Police must endure 'cultural change': The International Police Exhibition and Conference was told that the service 'had come close to disaster'

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Indy Politics
THE POLICE service has to endure massive cultural changes to make the Royal Commission on the Criminal Justice System work and regain public confidence, Sir John Woodcock, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary said yesterday.

Sir John said: 'The events of the last few years have not only presented British policing with a challenge so formidable that it has come close to disaster: they have also given the opportunity to the British police to reinvent themselves.'

Speaking to the International Police Exhibition and Conference, at the Barbican in the City of London, Sir John, the principal police adviser to the Home Office, went further than any figure in the service has gone before in acknowledging the depth of the problems facing the police, the limited effect of current changes and the extent of the reforms still required.

Miscarriages occurred because police culture was 'shot through with corner cutting and expediency'. This was not only recent cases: 'The police process hundreds of thousands of cases a year and I believe that a considerable number . . . would, upon the closest possible examination, be found to be affected by some degree of expedient action.'

This happened because 'everyday proximity to the effects of violence . . . and competing moral imperatives' had a corrosive effect on police culture and made officers uninterested in procedural detail.

There were also overwhelming demands and a mistrust of the judicial system, which the police saw as favouring the accused over the victim. Most police malpractice was 'misguided rather than evil', born out good intent and the desire to see criminals convicted; it was the result of the 'collective failure of supervisors'. Once officers had lied in court and got away with it, they felt less compunction the next time.

For many years the judicial system had been 'complicit in police wrongdoing.' The police had been allowed to believe it was part of a game, necessary to shore up the eccentricities of the judicial system. 'Such malpractice could not long exist save in an atmosphere which tolerated it, even, I might say, required it.'

The Royal Commission would fail to guarantee the integrity of the police unless the service itself changed dramatically. But change was only tentative and not matched elsewhere in the system.

'The workplace values of the modern police service have not yet fully cut free of the past and the police service faces a massive task, if it is to hold, as the community now demands, integrity and respect for human rights above all other considerations.'

He added: 'The whole service must understand that its survival in the form we now know depends on serving the community in the way the community wishes.'

Sir John said the future of the service depended on four key changes. The statement of common purpose and values and the new code of ethics had to have the allegience of every officer; police supervision should be improved and the culture of a detective in sole charge of a case must end. The service must also stop being agents of the prosecution and become evidence gatherers.

'The police . . . have assumed it is their job to find evidence to convict. There is a need for bi-partisan investigations, seeking the truth about those matters which indicate innocence as well as guilt.'

But he stressed that the police should resist the total erosion of confession evidence, which in some cases, such as rape, was often the only means of securing a conviction.

(Photograph omitted)

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