by conducting
low-level work itself is misconceived: the Royal Canadian Mounted Police
(RCMP) is a typical high-level force, with an undoubted popularity owing
nothing to mundane duties.
Similarly, there is no way
that the RUC can fill the current dangerous policing vacuum in certain
communities, in the short to medium term. In dealing with low-level policing,
a community beat service fills that void.
Community policing by a local
service is also much cheaper: training and equipment requirements are
much lower than for a professional police. In particular, it makes use
of 'common-sense' skills already existing in the community and in Northern
Ireland's many voluntary groups.
Not merely do they not require
the training or technology of professional police; they also need no exceptional
legal powers. Community police possess only the powers of arrest and prosecution
of ordinary citizens. Formal powers of interrogation and detention remain
with the professional police. The style is of the reassuring foot patrol—'sorting
things out', rather than utilising the law as the major resource.
Community police act as a referral
service: problems beyond their immediate remit and skill are conveyed
to an appropriate specialist agency. In the case of serious offences,
this would be to the RUC; inebriated, mentally ill and homeless individuals
would be referred to relevant statutory or voluntary agencies. They are
also unarmed: where coercion is required, the responsibility becomes that
of the higher tier of police.
Community policing is about
mediation, restoration, problem-solving, referral to specialist agencies
and diversion. Beat patrolling is its key practice. Through diversion
and mediation it truncates criminals careers, preventing the youth and
magistrates courts being inundated by suspects whose misdemeanours are
better resolved in the community than dealt with by the full paraphernalia
of the law. It deflects young people from descending the slippery slope
into full-time crime through judicial processing.
RUC officers would benefit
from a different policing agency conducting quality-of-life work. Many
officers joined the service to do what they conceive of as 'real' work—serious
crime—not to sort out the problems of the drunk-and-disorderly and the
misdemeanours of urban street life.
The accountability problem
for a community police service is straightforward. Like the RUC, it would
be bound by the law and police regulations. It would be accountable to
elected community councils—the Northern Ireland equivalent of an English
parish council—but it would enjoy the same autonomy from such elected
bodies as did English constabularies vis-à-vis watch committees
and police authorities before the 1964 Police Act.
The composition of these Community
Policing Councils should depend on an electoral process which allows clear
representation of minority groups. Local accountability would ensure face-to-face
contact between elected representatives and the police on whom they depend,
rather than the latter appearing to be anonymous functionaries recruited
from and resident outside the district and accountable only through a
long chain of command to a distant authority.
Community policing emphasises
consumer choice. In Canada, for example, communities can choose whether
they form their own service to conduct local tasks or hire the RCMP (recognising
the inappropriateness of much RCMP training for these purposes). A tiered
structure does not make the second tier compulsory but gives citizens
options. In Northern Ireland, no community should be required to develop
a community police force: the emphasis is upon citizen/community choice.
Community policing draws on
local skills and knowledge, providing relatively high-status employment
for unemployed people who can display the relevant common-sense skills.
It makes use of the particular skills and attributes of female members
of the community, enabling the recruitment of more women to the police
service as a whole. Research demonstrates that women are particularly
well-equipped to deal with the mediation problems required of street policing.
of a second tier
One orthodox response has been
that the present RUC Reserve constitutes a second tier—why change it?
Or why not appoint special constables, as in Britain? The police reserve
is perceived by many in the minority community, rightly or wrongly, as
an inheritance of the old 'B' constables. Perhaps even more than the full-time
RUC, it is infected by the prevailing security culture and would be extremely
hard to retrain in new community-style policing requirements.
Both special constables and
the RUC Reserve are centrally organised and directed, and trained in generic
police duties—the opposite of what is required of second-tier policing.
They are not selected in terms of their potential as community constables.
Apart from by accident, they have no local roots and, especially, no local
Secondly, despite rhetoric
to the contrary, community policing is certainly not a question of giving
power to the paramilitaries. Appointment to the community policing service
would be subject to the normal criteria of police recruitment. Conviction
for violence offences would preclude membership, with recruitment subject
to combined community and statutory requirements.
Following the successful South
African precedent, former association with a paramilitary organisation
should not however disbar a potential recruit of itself. Many people drawn
into paramilitary structures because of the 'troubles' would otherwise
have led law-abiding lifestyles. But membership of a community police
could not be open to those whose primary allegiances lay elsewhere.
Accusations of potential corruption
against a community police force are also unjustified. Local policing
is no more open to corruption, or 'favours', than is national policing.
Safeguards must be built into the composition of the local policing authority
and the organisation of the community police to prevent control by a sectional
or factional group. Legal bulwarks must prevent the tyranny of a majority
over a local minority.
Policing must remain an autonomous
organisation, subject not to community control but accountability—the
requirement regularly to justify actions taken in the vicinity. Local
policing must be monitored by an ombudsperson with effective independence
from all parties and wide powers of investigation.
