#024/2011 Corruption not endemic in the police service – but police need more robust systems

Concerns that inappropriate relationships represented endemic failings in police integrity are not borne out by the evidence available to HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC). However, HMIC’s review published today does not give the Police Service a clean bill of health. More robust systems are needed if the Service is to avoid undermining public trust and, ultimately, police legitimacy.

HMIC’s ‘Without Fear or Favour – A review of police relationships’ looked at the system of controls that seek to prevent and tackle relationships that create a conflict of interest and therefore a risk to police impartiality. In other words, police relationships that lead to the public not being treated fairly by the police. The review included relations with the media, disclosure of information, hospitality, gratuities, procurement, contracts and business interests. HMIC examined the data (where available), systems to proactively seek out wrong doing, the work of governing bodies, corporate governance and oversight, training, intelligence and enforcement.

HMIC found significant inconsistencies in how forces and authorities ‘policed’ their external relationships, and that there is a need for the police to recognise that it is not just about acting fairly, but to be seen to be acting fairly. The lack of controls found in some areas, not always considered by the police as “corruption”, can allow a slippery slope to develop leaving forces and authorities unsighted on and vulnerable to significant risk. Examples include control of corporate credit cards, gifts, hospitality, second jobs and business interests.

The review did not find evidence to support the notion of endemic corruption in police service relationships, with the majority of police officers and staff striving to act with integrity.

HMIC identified that few authority and force leaders have relationship issues on their radar and that they were unaware of the risks this could pose to their organisation’s reputation. Many forces and authorities appeared complacent, with an “it would not happen here” mentality. There is a varied approach across the Service and a lack of clarity about where the boundaries lie, particularly in the areas of:

  • relationships between the police, the media and others
  • acceptable hospitality and gratuities
  • additional employment roles which are and are not compatible for officers and staff.

The review also found that:

  • Known instances of deliberate malpractice in relation to inappropriate relationships appear to be infrequent;
  • There is evidence of enforcement action against individuals at all levels, where sufficient evidence had arisen;
  • Visible consistent leadership is a key contributor to promoting integrity and raising awareness of and focus on these issues;
  • There was clear evidence of major contracts and procurement being professionally and consistently managed. However, the checks and balances were less evident on spends of around £5,000 and under;
  • Support in terms of training and education is inconsistent and fails to identify appropriate values and standards;
  • There are good examples of anonymous reporting systems in place with a positive reactive commitment from Professional Standards Departments (PSD’s);
  • Governance and oversight is generally weak and there are limited proactive checks and balances taking place;
  • To reduce public perceptions of corruption, police will need both to be fair, and be seen to be fair;
  • Police need to be conscious that their reputation in the eyes of the public may be damaged by the perception that there is a conflict of interest, even where this proves not to be the case.

As well as visiting 45 forces, HMIC asked the public about their perceptions of levels of police integrity. The review found that the majority of people questioned do not think corruption is common, and trust the police to tell the truth. However, about a third of those surveyed think there is some problem with corruption.

Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, Mr Roger Baker, said;

“While we found no evidence of endemic corruption in police service relationships, we did find significant variations between forces and authorities in how they defined what is acceptable and what is not. This inconsistency made little sense to us and nor do we believe would it to the general public. There are no geographic variables when it comes to integrity and there should not be local differences in standards.

“The public have told us they associate integrity with being treated fairly. Police forces and authorities must be absolutely transparent in not only being fair but also in being seen to be fair. The Service needs to identify the standards and values expected of its entire workforce and provide clarity for their employees on where the boundaries lie.”

The review makes six recommendations:

  • Forces and authorities should institute robust systems to ensure risks arising from relationships, information disclosure, gratuities, hospitality, contracting and secondary employment are identified, monitored and managed. They should ideally do so on the basis of national standards and expectations.
  • There should be clear boundaries and thresholds in relation to these matters. Such limits should be consistent and Service wide.
  • Training courses should include appropriate input in relation to integrity and anti-corruption. In particular, given the importance of leadership (which runs through this review), the Strategic Command Course (in January 2012) and the High Potential Development Scheme should encompass these issues.
  • Chief officer teams should review their corporate governance and oversight arrangements to ensure that those arrangements are fulfilling their function in helping promote the values of their force in the delivery of the its objectives, and that they are, through their actions and behaviours, promoting the values of the organisation and making sure good corporate governance is seen as a core part of everyday business.
  • HMIC expect the Service to have detailed proposals in the above areas ready for consultation with all relevant parties by April 2012.
  • An assessment relating to these matters should be conducted by October 2012 to inform incoming Police and Crime Commissioners and Police and Crime Panels.

Sir Denis O’Connor, HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary said;

“The British model of policing is grounded in legitimacy. Any real or perceived conflict of interest is problematic for the Police Service as it undermines public trust and erodes police legitimacy. It is therefore fundamentally important that the Service tackles the issues identified by HMI Baker, that it is done swiftly and in a way that is long lasting.”


Notes to editors

  1. A copy of the report ‘Without Fear or Favour – A review of police relationships’ can be found on the HMIC website.
  2. On 20 July 2011 HMIC was formally commissioned by the Home Secretary to consider instances of undue influence, inappropriate contractual arrangements and other abuses of power in police relationships with the media and other parties and to make recommendations about what needs to be done.
  3. In conducting this review HMIC examined all Home Office police forces, police authorities, British Transport Police (BTP) and the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) in line with our terms of reference. The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) also requested to be included in the review. Benchmarking was conducted across public, private and third sector organisations, with regional, national and international practices reviewed to compare and identify opportunities to learn lessons and adopt good practice.
  4. HMIC’s review – carried out at the request of the Home Secretary following the phone hacking revelations in July this year – examined existing systems and processes around relationships in the police service the media and other parties. It focused on the challenges and behaviours involved in all matters of police integrity and looked to clarify the approach in the policing sector to these issues. The review took into account the other investigations, proceedings and reviews that are taking place in relation to the phone hacking affair.
  5. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) is an independent inspectorate, inspecting policing in the public interest, and rigorously examines the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces and authorities to tackle crime and terrorism, improve criminal justice and raise confidence. HMIC inspects and regulates all 43 police forces in England and Wales together with other major policing bodies such as the Serious Organised Crime Agency, the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the British Transport Police and HMRC.
  6. For further information, HMIC’s press office can be contacted during office hours from 8:30am – 5:30pm Monday – Friday on 0203 513 0600.
  7. HMIC’s out of hours press office line for urgent media enquiries is 07836 217 729.