Police draw up code of ethics

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POLICE recognition of faults and criminal behaviour within the force has inspired a new code of ethics designed to make policing more principled.

Michael Hirst, the Chief Constable of Leicestershire and the man behind the new code, said yesterday that it was being drawn up to prevent fresh miscarriages of justice and to protect officers from increasing pressures to secure convictions.

The new code, which will be the police's first to apply nationally, is being drawn up by an ethics working party of the Association of Chief Police Officers. Members of the working party, which includes representatives from the Police Superintendents' Association, the Home Office and Bramshill police training college, recognised the need to improve the image of the police in the wake of highly publicised miscarriages of justice.

Mr Hirst, chairman of the working party, said: 'I have been saying for more than three years that we are getting it wrong. The gap between the public's expectation of its police force and the services the police delivers has been growing wider.

'We have seen that officers have succumbed to temptation to tamper and withhold evidence or to fabricate it, but no one has asked why they have done it. My own research has shown that there is never any financial gain for the officer, and there is no peer acclaim for what they have done.'

Instead, Mr Hirst said it appeared that in the absence of clear-cut guidance, in the form of a code of ethics, officers had made their own, in some cases losing touch with reality. He believes most acted wrongly in the belief that they were benefiting the victims of crime.

Mr Hirst has worked with the Audit Commission to produce the quality indicators on which police forces will be judged next year. He is concerned that the number of convictions secured will be one such indicator. In that event, he feels officers need protection from the pressures they will be under to secure convictions.

The working party has examined the codes of conduct of other forces, the Council of Europe's Declaration on the Police and the United Nations' code for its law enforcement officers. There are plans to unveil the code in December, although there is disagreement over its format. Some want a simple 10-point code; others want a detailed handbook.