Assuming a normal ratio of
one community officer for every 340 members of the population, a complement
of 150 officers serving some 50,000 people (less in a rural area) provides
an optimum size. It is critical, however, that the areas selected are
not heavily dominated by one religious group. Community policing depends
upon a heterogeneous mix of peoples: one police force for Catholics and
one for Protestants would risk reinforcing schismatic tensions.
of the RUC
The second tier would not usurp
the powers of the RUC. Officers of the latter would retain their normal
powers. Problems of overlapping jurisdictions have been encountered in
many other countries; there are tried and tested means of dealing with
them. Some are laid down by statute and regulation, others by local agreement
subject to external monitoring. No police institutions have completely
resolved these problems, but a modus vivendi has usually been established.
In essence, the 'new' RUC would
remain as the primary tier, committed to dealing with more serious crime,
inter-community violations and terrorist offences. It would, however—in
line with other western police agencies—adopt the rubric of 'service'
in its title. A service embodies the reality of modern progressive policing.
The present title is perceived by the minority community as containing
an historical note of fealty. The RUC has undergone several name changes
in the past; retitling it as either the Northern Ireland Police Service
or the Ulster Police Service meets both modern policing and communal requirements.
Many individual officers already accept the inevitability of such a retitling.
Symbols such as the badge and
flag have particular meanings in Northern Ireland. There is no easy way
of dealing with this issue. But it is critical that police stations are
seen as 'politically-free' zones. If, for example, the flying of the Union
flag on a police station is perceived by the minority as a symbol of communal
subjugation, the British practice must be adopted of ensuring no such
emblems are displayed in the normal course of events.
Developing a community-policing
tier inevitably means reducing the RUC in size and changing its composition,
independently of other pressures. Some of this decrease will occur by
natural attrition. Some must be secured by large ex gratia payments
to younger officers from the financial dividend from the 'peace process'—the
South African solution. Some officers will transfer to forces in Britain
where establishments are incomplete.
The major loss will be the
abandonment of the reserve—approximately one-third of the existing RUC
establishment. The bulk of officers will be retained and become more highly
skilled in focusing on the central crime-fighting tasks. Recruitment must
be stopped immediately—there are many precedents for abandoning recruitment
for a fixed period.
Some will be absorbed in 'selling'
police services: the RUC represents a major source of overseas revenue
in terms of its counter-terrorism expertise. Third-world police, especially
in schismatic societies, frequently seek advice from the west. Traditionally,
they have sought training from Metropolitan-type forces, but the para-military
policing skills of the RUC are far more germane to these overseas forces.
For a century, the Irish Constabulary and its successors represented the
major training agency for overseas forces, a role which ceased in the
60s. Many such police services—from South Africa to India—owe their origins
to Irish policing.
The RUC must be given a higher
profile of addressing serious crime, with an increased emphasis on drug-related
offences, sexual abuse and violent crimes, as well as continuing its security
role. There is no reason it should not continue to be armed: the Dutch
police, for example, have hardly alienated the public through the possession
Increasing Catholic representation
may be less of a problem than is perceived. Recruitment to the second
tier will constitute a partial resolution. Recruitment of more Catholics
directly to a reduced RUC is more complicated, especially given the composition
of the higher ranks. There are two devices utilised elsewhere: lateral
entry for individuals with equivalent qualifications in related fields
(who would be limited in terms of their policing role) and 'fast-track'
promotion. Both are problematic and could only be developed on the basis
of research evidence.
But recruitment of members
of the minority community is more important for its symbolic value than
its practical implications. Overseas research shows that at the end of
the day people do not worry unduly about the composition of the police
service as long as it deals with them effectively, fairly and transparently,
in relation to critical quality-of-life issues. However, the overall policing
structure must include a higher proportion of women—not only for
reasons of equity but also because of the evidence that women bring particular
skills to many police tasks.
The Police Authority Northern
Ireland must be reconstituted in several ways. It must be democratic in
composition in order to establish its legitimacy. Despite the recent undermining
of the democratic composition of the police authorities in England and
Wales, PANI offers an exceptional case for greater community accountability
if it is to achieve the necessary legitimacy.
It must also have its own expert
administrative staff who can understand and check the minutiae of police
budgets and practices. An informed police authority is critical to democratic
accountability. Though counter to the current trend in Northern Ireland
(where control of police finances has recently been transferred from PANI
to the RUC), the fact remains that legitimacy depends in part on effective
accounting for police finances. The evidence from other western countries—from
Canada to Norway—is that the new mode of accounting for the police is
to replace political forms of accountability (which have largely failed)
with financial controls.
Principally, the members of
PANI must be tutored to understand that the one-way street of police accountability—explaining
the police to the public—must take two-way traffic: requiring the police
to take account of community requirements, including minority views.
