Convicted police officers still on the force, Met chief reveals

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The Independent Online

Seventy-four police officers still serving with the Metropolitan Police Force have criminal records, it has been revealed.

The disclosure, made under Freedom of Information laws, has prompted civil liberties groups and lawyers to call for a more accountable system for disciplining officers who break the law.

In 12 of the 74 cases, which include offences of drink- driving, criminal damage and assault, officers have kept their jobs despite disciplinary inquiries recommending their dismissal. The decision to release the information to The Independent was made by Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair after a month-long consultation with the Met's senior management board.

It is the first time that the Met has made public the number of serving officers convicted or cautioned for criminal offences. A serving officer who commits a criminal offence or is cautioned for a criminal offence can expect to be expelled from the force.

But the new figures show that many escape the ultimate sanction even after they have been fully investigated by the Met's internal misconduct investigation team. Civil rights leaders and senior lawyers yesterday condemned the police's internal disciplinary system.

Campbell Malone, the chairman of the Criminal Appeal Lawyers' Association, described the figures as "alarming". He said: "It's rare for a successful prosecution to be brought against a police officer, so it is worrying to discover that when officers are convicted they are still working with the police."

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said that police officers should be subject to principles of "proportionate punishment and rehabilitation".

"While they are serving officers very high standards of conduct must apply and I would find it difficult to have confidence in an officer who has committed a serious assault."

Rodney Warren, director of the Criminal Law Solicitors' Association, said that it would be hard to justify police officers keeping their jobs if he or she had been convicted of an offence which involved dishonesty or violent conduct.

The total number of serving officers who have criminal records is expected to be higher than 74 as this figure only relates to officers who broke the law between 2000 and 2005. Under the Met's recruitment policy, anyone convicted of a serious criminal offence will almost certainly be refused admission to the ranks of the 30,000 police officers in London.

But Scotland Yard has made it clear that each application is to be considered on its merits so that a criminal record will not be an automatic bar. The Met's own code of conduct states that any officer's conduct that brings or is likely to bring discredit to the service may be subject to a sanction.

The vast majority of the criminal convictions recorded (61) were instances of drink-driving, the remaining convictions/cautions included minor assault and criminal damage. One officer convicted of a criminal offence is still facing disciplinary action.

Further figures show that 33 civilian staff still working for the Met received a criminal conviction between 2000 and 2005.

Mr Warren, who has represented police officers facing criminal prosecution, said he knew the authorities were under a duty to act when presented with evidence of any wrongdoing by a policeman.

But he added: "It's difficult to see how the police service can be properly served if the officer's character is in doubt. If an offence demonstrates a propensity towards violence then we should be very concerned because officers have to be the very model of restraint when dealing with offenders who themselves can be violent and provoking in the extreme.

"The police have a very difficult job. If individuals have been found wanting in either capacity then it would be a matter of greater concern if they were still involved with roles with direct contact with the public."

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said: "The MPS expects its staff to behave professionally, ethically and with the utmost of integrity at all times. Any instance where the conduct of our staff brings the MPS into disrepute is taken extremely seriously."

Force's regulations

* Character: Police officer's position... given only to law-abiding people with proven character and integrity ... any previous criminal convictions could cast doubt on your suitability for the role.

* Criminal record: Conviction or caution does not necessarily bar entrance to the force... age... the number of years elapsed, nature of the offence are all taken into account.

* Serious assault: Convictions for assault will lead to rejection... without very compelling circumstances.

* Less serious assault: No more than one offence as juvenile or young adult after two years have passed.

* Drugs: We will not employ anyone demonstrated to be misusing such substances.

* Tattoos and body piercings: Some[of these] might be unacceptable. Each case would be judged on its merits.