Legal Issues in Policing


Many benefits can result from a greater legal education of police officers. One particular benefit is an appreciation of the significantly increased scrutiny of the police in the last decade by courts of law and other tribunals, and the correspondingly greater need to prevent legal difficulties before they arise.

While police officers in most jurisdictions are required to undergo some form of regular training to maintain proficiency in use of force and in other areas, police services direct relatively little attention to regular and rigorous training in legal developments as they affect the police. When such training does occur, much of it is directed to the criminal law. Assessing the impact or potential impact of legal decisions on the police department’s ability to perform its role is an increasingly valuable ability for police leaders who can use an advanced knowledge of the law to assist in the maintenance of community order.

This course provides a thorough overview of the legal accountability of the police. After a brief examination of police duties and powers, the course material examines the various police legal accountability mechanisms. Several modes of accountability will be examined in detail: governance of chief constables by municipal police boards or Ministers of the Crown; police civil liability; and the internal discipline process. There will also be some discussion of criminal law, trends in police legal accountability and preventive practice.

Key learnings

  • Articulate the various statutory and common law duties of a police officer.
  • Explain the relationship between police duties and powers.
  • Explain the various forms of police accountability.
  • Outline the process of supervision of chief constables by public authorities.
  • Describe the concept of police independence and how it developed.
  • Explain the difference between policy decisions and operational decisions for police organizations.
  • Articulate the difference between criminal law and civil law.
  • Explain the significance of tort law to police accountability.
  • Define criminal and civil liability.
  • Fully discuss trends in police civil liability and provide examples of those trends.
  • Discuss methods of preventive practice.
  • Explain the restrictions on use of force by police officers in Canada.
  • Discuss legal decisions concerning police use of force.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the internal discipline process in police organizations.

Legal Issues in Policing provided relevant and important topics about the duty of care owed to prisoners and the general public. If these topics were covered in depth during training, many of the issues facing police officers could be avoided."

Cst. Adam Palmer, RCMP, Cambridge Bay, NU