Civilian structures such as
Police Liaison Committees and Lay Visitors can only function properly,
and be accorded communal legitimacy, if they are representative of diverse
communities. Appointments to them should be via the Community Policing
The RUC must lose its formal
prosecuting role. Northern Ireland (together with the republic and New
Zealand) has become anachronistic in lacking an independent prosecuting
body, such as the Crown Prosecution Service in England and Wales. The
Director of Public Prosecutions' office has in practice moved a considerable
direction towards a de facto CPS. But this needs affirming in statute,
especially where matters of 'public interest' are concerned—such as the
controversy over prosecutions in relation to the blocking of highways
during the 1996 Drumcree protest.
Given that a major impetus
towards removing the power of police prosecution in England and Wales
was the 'Guildford four' and 'Birmingham six' cases, it is anomalous that
Northern Ireland has not been directed to develop the same safeguards
against wrongful prosecution. Whatever the criticisms of the CPS in England
and Wales, it has brought that domain—Scotland, through the Procurator
Fiscal, has always possessed such an intermediary office—into line with
the rest of the western world. The development of a CPS (or equivalent)
in Northern Ireland would remove any suspicion of police partisanship
in determining prosecution practices.
Generally, the changes proposed
in the Hayes report on police complaints in Northern Ireland—in particular,
a new complaints ombudsperson—are welcome. But recent changes in Britain
highlight the need also for an independent body of investigators, including
former police officers familiar with the nuances of policing—a practice
becoming the norm elsewhere. Complaints systems work most effectively
when they consist of combined teams of trained civilian investigators
and senior former officers.
The Police and Criminal Evidence
Act (PACE) has gradually been introduced into Northern Ireland. While
there have been several criticisms of such legislation—especially in the
way it substitutes internal accountability (in terms of professionalism)
for external oversight—this is a welcome development. But it must be extended
to cover 'terrorist' or scheduled offences, currently excluded from parts
of the PACE remit. And legal loopholes need closing. For example, the
police practice of preventing oversight of stop-and-search and detention
by using alternative legislation to PACE—such as the Misuse of Drugs Act
or the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which contain no such transparency
safeguards—must be stopped.
A recent unresolved controversy
relates to the priority of functions of the RUC: to defend the state or
to defend the rights of citizens. In law, this is obscure and open to
partisan debate. Legislation is required to clarify that the primary function
is the second: defending the state is a matter for the armed services,
not the RUC. The RUC requires 'normalising' in terms of its legal policing
It is a cliché that you cannot
change policing without changing political structures. Success in the
'peace process' is intertwined with proposed changes in policing. Transforming
policing is part of the larger mosaic—it is neither a prerequisite nor
This paper sets out such a
policing strategy. Many Protestants identify the maintenance of the present
RUC with the security of the state. Many Catholics identify the maintenance
of the present RUC with a threat to their political status. What the two
communities have in common is the need for an effective policing organisation.
For the majority community,
this can be ensured in two ways: first, by maintaining a primary tier
of 'high' policing to deal with major problems of public order and inter-community
offences; and, secondly, by providing a second tier to meet their wish
for a local, visible, beat-patrol service. For the minority community,
the development of two tiers removes any perceived threat of partisanship
within the normality of everyday life and, like the majority community,
they support a local, visible, beat-patrol service. For them the character
and composition of the higher tier may not be perfect. But it is not just
a political compromise: it potentially furnishes a qualitatively enhanced
Some politicians and figures
associated with current policing structures will misrepresent this proposal—indeed
some already have—as giving power to the paramilitaries. It thus bears
repeating that the proposed second-tier force would (a) exclude current
paramilitary members, (b) exclude those with convictions for violent offences,
(c) be recruited by regulated procedures, (d) be organised to represent
diverse communities and (e) be unarmed.
Some senior RUC officers, contending
with an internal audience of juniors who feel their jobs are threatened,
will express more sincere reservations. But the former—especially the
growing number with experience beyond these shores—will also be aware
that the tide is against unitary policing.
Finally, some people will oppose
the proposal reasonably, on the basis of the problems inherent in any
such transitional process. But no resolutions are easy. All change processes
involve difficulties and risk.
Universal principles are one
thing; applying them to the complexities of Northern Ireland is another.
The devil is in the detail. The broad principles of two-tier policing
are easy to establish, but much research and discussion is required on
specific procedures and practices. Especially important is ground-level
There is no easy solution to
the dilemmas of transition in Northern Ireland, to structures more conducive
to the policing of a peaceful society. Minor organisational changes are
unlikely to satisfy any major constituency or to improve the quality of
relevant policework. Experiments such as broadening the recruitment base
have been tried (and failed) many times before.
