Police told to fire racist and abusive officers in misconduct crackdown

Head of College of Policing admits ‘there are some people who remain in policing that shouldn’t’

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Editor
Wednesday 17 August 2022 00:07 BST
Figures show that a third of misconduct hearings result in dismissal
Figures show that a third of misconduct hearings result in dismissal (PA)

Police forces are being told to sack officers guilty of domestic abuse or racism under new plans to clean up forces following a series of high-profile scandals that have damaged public confidence.

New rules have been issued to forces across England and Wales to ensure those “unfit to wear the uniform” do not escape with a warning at disciplinary hearings.

It comes after a report found only a tiny proportion of officers accused of domestic violence are prosecuted or dismissed from their jobs, and ahead of a public inquiry into how Wayne Couzens, a serving officer, was able to abduct, rape and murder Sarah Everard and whether any “red flags” were missed.

The new guidance comes from the College of Policing, which advises forces on decisions about integrity.

Andy Marsh, its chief executive, admitted that “there are some people who remain in policing that shouldn’t be in policing”, even after going through disciplinary proceedings.

“When I was a chief constable, I had to accept officers back into my workforce who I believe should have been sacked, because the decision had been taken out of my hands,” he told a press conference.

“If someone’s behaviour is so bad that it would damage the public’s trust in their police service, they should be sacked. There is no place for them in policing and neither chief constables nor their colleagues want them.”

Just over one-third of misconduct hearings conducted by qualified chairs, and 49 per cent of accelerated hearings chaired by chief constables, result in dismissal.

The new guidance makes the undermining of public confidence a key consideration for those deciding whether they should be sacked or disciplined in another way, such as a written warning or reduction in rank.

A section on violence against women and girls has been added to the document, saying that such cases will always have a “high degree of culpability, with the likely outcome being severe” – whether committed on or off-duty.

In 2020-21, 257 police officers were sacked in England and Wales. The most common reason was dishonesty, in 53 cases, followed by the misuse of powers (43 cases), abuse of position for a sexual purpose (38 cases), sexual offences or misconduct (20 cases) and drugs (19 cases).

Seven dismissals were recorded for domestic abuse and harassment, four for child sex offences, three for indecent images of children and one for domestic assault.

Mr Marsh said: “It seems common sense to me that any officer who abuses a woman should be sacked.

“We do not want any part of the policing system to intentionally or unintentionally permit the types of appalling behaviour raised in recent months to continue.”

He said there needed to be greater consistency between the sanctions handed out for misconduct in different parts of the country, and at different types of hearings.

Priti Patel announces inquiry into Sarah Everard murder

A super-complaint revealed cases including one where an officer was left in his role working with vulnerable victims of domestic abuse, despite being under investigation for a serious domestic assault himself.

In another case, a victim reported that their ex-partner, a police officer in a “sensitive public-facing role”, was harassing them but a probe was closed within days with the officer receiving only “words of advice” from a manager.

Police interviewed as part of the super-complaint process voiced concern that officers in specialist roles, such as armed police, were less likely to be suspended because of staff shortages.

The Centre for Women’s Justice, which brought the super-complaint over police-perpetrated domestic abuse, said its evidence had “revealed systemic failures to address the issue”.

Director Harriet Wistrich told The Independent: “Outcomes in police misconduct hearings and proceedings are only part of the problem.

“Unfortunately, misguided codes of loyalty continue to operate in the police and this can extend not just to the investigation but the manner in which misconduct findings are dealt with.”

The End Violence Against Women Coalition said the current system was “not delivering meaningful accountability for police misconduct”, especially given the number of police officers abusing their powers to pursue relationships with vulnerable women.

Deputy director Deniz Ugur added: “We know Black, minoritised and other marginalised women are disproportionately likely to experience police misconduct.”

Mr Marsh pointed to cases where police forces had launched legal challenges over independent panel decisions not to sack officers who had made racist remarks.

They include a 2020 case brought by the chief constable of West Midlands Police that saw the High Court quash a panel’s “irrational” decision to give a white officer who made racist remarks about Asian colleagues a final written warning.

Craig Guildford, the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s (NPCC) lead for complaints and misconduct, said: “Police chiefs are committed to rooting out those officers who betray our professional standards and the public we serve. Those behind the most serious misconduct offences should receive the most severe response.

“This new guidance gives misconduct panels unequivocal direction that policing wants to see behaviour driven by misogyny, racism or any other form of discrimination treated with the highest gravity.”

Priti Patel, the home secretary, said: “The public must have trust and confidence in the police and expect them to keep our streets safe and carry out their duties to the highest professional standards.

“Police officers who fall seriously short of the standards expected of them must be dealt with fairly and robustly.”

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