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Print Edition> Forum
UPDATED: December 27, 2010 NO. 52 DECEMBER 30, 2010
Is Third-Party Observation of the Police the Right Thing to Do?


This May, the Anlu Public Security Bureau in central China's Hubei Province signed a contract with a private investigation company, hiring the latter's undercover investigators to observe the conduct of local police, for 80,000 yuan ($11,765) a year. Investigators present to the bureau evidence of police staff's misconduct during working time in the form of videos or pictures, which will be used to assess the police's performance. Since this May, 14 police officers have been warned over breaches of duties.

Some people welcome the bureau's decision, arguing not everyone is self-disciplined, and the police are no exception. Hiring undercover investigators to observe police staff shows the bureau's intention of maintaining good discipline and a good image. This can not be denied. At least it is a practical action the bureau is taking to show it is open to third-party observation.

But opponents are worried about the long-term effect of the "hired investigation." For one thing, the expense of hiring private investigators is a huge financial burden on the government; second, how long can the investigation company stay independent and fair? The key is not to hire investigators, but to correct the loopholes in the government's supervision system.

A good trial

Wang Yi (China Youth Daily): In China, in institutions of power such as the public security departments and judiciaries, supervision is usually conducted within the system, which is widely recognized as ineffective supervision. To turn to an independent third party for supervision, however, is breaking the old mode and making supervision tangible and effective.

Although such observation costs 80,000 yuan a year, it will make the bureau's work more effective and the public will also feel more secure if the third-party observation really helps to improve police force discipline and conduct. In this sense, the annual cost of 80,000 yuan is worthwhile.

It is true that third-party observation is unable to solve deep-rooted problems, but at least due to omnipresent supervision, the police force of the city will feel they are being watched and therefore mind their behavior everywhere. This is the major reason that the public security bureau hires private investigators as third-party observers.

Generally speaking, to supervise the police force is all right, either in the form of a third party or individual citizen. In any form, it intends to improve police force discipline and also their service.

Xiao Qing (Changjiang Daily): We have noticed, although the public security bureau hires undercover investigators, it does not depend on the investigation company for everything. The fact is that the bureau combines third-party investigation with public supervision. If the media expose any misconduct of the police, it will respond to the media within a certain period. Every month, the local statistics bureau is invited to survey if the public is satisfied with police operations.

Although the public is still doubtful about the bureau's practice, objectively speaking, there's nothing wrong with the bureau's intention that its staff should be punished for misconduct. At least, hiring an investigation company shows the bureau's desire to tackle the problem of ineffective supervision of its staff and to improve its work.

Huang Xiaohui (People's Daily): The significance of hiring third-party investigators is that it sends a signal to all of society to take part in the supervision of government staff. The bureau's brave attempt should be applauded. It's better to stop doubting the effectiveness of this practice and to improve the mechanism of "buying supervision." For example, it's ridiculous to see the bureau act as both supervisor and also the target of supervision. The supervision mechanism should be standardized, to maintain its fairness and independence. If third-party observation works effectively, taxpayers won't be too critical about it.

Not a business

Li Qiong (Changjiang Daily): People are familiar with third-party supervision. It's great to invite an independent third-party in business, so as to ensure justice and security in trade. But it is a bit strange when police or government staff is put under third-party observation.

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