Hard-hitting measures to eradicate toxic police culture must come before wider change possible, Home Affairs Committee warns
10 November 2023
- Transformation needed to meet modern policing challenges impossible without comprehensive improvement in internal culture
- Recruitment, vetting and misconduct procedures need to be overhauled to ensure work force fit to serve
- Build public trust through community policing, better victim support and renewed focus on building bridges with marginalised groups
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Without public trust and confidence in the police, attempts to prevent and detect crime will be unlikely to succeed no matter how impressive the strategic thinking behind them, the Home Affairs Committee has found. In a report into policing published today, it calls on police forces to implement specific measures to restore trust with communities and transform workforce culture.
The Home Affairs Select Committee initially launched an inquiry into what policing priorities should look like and how to ensure sufficient resources were allocated to meet future challenges. However, evidence submitted to the Committee made clear that policing’s first priority must be to look inward and ensure it has the right people and right culture in place to deliver effective policing to communities and earn public trust.
Policing must do more to address the fact that some people are likely to be attracted to the role precisely because of the power it wields. Frequent and continued cases of servicing officers committing serious criminal offences and evidence of toxic workforce cultures has not yet triggered the scale or speed of reform needed, the Committee finds. It highlights that there urgent need for more effective mechanisms to root out and remove individuals who are fundamentally unfit to hold such a position of power.
The report urges widespread changes in officer recruitment, on-going vetting and disciplinary processes to ensure wrongdoers have nowhere to hide. Some barriers to dismissal should be removed, with particular concerns around two to three years delays even when a criminal offence has been committed.
To ensure consistent and high professionalism across the police service, the report calls for policing to consider a ‘fitness to practise’ model that ensures serving officers have the right attributes, skills and values to do the job. Such an approach would aim to instil a culture of learning and development while also being a less adversarial system than existing misconduct and performance mechanisms.
Progress in recruiting a diverse and open workforce that reflects the communities it seeks to serve remains inadequate. The perception of disproportionality in the use of stop and search persists and continues to harm community relations. Further research is required to ensure officers have the knowledge to use these measures appropriately, understanding how to weigh up the benefits of its use as a tool to suppress crime with the costs in terms of community confidence.
Greater value should be placed on neighbourhood policing as a critical tool for connecting with local areas. Improvements should also be made to how victims are supported, with specialist Rape and Serious Sexual Offences (RASSO) officers in every force and greater availability of ‘by and for’ services.
The Met Police remains a particular concern and must be shown to demonstrate real institutional change. The Government should work with the Mayor of London to ensure that the findings of the Casey Review are implemented to deliver meaningful reform. The Committee also calls for a further independent review to be conducted to monitor and measure what progress has been made.
The Government also needs to do more to set the strategic direction of policing in England and Wales to ensure it has the priorities, skills and resources. The patchwork of different approaches and initiatives taken by the 43 separate police forces can tend towards fragmented results. Stronger central direction and clearer national standards would ensure the public has greater confidence in the service they can expect.
Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, Dame Diana Johnson MP said:
“The challenges facing policing today are immense. Evermore sophisticated online crime, unrelenting demand to plug gaps in other public services including mental health services , and plummeting public confidence.
There are thousands of committed and conscientious police officers and staff carrying out a vital service intent on keeping the public safe. But the fact remains that unacceptable numbers of them have no place in a modern police force and this continues to have a devastating impact on policing outcomes and public confidence.
It is critical that the right framework is in place that supports police officers to attain the highest professional standards, recognising the complex challenges they face and respecting the valuable contributions they make to society.
Current mechanisms for rooting out bad behaviour, unprofessionalism and even serious criminality among serving officers are simply not good enough. Forces need to face up to the reality of sexism, racism and homophobia in their ranks and take systemic action to stamp it out. The Met have set the right example to forces nationwide, for instance, by banning police officers from paying for sex and so perpetrating commercial sexual exploitation. This policy should be adopted by every force across the country.
Policing in the 21st century faces many complex and evolving challenges. The Government must ensure that long-term strategic direction, as well as resourcing, is in place that will enable police forces across the country to meet that challenge.”
Summary of key conclusions and recommendations:
Guaranteeing a force fit to serve
- Thousands of committed police officers diligently serve their communities around the country, however serious wrongdoing by serving officers and evidence of toxic workplace cultures continues to undermine policing. Efforts to root out and remove those seeking to abuse their position of power must be redoubled, the Committee finds.
- Vetting procedures should be robust and standardised across the country, replacing the existing assortment of approaches taken by different police forces. Vetting should take place on recruitment, transfer to another force, and when officers are suspected of wrong-doing. Any forces that fail to adequately implement such measures should be sanctioned.
- Police forces must improve how they monitor officer and staff behaviour, to improve detection of serious misconduct and criminal behaviour. The Committee supports the recommendation of HM Inspector of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services to make routine use of the Police National Database to uncover wrongdoing. Senior leaders must also ensure an open culture that provides a safe space and supports anyone coming forward to raise concerns.
High workforce standards
- Greater clarity can also be provided on the behaviours expected of police officers, and what behaviours are considered to be misogynistic or predatory. For that reason, the Committee recommend that forces which have not already done so follow the Met’s lead and make it explicit in policy that their police officers are prohibited from paying for sex.