The two-tier model of policing
which increasingly characterises other police services seems the obvious
way forward. It would resolve the internal problems of providing an economic
and effective police service relevant to the year 2000.
It would also be the most effective
mode of police organisation for Northern Ireland's particular problems.
The people of Northern Ireland desire an effective police service. More
than anything else—rightly or wrongly, in the eyes of police professionals—they
want to see the 'bobby on the beat'.
Two-tier policing is the only
way to achieve that common demand, in an effective, economic, equitable—and
- The author sees little merit
in the Social Democratic and Labour Party proposal for dividing the
Royal Ulster Constabulary into area forces. Such a measure would be
likely to enhance rather than diminish sectarian policing, while duplicating
services and structures and so failing to achieve economies of scale.
- 'Reforming RUC quite "acceptable"',
Belfast Telegraph, January 10th, 1998
- On the requirements for
a community police service in Northern Ireland, see Mike Brogden and
S K Nijhar, Community Policing Overseas, produced in 1995 for
the Research and Statistics Division of the Northern Ireland Office.
- Comparison of police establishments
between different countries is notoriously difficult, given the different
functions the various forces enjoy.
- Precise data about aspects
of the composition of the RUC—for example, length of service of different
members (a crucial factor in terms of reform)—are not readily accessible.
Data on the Protestant/Catholic breakdown are from the chief constable's
report to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, November 12th, 1997;
on gender composition, see the Report on Gender by the NIO Criminal
Justice Statistics Division, November 1997.
- Curiously, given the deep
divisions in Northern Ireland—in part reflecting processes of internal
migration—no official reference is given to the socio-economic background
of recruits, a critical matter for the prospects of community policing.
- In 1996, of the 8,489 full-time
establishment, 11.9 per cent were female, as against 5.3 per cent of
the full-time reserve and 55.6 per cent of the part-timers.
- Graham Ellison, Professionalism
and the RUC, unpublished PhD thesis, University of Ulster, 1997
- See Brogden, Burning
Churches and Victim Surveys: The Myth of Northern Ireland as a Low-Crime
Society, Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Queen's
University, Belfast, 1997.
- But see K McElrath and
K McEvoy (forthcoming), Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice,
Queen's University, Belfast, 1998.
- Robert Reiner ed, Politics
of the Police, Harvester, Hemel Hempstead, 1994
- Four years after the first
democratic election which incorporated major police reforms, South African
policing is back in the melting-pot; at the time of writing, a new white
paper was due shortly from Pretoria.
- Twenty years ago, the author
subtitled his original research on local police accountability 'The
Practice of Deference', with regard to the (in)activities of police
authorities. In Northern Ireland, not much has changed.
- Especially given the imposition
by the outgoing Northern Ireland secretary, Sir Patrick Mayhew, of key
figures on the authority from the previous structure until the year
2,000: the chair and deputy chair, with the continuing influence of
the chief executive, previously a long-standing lay member of the authority
- The Sheehy inquiry (1993)
was the major attempt to bring managerialist imperatives into British
policing. It had a marginal effect, due primarily to resistance from
the lower ranks. In Northern Ireland, its only immediate effect has
been to terminate appointments to the rank of chief superintendent and
to place senior officers on time-limited contracts.
- The RUC has traditionally
also been cushioned from the imperatives of HM Inspectors of Constabulary.
What might be regarded as imperatives by British forces have been construed
as 'advice' from the inspectorate to the RUC. The late development of
the RUC's Community Awareness Training course is one result of its relative
autonomy from the Home Office.
- The Dutch now employ two
types of second-tier officer—the Stadswacht and the Politicsurveillant—one
with formal police powers and one without. Both are primarily committed
to reassuring beat duties.
- In the discourse of the
two-tiered, Koban-based, Japanese police, they would become the equivalent
(in translation) of Mr Walk-About. The traffic-warden metaphor is indicative
only, given that the latter operate in a similar manner to current police
officers in relation to minor traffic offences.
- Clearly, a problem could
arise of duplication of the RUC's expensive administrative structures,
but that should be avoided through detailed advance planning.
- A sense of déjà
vu pervades with reference to the inclusion of former paramilitaries.
A similar attempt to exclude former combatants was raised on the South
African Police Training Committee, in March 1993. Even though this would
have excluded many of those who had suffered under the apartheid laws,
agreement to even their eligibility for the new police service
was only achieved after the threatened resignation of the author and
his Zimbabwean colleague.
- In Northern Ireland, the
maximum local complement would be thirty. Given that the average
size of a typical US police force is in low double figures, the proposal
for such small units is hardly exceptional.
- In a Canadian city like
Toronto, there are some four levels of tiered policing.
- This was one of the first
measures of the new South African government in 1994, as it sought to
change police composition.
- In Canada the 80s were
a period of attempts to develop political accountability; the 90s have
seen a much more successful attempt to establish accountability via