Speech by the Home Secretary on police integrity

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Home Secretary Theresa May speaks about police integrity on 12 February 2013

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about our work to ensure the highest standards of integrity in the police.

We are fortunate, in Britain, to have the finest police officers in the world. They put themselves in harm’s way to protect the public. They are cutting crime even as we reduce police spending. And the vast majority of officers do their work with a strong sense of fairness and duty.

But the good work of those thousands of officers is undermined when a minority behave inappropriately. In the last year, we have seen the Leveson Inquiry, which cleared the police of widespread corruption but called for greater transparency in policing, and the shocking report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel.

We have seen the sacking of PC Simon Harwood and the investigation of several chief officers for misconduct. And yesterday, I told the House about the investigation now led by Chief Constable Mick Creedon into the work of undercover officers from the Metropolitan Police.

Mr Speaker, I want everyone to understand that I do not believe there is endemic corruption in the police, and I know that the vast majority of police officers conduct themselves with the highest standards of integrity.

This was confirmed by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in their report last year. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore the fact that when it does occur, police corruption and misconduct undermines justice, lets down the decent majority of officers, and damages the public’s confidence in the police.

We need the police to become much more transparent in their business. We need clearer rules for how officers should conduct themselves. We need to open up the top ranks so policing is less of a closed shop. We need to make sure officers who do wrong are investigated and punished. And we need to make sure that the organisations we ask to police the police are equipped to do the job.

Now, many of our existing police reforms address these challenges. The new College of Policing will improve the quality of police leadership and drive up standards. Police and crime commissioners are making the police more accountable to their communities. Direct entry into the senior ranks will open up the police to talented outsiders. HMIC is more independent of the police and for the first time it’s led by a non-policing figure.

These reforms will help but we also need to take further, specific measures to root out corruption and misconduct from the police.

First, and in line with the recommendations made by Lord Justice Leveson, national registers of chief officers’ pay and perks packages, gifts and hospitality, outside interests including second jobs, and their contact with the media will be published on-line.

Second, the College will publish a new code of ethics, which will be distributed to officers of all ranks. In addition, the College of Policing will work with chief officers to create a single set of professional standards on which officers will be trained and tested throughout their careers.

Third, to prevent officers who lose their jobs as a result of misconduct being recruited by other forces, we will introduce, for the first time, a national register of officers struck off from the police. The list will be managed and published by the College of Policing.

Fourth, to introduce a sanction for officers who resign or retire to avoid dismissal, hearings will be taken to their conclusion notwithstanding the officer’s departure from the force. And where misconduct is proven, these officers will also be struck off by the College of Policing.

Fifth, the College will establish a stronger and more consistent system of vetting for police officers, which chief constables and police and crime commissioners will have to consider when making decisions about recruitment and promotions. And every candidate for chief officer ranks will need to be successfully vetted before being accepted by the Police National Assessment Centre.

Sixth, Lord Justice Leveson’s report made several recommendations in respect of policing, focused on providing greater transparency and openness and the government accepts what has been recommended and the College of Policing, ACPO and others have agreed to take forward the relevant work which falls to them. I will place details of the government’s response to each of the Leveson report’s recommendations on policing in the libraries of the House.

Finally, Mr Speaker, I want to make sure that the Independent Police Complaints Commission is equipped to do its important work. Over the years, its role has been evolving and the proposals I announce today develop it further. Public concern about the IPCC has been based on its powers and its resources, and I want to address both issues.

Regarding its powers, last year Parliament legislated – with welcome cross-party support – to give the IPCC the ability to investigate historic cases in exceptional circumstances. In the same legislation we gave the IPCC the power to compel police officers and staff to attend interviews as witnesses.

In addition, I have already said that we will legislate as soon as Parliamentary time allows, to give the IPCC the power to investigate private sector companies working for the police, along with other powers the IPCC has asked for to improve its effectiveness and increase public confidence. I am prepared to consider any further legislative changes that the Commission says it needs.

But I believe the main difficulty for the IPCC is its capacity to investigate complaints itself. Last year, the Commission investigated just 130 of the 2,100 serious or sensitive cases that were referred to it independently, whilst supervising or managing another 200. Individual police forces investigated the remainder. But 31 per cent of appeals against forces’ handling of complaints were successful and that is simply not acceptable.

I will therefore transfer to the IPCC responsibility for dealing with all serious and sensitive allegations. I also intend to transfer resources from individual forces’ professional standards departments and other relevant areas to the IPCC to make sure it has the budget and the manpower to do its work.

Mr Speaker, the government’s police reforms are working well. Crime is falling. Corruption and misconduct are thankfully the rare exception and not the norm in our police, but that does not mean we should not act. I believe this is a comprehensive plan to address public concern about the integrity of the police, and I commend this statement to the House.