`Culture of cheating rife in the police'

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A SCATHING report on standards of integrity in the police has uncovered widespread examples of "poor, rude and discriminatory behaviour" by officers and a culture of accepting perks and gratuities that is out of control.

One chief constable told the Inspectorate of Constabulary, which compiled the report, that the use of warrant cards to gain free admission to nightclubs and sporting events was so common that the issue was not "worthy of discussion". The inspectors found that officers thought it was acceptable to receive gratuities, which included a brace of pheasant, a sack of potatoes, a bottle of whisky and a pounds 100 watch.

Other officers readily accepted informal discounts in holiday camps, cinemas and clubs and free meals from restaurants and fast food outlets. Publishing the Police Integrity report yesterday, the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, said it made "uncomfortable reading and rightly so".

He said: "Low standards of integrity are not acceptable in a society where we rely on the public's goodwill to help the police fight crime and disorder. Where evidence points to lapses of integrity in the police service, there is a clear link with a loss of public confidence."

The author of the report, Inspector Colin Smith, called on chief constables to introduce a clear set of rules on what was acceptable in terms of gratuities. He wrote: "If such behaviour is allowed to continue, the effect on public confidence is not difficult to imagine. If, for example, a queue of young people waiting to pay pounds 5 to get into a nightclub see police officers show their warrant cards to get in free and then witness them drinking and dancing inside, or not paying for their food at a take-away, it is inevitable that the service's reputation for honesty will be tarnished."

Mr Smith raised questions over the appropriateness of "999" or "Emergency Services" nights at nightclubs, where police were allowed in free and given discounted drinks. His report was also highly critical of the bad behaviour of a minority of officers, which he said was undermining public confidence in the police in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The report noted that in 1997 there were more than 6,000 public complaints of alleged rudeness and incivility by officers. It highlighted a series of shocking examples including one in which two officers alleged they had been forced to use their batons to restrain a youth who was "drunk, abusive and threatening". But footage from a nearby video camera showed that the officers had summoned the youth from the window of their patrol car as he was innocently walking home.

The report said: "When he bent down to speak, one of the officers squirted him in the face with a toy water pistol. The youth, not surprisingly, complained and the constables assaulted him with their batons." It added: "Whether this started as a childish prank or something more sinister, it shows complete arrogance and a lack of professionalism. Such behaviour is totally out of place in a civilised society, let alone a Police Service."

The research revealed that people living in socially deprived areas believed they received a worse service than "more respectable areas". One group of elderly people who had called the police in fear when a gang of youths attacked their inner-city block of flats were told "it was only criminal damage and the police had more important things to attend to".

The report questioned police methods for handling informants, pointing out that some detectives were expected to control 100 or more. He also found some officers were guilty of "trawling the margins" to improve detection rates.

Police wrongdoers were often protected by "misguided" loyalty. Two CID officers suspended for taking bribes were given the proceeds of weekly collections by colleagues.