Brian Sims

Hard-hitting measures needed to eradicate “toxic” police culture

WITHOUT PUBLIC trust and confidence in the police, any attempts to prevent and detect crime will be unlikely to succeed no matter how impressive the strategic thinking behind them. That’s the considered opinion of the Home Affairs Select Committee. In an 82-page report entitled ‘Policing Priorities’, the Parliamentary Committee calls on police forces to implement specific measures to “restore trust” with communities and “transform” workforce culture.

The Home Affairs Select Committee initially launched an inquiry into what policing priorities should look like and how to ensure sufficient resources were allocated to meet future challenges. However, evidence submitted to the Committee made clear that policing’s first priority must be to look inward and ensure it has the right people and right culture in place to deliver effective policing for communities, while also earning the public’s trust.

Policing must do more to address the fact that some people are likely to be attracted to the role precisely because of the power it wields. Frequent and continued cases of serving officers committing serious criminal offences and evidence of toxic workforce cultures has not yet triggered the scale or speed of reform needed, the Committee finds. It highlights that there’s an urgent need for more effective mechanisms to root out and remove individuals who are fundamentally unfit to hold such a position of power.

The detailed report also urges widespread changes in officer recruitment as well as ongoing vetting and disciplinary processes to ensure ‘wrongdoers’ have nowhere to hide. Some barriers to dismissal should be removed, with particular concerns around significant delays (of two or even three years) even when a criminal offence has been committed.

To ensure consistent and high professionalism across the police service, the report calls for policing to consider a ‘fitness to practise’ model that ensures serving officers have the right attributes, skills and values to do the job. Such an approach would aim to instil a culture of learning and development, while also being a less adversarial system than existing misconduct and performance mechanisms.

Progress in recruiting a diverse and open workforce that reflects the communities it seeks to serve remains “inadequate”. The perception of disproportionality in the use of Stop and Search persists and continues to harm community relations. Further research is required to ensure officers have the knowledge to use these measures appropriately, understanding how to weigh up the benefits of its use as a tool to suppress crime with the costs in terms of community confidence.

Critical tool

The Home Affairs Select Committee asserts that greater value should be placed on neighbourhood policing as a critical tool for connecting with local areas. Improvements should also be made to how victims are supported, with specialist Rape and Serious Sexual Offences officers stationed in every force and greater availability of ‘by and for’ services.

The Metropolitan Police Service remains “a particular concern” and must be shown to demonstrate real institutional change. The Government should work with the Mayor of London to ensure that the findings of the Casey Review are implemented in order to deliver meaningful reform.

The Home Affairs Select Committee also calls for a further independent review to be conducted to monitor and measure what progress has been made.

There’s a belief that the Government needs to do more to set the strategic direction of policing in England and Wales to ensure it has the right priorities, skills and resources in place. The “patchwork of different approaches and initiatives” taken by the 43 separate police forces can tend towards fragmented results. Stronger central direction and clearer national standards would ensure the public has greater confidence in the service they can expect.

Immense challenges

Dame Diana Johnson MP, chair of the Home Affairs Committee, noted: “The challenges facing policing today are immense. More and more sophisticated online crime, unrelenting demand to plug gaps in other public services including mental health services and plummeting public confidence are among them.”

Johnson asserted: “There are thousands of committed and conscientious police officers and staff carrying out a vital service intent on keeping the public safe. However, the fact remains that unacceptable numbers of serving officers have no place in a modern police force. This continues to exert a devastating impact on policing outcomes and public confidence.”

What’s more, Johnson observed: “It’s critical that the right framework is in place to support police officers in attaining the highest professional standards, duly recognising the complex challenges they face and respecting the valuable contributions they make to society.”

Current mechanisms for rooting out bad behaviour, unprofessionalism and even serious criminality among serving officers are, according to Johnson, “simply not good enough”. On that note, Johnson explained: “Forces need to face up to the reality of sexism, racism and homophobia in their ranks and take systemic action to stamp it out.”

In conclusion, Johnson said: “Policing in the 21st Century faces many complex and evolving challenges. The Government must ensure that long-term strategic direction, as well as resourcing, is in place to enable police forces right across the country to meet those challenges.”

*Read the Home Affairs Select Committee’s report entitled ‘Policing Priorities’ online

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