Human rights in police training - HRC evaluation

Press release


On 25 March 2004, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) published HRC's new evaluation of the human rights components of probationer constable training within the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

The evaluation sets out clear evidence of a continued and indeed accelerated commitment on the part of the PSNI trainers to incorporate human rights issues into student officer and probationer constable training.

However the information gathered during the compilation of this evaluation report indicates that, although significant progress has been made in enhancing the human rights content of the training, the PSNI is not yet providing enough human rights training. More needs to be done to integrate and enhance the human rights element of the training programmes.

This evaluation is the third in a series of reports which the Commission has published on human rights training within the police and the second into the human rights training of new recruits to the service. The Commission has just commenced an evaluation of the human rights aspects of the third stage of the recruit training programme, the tutor officer stage. It has also recently completed a report on the PSNI’s Course for All, which will be published shortly.

This work on the promotion of human rights awareness within police training is just one aspect of the Commission’s work to promote increased awareness of human rights across Northern Ireland.

The Chief Commissioner of the Commission, Brice Dickson, said that:

“The Commission would like to acknowledge the PSNI’s openness to external scrutiny by independent organisations like ourselves. The Commission welcomes the work PSNI has done to implement some of the recommendations from its previous reports and looks forward to working with it to ensure further work in this area.”

Mark Kelly, independent human rights consultant and the author of the report, stated that:

“The outstanding impediments to mainstreaming human rights which have been identified in this report merit close attention by the PSNI. They have taken some steps already. For example, I note in the report particularly effective use of problem-orientated material during the tactical patrolling and initial firearms courses. However more action on the integration of human rights into the training is required urgently.”

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Notes to Editors:

1. The report is called Human Rights in Police Training, Report Three: Probationer Constables and Student Officers. An Executive Summary is attached here. The full report can be downloaded from the Commission's website,, obtained by email or in hard copy from the Commission’s office.

2. The author of the report, Mark Kelly who is director of an independent organisation called Human Rights Consultants, is available for interview.

3. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has a duty, imposed by section 69(6) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, to “promote understanding and awareness of the importance of human rights in Northern Ireland”.

4. Representatives of the Commission and of the PSNI meet on a quarterly basis to discuss matters of mutual interest. In the past few months there have been two meetings involving the Chief Commissioner and Chief Constable to discuss the Commission’s proposed evaluation of the police’s tutor officer scheme. Agreement has still to be reached on the precise terms of reference of that further evaluation.

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Human Rights in Police Training, Report Three: Probationer Constables and Student Officers – Executive Summary


This report builds upon the 2002 evaluation of the Student Officer Training Programme (SOTP) (Report Two in the series) which was conducted by Human Rights Consultants (HRC) on behalf of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC).

It evaluates the human rights aspects of the “next stage” in the training of new officers in the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), that is, Phase One of the Probationer Constable Training Programme (PTP) (sections II and III), and it reviews the implementation of the recommendations set out in the Commission’s 2002 evaluation of the SOTP (see section IV).

Phase One of the PTP and the SOTP have been evaluated according to the same methodology. Having regard to the key benchmarks identified in relevant national and international standards, the evaluations focus on three main themes:

police training and the rule of law, including an analysis of the extent to which the courses adopt a problem-orientated approach and mainstream human rights issues into the training provided;

openness / transparency, including the issues of co-operation by the PSNI, external input into the courses and the physical environment in which they are delivered;

quality assurance / quality enhancement, including the development of effective procedures to audit the integration of human rights issues into the training which is provided.

Police Training and the Rule of Law

Probationer Constable Training

The courses observed during the 2003 evaluation of Phase One of the PTP were:

search, including sessions on search awareness, area and scene searches, search documentation and person search;

tactical patrolling, including sessions on firm stops, vehicle check points and use of cordons;

initial firearms training, including sessions on judgmental training, police use of force and human rights, police use of firearms and human rights, and firearms simulation training;

conflict resolution skills (CRS) (part 2), including sessions on handcuff refresher training; baton refresher training; use of baton at close quarters; cell insertion/extraction techniques; an introduction to public order policing, and peaceful crowd management.

The PTP is an avowedly practical training programme. In consequence, trainers have ample opportunities to draw upon a range of material which credibly reflects the realities of practical police work in Northern Ireland. Particularly effective use of problem-orientated material was observed during the tactical patrolling and initial firearms courses.