Removing officers unfit to serve
- Current mechanisms for removing officers who are unfit to serve are inadequate. Dismissing officers who fail re-vetting or have been found guilty of a criminal offence should be straightforward and the Committee backs in principle the Government’s commitment to reform in this area – although at the time of drafting it awaited further detail on implementation. For example, the Criminal Justice Bill announced in the King’s Speech this week aims to give chief officers of police forces the right to appeal the result of misconduct boards to the Police Appeals Tribunal. But having heard evidence from a wide range of stakeholders over nine oral evidence sessions, we concluded that giving chief officers more say over dismissals will not on its own deliver a more consistent interpretation of “gross misconduct” or higher quality of investigations into alleged wrongdoing.
- It will also be crucial to monitor the impact of any changes. Disciplinary procedures would also be improved by greater external oversight, including a greater onus on Police and Crime Commissioners to drive systemic change. Embedding specialist external expertise in permanent roles could also help change public perception that the policing is marking its own homework.
- Public confidence that allegations against officers will be taken seriously is eroded by the drawn out disciplinary process. It should not take two to three years to decide whether an officer facing serious allegations should be dismissed. The Home Office should work with the Independent Office for Police Conduct to explore whether misconduct cases could be expedited and run concurrently with criminal investigations.
Building public trust
- Neighbourhood policing can play a pivotal role in improving relations between the police and communities they serve but is too often disrupted by other priorities. Local teams who engage with and develop relationships their communities could play a pivotal role in building public trust. Greater value should be placed on community policing as a specialism. The College of Policing should examine how to improve training in core skills including communication, de-escalation and engagement for all public facing personnel.
Stop and search
- Disproportionality in the use of stop and search continues to damage community relationships and more needs to be done to understand its effectiveness in reducing violent crime. More primary research would help quantify its deterrent value and reasons for disparities in its use. It would also support officers by providing a better evidence base for how and when to deploy stop and search correctly.
Supporting victims and survivors
- Improving the experience of victims and survivors must also be a priority if public trust is to be built. All victims need to feel safe in reporting crime to the police, and more needs to be done to remove potential barriers to coming forward. This is a particular concern for vulnerable groups who may need specialist support or are concerned about potential negative consequences to reporting a crime. There needs to be greater recognition that “by and for” services, designed and led by those that share the same characteristics as those they seek to support, will often be better placed to provide support, particularly if victims are reluctant to engage with police directly. The Government should establish a firewall-type mechanism to prevent data sharing for the purposes of enforcing immigration rules against victims of abuse, to reassure victims that they will not effectively be punished for reporting a crime.
- The police service needs to demonstrate to victims and survivors of violence against women and girls that it is capable of supporting them through a potentially difficult and traumatic process. All forces should have specialist rape and sexual assault officers in place with sufficient resourcing to help all those that need support.
- The Committee is particularly concerned by the lengthy delay in appointing the interim Victims Commissioner and the length of time that victims have gone without an advocate to represent their interests. It is unacceptable that the position of Victims Commissioner remained vacant for a year and has now only been appointed on an interim basis. The Government must ensure that a permanent appointment is made without delay.
Improving the strategic direction
- Government should work with officers, staff and citizens to develop a shared national understanding of the role, mission and basic functions of the police.
- Policing priorities need to continually adapt to changing demand and new forms of crime. The Committee is however unconvinced that the current 43-force model can provide an effective strategic response to evolving demand. There needs to be stronger leadership and direction from the centre to ensure a coordinated national response to crime.
- The Committee calls on the Home Office to do more to provide a strategic centre and ensure adequate resourcing. As a priority the Home Office should review and update where necessary the outdated Police Allocation Formula funding model, so that local leaders have the basic building blocks they need to inform their planning.
What is the role of the police
- Policing has a key role to play in crime prevention but greater clarity is needed about what role that should be and what responsibility should fall on other organisations. The Government should set out its view on this responsibility in its response to the report.
- In recent years the police has become the service of last resort for people in crisis, diverting resources away from delivering it core functions. It is important that the police work effectively with other public services but they cannot be expected to compensate for lack of resources elsewhere- perhaps most acutely in the area of mental health.
- The Right Care Right Person model, piloted in Humberside, saw local partners better coordinate to assess the most appropriate responder to health-related calls, saving that force an estimated 15,000 hours a year. As it is rolled out across the country, the Home Office should carefully assess the impact not just on police workload, but on policing performance overall, and health outcomes for those in need of support. This evaluation should include any impact wellbeing of policing colleagues as well as partners in health and social care. Government must ensure that adequate resources are in place for local services to cope with demand.
A workforce fit for the future
- Police forces still need to do more to reflect the communities they serve. Significant underrepresentation persists for women (35.5% of serving officers) and people from a minority ethnic background (8.3%). The workforce must not only improve on numerical representation, but also show evidence of processes, action and outcomes that are fair and inclusive.
- Police and Crime Commissioners should hold their forces to account for their performance on recruitment and retention. Improvements also need to be made to data collection on staff wellbeing and morale to enable better understanding of workplace culture.
Ensuring the right skills
- The police faces additional challenges in ensuring it has officers and staff with the right skills to deal with new and complex forms of crime, including those that cross force boundaries. It is no longer sufficient that individual forces design their own workforce plans and strategies in isolation. Now that the Uplift programme has achieved its ambition, the Committee calls on the Home Office to set out its long-term strategy for officer numbers and skills, with a particular focus on how it plans to address specialism with staff shortages.
- Policing should be respected as a profession that requires complex skill and knowledge. The Home Office should ensure that is does not send mixed messages - or create more inconsistency in recruitment, competency requirements and training - by retaining a non-degree route into policing. Reviews should be conducted into the impact of decisions about routes into policing on recruitment, retention and the reputation of policing as a profession.
- Inquiry: Policing priorities
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