Seven Wise Men to Keep Politics out of the Patten Reforms; DEBORAH DUNDAS Examines the Background to the Office of the Oversight Commissioner on Policing

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Byline: DEBORAH DUNDAS

THE Office of the Oversight Commissioner on Policing in Northern Ireland released its second report on Wednesday, putting in place a series of criteria against which it's going to measure the progress of policing reform in Northern Ireland.

The report itself does not directly address what progress, if any, has been made in implementing the 175 recommendations to policing reform made in the Patten Report. It's simply the third in a series of steps making sure the recommendations of the Patten Report are put in place.

The first step was the report itself. Former Governor of Hong Kong Chris Patten laid out 175 recommendations to reform the police force in Northern Ireland.

The second step was the creation of the commission. The fact that the commission exists at all answers some of the 175 recommendations Patten laid out in his Report on Policing: three of them related to the establishment of an independent, international body to oversee policing reform.

Patten wanted that commission to exist so that politics would not get in the way of changes in policing.

Here's how they're going to do that:

Tom Constantine, the Oversight Commissioner, a retired American law enforcement official, will create a snapshot of exactly what the police service looks like. He will go to each of the public bodies (the Government, the police force, the community) with each of the recommendations that affects them and ask them where they stand against the recommendations.

For example, for recommendation 109 - Opportunities in Great Britain Police Forces for Reservists, the responsibility lies with the Northern Ireland Office, the Chief Constable, and the Home Office.

The recommendation says that ''police recruiting agencies in Great Britain should take full account of the policing experience of former RUC reservists in considering application for employment in police services in Great Britain''. The Oversight Commission says that there are eight things that must be done in order to make sure this recommendation happens.

So, they'll send a questionnaire out to the three offices responsible asking where they stand in relation to the eight recommendations.

The next stage will be to measure whether the changes are being implemented. Now that they have the snapshot, they'll be able to see where the gaps are.

Three times a year, a report will be issued on what gaps have been filled. If the gaps haven't been filled, the commission will ask why and each public body will have to answer the question.

If the commission doesn't get an answer, they do not have redress to legislation. What they can do, however, is let people know publicly within their report that they didn't get an answer.

The responsibility then falls back on the people of Northern Ireland and their Government bodies to hold them accountable. The Press, the community, the people, and the Government agencies will know exactly whom to ask and why, and effect changes in legislation if that's what they decide needs to be done. …