The CRS course included one good problem-based scenario. However, both CRS trainers and probationer constables indicated that, if additional time were to be available, more such material could profitably be included in the course. Subject to this caveat, the evaluation concludes that the PSNI’s problem-orientated approach is being deployed in an effective manner during Phase One of the PTP.

In the period since the PSNI received the 2002 evaluation of student officer training, the written content of the search, tactical patrolling, initial firearms and CRS courses has been revised, as part of the PSNI’s ongoing efforts to mainstream human rights considerations into the training which is being delivered. These innovations are acknowledged and welcomed. However, the 2003 evaluation report stresses that human rights will not be fully mainstreamed into learning events for probationer constables until trainers are placed in a position to deliver the written content of the courses in a fully-effective manner.

This implies, inter alia, that human rights issues must be covered in sufficient detail to equip new police officers to engage with the practical human rights challenges that they may face when carrying out their duties. Moreover, trainers should be placed in a position to respond in an authoritative manner to pertinent questions about human rights issues which are raised by probationer constables.

The evaluation finds that these requirements were being met as regards the search and initial firearms courses. As regards the latter, it was evident that a concerted effort had been made to think through the human rights implications of the practical firearms training, and to effectively mainstream human rights issues into the judgmental training sessions. In consequence, the learning events observed were of a high quality.

Trainers delivering the tactical patrolling course did engage with human rights considerations during practical exercises but, when delivering classroom-based learning events, their coverage of specific human rights issues was not adequate to respond to the legitimate expectations of probationer constables. It is recommended that the trainers concerned receive additional training to support them in the delivery of the classroom-based elements of the tactical patrolling course.

In common with the other three PTP courses observed, the written lesson plans for the CRS course had been revised, and certain of them were found to include explicit reference to the relevance of human rights considerations to the use of force. However, notwithstanding that those lesson plans had been supplied to the consultant in advance, and that the dates of the evaluation had been disclosed to the PSNI, this material was not included in the teaching that was actually delivered during the learning events observed.

The primary focus of part two of the CRS course is on the development of motor skills and, more particularly, the use of handcuffs and batons. The evaluation report acknowledges that this aspect of the training is delivered with great skill, by very knowledgeable trainers.

However, as was the case during part one of the CRS course (delivered during the SOTP), a great deal of emphasis is placed upon teaching techniques to which police officers may be obliged to resort if confronted by an assailant who is completely “out-of-control”.

The evaluation report fully accepts that there can be circumstances in which police officers are perfectly entitled to use every physical means at their disposal in order to prevent severe injury to themselves or others. In particular, if there is an imminent threat to a police officer’s life, that officer is no less entitled than any other citizen to defend him/herself. In consequence, it is entirely legitimate that new police officers should be made aware of the risks that they may run in such situations, and that they should receive training in physical techniques that may be deployed to engage with such assailants in a decisive manner. However, given that encounters with truly “out-of-control” individuals account for such a small fraction of police interventions, it is equally important that CRS training should not unduly emphasise the extent to which probationer constables may be required, in extremis, to meet violence with violence.

Striking the right balance in this area is undoubtedly a difficult task, especially given the very limited time which is made available for CRS training. Having regard to the content of the CRS learning events observed, the evaluation concludes that the necessary balance is not yet being achieved. Lesson plans which provide for the inclusion of human rights considerations are being ignored; judgmental considerations are almost completely absent from the training which is provided; the emphasis of the course is skewed towards equipping new officers to deal with extremely violent incidents; the performance of probationer constables is not formally assessed; and training material can be included in the course without full consideration of its possible medical implications.

The CRS course provides an invaluable opportunity to mainstream human rights considerations into the training on the use of force delivered to new police officers; as matters stand, that opportunity is being missed. The evaluation report recommends that the manner in which CRS training is delivered be reviewed in order to ensure that it fully integrates the human rights principles which ought to underpin all training in this area.

Implementation of Recommendations on Student Officer Training

The 2002 evaluation contained a number of recommendations designed to improve the impact of the problem-orientated approach being employed during the SOTP, and to enhance the mainstreaming of human rights considerations into all areas of the programme.

In general, those recommendations have met with a positive reaction from the PSNI. Measures which the PSNI has committed to take in response to the evaluation include: reviewing training scenarios in order to reflect sectarian realities; regularly updating the core human rights lessons, and re-writing student officer pre-read materials to include reference to human rights issues.

