This module is a resource for lecturers  




The fields of political theory, sociology, and criminology have long been interested in questions about how policing emerged: why societies surrendered certain rights and freedoms and granted broad enforcement powers to the police, and the range of expectations this places on police in return. Policing is a fluid concept, and the role, duties and powers of the police have evolved over time and across jurisdictions.

Democratic societies task their police services with maintaining law and order; safeguarding fundamental rights and freedoms; preventing and combating crime; and providing assistance to the public. In carrying out these duties, police officers are granted a wide range of discretionary powers on behalf of the State, which, if exercised unlawfully, may seriously infringe upon fundamental human rights. As enforcers of the law, police officers cannot and should not be above the rule of law. Therefore, any officers who breach the law or disciplinary codes shall be held to account. However, countries around the world continue to encounter police violence, misconduct, corruption and other forms of wrongdoing. Such crimes and violations by the police, especially when committed with impunity, may have disastrous consequences for society; and pose serious challenges to public trust in the police, police-community relations and ultimately police effectiveness. 

To address these challenges, effective police accountability systems need to do more than identify and prosecute those who violate the law; implementing, instead, a comprehensive approach that aims at ensuring accountability before, during and after the act. Such a holistic approach to police accountability cannot be achieved by the police alone. It requires the involvement of a variety of external oversight actors who put in place the necessary laws, policies, and integrity standards; continuously monitor the exercise of police powers, and independently investigate any violations of law. Institutions overseeing the police; such as the executive, judiciary, parliament, ombudsman institutions, civil society and the media, scrutinize policing in different ways within their respective mandates; thereby contributing to police accountability. In addition to binding national and international legal frameworks on law enforcement; integrity standards provide the core ethical values that guide policing; and serve as the normative foundation for a comprehensive accountability and oversight system (for additional reading on integrity and ethics, see also the E4J University Module Series on Integrity and Ethics).

This Module is designed to introduce students to the subjects of police accountability, integrity and oversight by providing an overview of the essential concepts, the role of police in democratic societies, the need for police accountability, integrity and oversight, key mechanisms for effective police oversight as well as cross-cutting and contemporary issues in police accountability, oversight and integrity. While it is meant to provide an outline for a three-hour class, the Module can also be used for shorter or longer sessions with the necessary modifications (see Guidelines to develop a stand-alone course).


Learning outcomes

By the end of the class, students should be able to:

  • Define the core concepts of police accountability, integrity and oversight.
  • Explain how the role of the police has evolved and discuss why there is a need for police accountability, integrity and oversight.
  • Recognize the main international and regional standards on police accountability, integrity and oversight.
  • Identify key police oversight mechanisms and describe roles and responsibilities of different national and international actors in overseeing the police.
  • Critically assess and discuss cross-cutting and contemporary issues in police accountability, oversight and integrity, including gender, police detention, the role of whistle-blowers in police accountability and diversity in policing.
  • Demonstrate through exercises the application of international standards on police accountability, integrity and oversight.
Next: Key issues
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