However, the PSNI has been less enthusiastic about certain other proposals, including that the quantity and timing of the core human rights lessons be reviewed, and that a central “library” of trainer-generated teaching material be produced. Those recommendations – and the well-founded reasons for which they were made – are reiterated in this report.

Openness / Transparency

Probationer Constable Training

As was the case during the evaluation of the SOTP, the co-operation received from the PSNI during the PTP evaluation was excellent. The report expresses the hope that the working relationship between the PSNI and the NIHRC which has been established in the context of these evaluations will provide a solid basis for future collaboration in this area.

The fact that the focus of the PTP is on training probationer constables to perform practical policing tasks inevitably renders it more difficult for the PSNI to arrange for external input into this programme. Nevertheless, the report acknowledges and welcomes the fact that some efforts are being made in this respect.

Strictly speaking, the involvement of the PSNI’s Human Rights Legal Adviser in providing advice and assistance to PTP trainers cannot be qualified as external intellectual input (since the Human Rights Legal Adviser is employed directly by the PSNI). However, it is evident that, where she has been involved in the development of course materials, this has had positive effects. Consequently, the evaluation report recommends that efforts be made to enhance the impact of the Human Rights Legal Adviser’s advisory role as regards the delivery of training to new police officers.

The evaluation also takes account of the physical conditions in which PTP training is being delivered, and highlights a number of shortcomings that are having a detrimental impact on the quality of the training environment for probationer constables. In the light of these findings, it is again recommended that the highest possible priority be given to the development of a new, purpose-built police college.

Implementation of Recommendations on Student Officer Training

The PSNI response to the 2002 SOTP evaluation indicates that additional steps are to be taken to ensure that input from external lecturers will be more fully integrated with other elements of the programme. These include providing existing external lecturers with enhanced information about the programme and offering them feedback. These measures are constructive, and likely to be appreciated by external lecturers and student officers.

However, the PSNI appears to be reluctant to commit to increasing the input from external lecturers, and/or to spreading that input across the whole period of the course. In this respect, this report recalls that maximising external input across the whole range of training delivered to new police officers is a key component of the principle of openness and transparency.

Quality Assurance / Quality Enhancement

Probationer Constable Training

The existence of effective mechanisms to monitor the quality of the PTP and, when necessary, to improve its quality is a pre-condition for the long-term success of the programme.

The evaluation report finds that, at present, PTP learning events can be internally reviewed / “audited” purely on the basis of a paper trail, without any observation of the training which is actually being delivered to student officers / probationer constables. None of the learning events / courses that had been “audited” had actually been observed by the audit team. The fact that, during the 2003 evaluation, CRS trainers were found not to be delivering the human rights elements which had been included in their “audited” lesson plans amply demonstrates the significance of this lacuna.

The report recommends that the PSNI conduct a systematic and fully-substantiated audit of all PTP learning events.

Implementation of Recommendations on Student Officer Training

One of the most important issues examined in the 2002 SOTP evaluation was the question of quality assurance / quality enhancement. At the time of that evaluation, there were some promising indications that an internal auditing process devised by the PSNI had the potential to improve the integration of “core themes” (including human rights) into SOTP learning events. However, in the light of the information regarding auditing that was gathered during the evaluation of Phase One of the PTP (see below), it would appear that – if an auditing process has been completed – it may have been an exercise of form, rather than of substance.

The PSNI has been invited to supply further and better particulars about the precise nature and content of the SOTP audit.


Phase One of the PTP and the SOTP should be considered (and have been evaluated) as part of a “training continuum”, which will culminate in new PSNI officers being confirmed in office as Constables.

Mainstreaming human rights into the learning events delivered at all points along that continuum requires that the PSNI adopt a holistic approach to training delivery. Such an approach implies, inter alia, that the content of Phase One (and later phases) of the PTP and the SOTP be smoothly integrated; that best practice by individual trainers be identified, rewarded and made available to other trainers; and that meaningful mechanisms be developed to ensure that learning events reach, and maintain, a high standard.

The information gathered during the compilation of this evaluation report indicates that, although significant progress has been made in enhancing the human rights content of the training, the PSNI has yet to adopt such a holistic approach.

The outstanding impediments to mainstreaming human rights which have been identified in this report merit close attention by the PSNI. In order to facilitate that process, the evaluation report recommends that a sufficiently senior officer within the office of the Director of Training, Education and Development be assigned overarching operational responsibility for the quality of the training which is being delivered to new police officers.

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