The Police Service of Northern Ireland: An inspection of police effectiveness, efficiency, vetting and standards

Published on: 10 October 2023

Overall summary

Our judgments

Our inspection assessed how good the Police Service of Northern Ireland is in five areas of policing. We make graded judgments in all five areas as follows:

Area Grade
Investigating crime Good
Protecting vulnerable people Adequate
Strategic planning, organisational management and value for money Adequate
Vetting arrangements Adequate
Detecting and dealing with misogynistic and predatory behaviour Good

We set out our detailed findings about things the service is doing well and where it should improve in the rest of this report.



His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) independently assesses the effectiveness and efficiency of police forces and fire and rescue services in the public interest. In preparing our reports, we ask the questions that the public would ask, and publish the answers in accessible form. We use our expertise to interpret the evidence and make recommendations for improvement.

Our commission

Section 41(2) of The Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 (“the Act”) requires us to inspect and report to the Department of Justice (Northern Ireland) on the efficiency and effectiveness of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (“the PSNI” or “the service”) each year.

In accordance with the Act, in 2022 we were commissioned to inspect the service. We were asked specifically to examine efficiency, effectiveness, vetting and standards in the service.


For most aspects of this inspection, we adopted a similar methodology to our inspections of police forces in England and Wales. However, the police service in Northern Ireland differs from English and Welsh forces due to the political and social context in which it operates.

There is still a significant divide between communities in Northern Ireland, most often based on political opinion and religious belief. PSNI personnel continue to be under threat from terrorist groups. In some communities in Northern Ireland the PSNI isn’t welcome, and many people are unwilling to engage with the service for fear of reprisals.

In March 2023, the terrorism threat level in Northern Ireland was raised from substantial to severe. This means an attack is highly likely. The decision follows a rise in dissident republican activity, including a recent attack on a PSNI police officer. It reverses the downgrade in Northern Ireland’s threat level in March 2022 – its first change for 12 years.

Terms of reference

Our terms of reference were to inspect and report on:

  1. How well does the PSNI investigate crime?
  2. How well does the PSNI identify and protect vulnerable people?
  3. How effective are the PSNI’s arrangements for strategic planning and organisational management?
  4. How well does the PSNI prevent those unsuitable to serve the public from joining and remaining in the service?
  5. How well equipped is the PSNI to detect and deal with misogynistic, prejudicial and improper behaviour, and predatory behaviour?

For questions one to three, we adopted a similar methodology to our PEEL assessments of police forces in England and Wales.

For questions four and five, we adapted the methodology from our thematic inspection of vetting, misconduct and misogyny in the police service report that was published in November 2022.


Our inspection took place between January and February 2023. We did:

  • a document review, in which we examined 102 documents, which included policies, procedures and other material;
  • an investigation file review, in which we examined 80 crime investigations and 19 misconduct investigations;
  • a vetting file review, in which we examined 40 vetting files, using a subject-matter expert;
  • an intelligence file review, in which we examined 15 items of intelligence related to sexual misconduct;
  • interviews and focus groups with police personnel; and
  • reality testing by speaking with individual police personnel.


In January 2022, as part of our vetting, misconduct and misogyny inspection, we carried out an online survey of police personnel and volunteers across forces in England and Wales, and Northern Ireland. The survey was voluntary and anonymous, and covered a range of areas relating to misogyny and sexual misconduct in the workplace, including:

  • access to training and guidance;
  • reporting of wrongdoing by colleagues;
  • knowledge of vetting;
  • views on the culture in police forces;
  • use of social media; and
  • experience of misogyny, sexual misconduct, improper behaviours and attitudes in the workplace.

The survey allowed respondents to miss out questions if they wished. We received 11,277 responses to the survey, with 7,523 respondents completing it in full. We also asked respondents if they would be willing to be interviewed to discuss their experiences in more detail. A total of 668 respondents volunteered to be interviewed by us. We interviewed 42 of them.

We received 496 responses from people who indicated they worked for the PSNI.

HM Inspector’s observations

I am pleased with the performance of the PSNI in keeping people safe and reducing crime, although it needs to improve in some areas to provide a consistently good service. I recognise that, unless its short-term funding challenges are resolved, it will be difficult for the service to make the improvements we have identified as necessary.

These are the findings I consider most important from our inspection of the service.

The service effectively investigates crime

The PSNI’s crime outcome rates for victims compare favourably with those in England and Wales. Northern Ireland is also statistically one of the safest places to live in the UK. One reason for this is the high standard of investigations, particularly for the most serious crimes.

We reviewed 80 crime file reports and found that:

  • most were effectively investigated by appropriately skilled investigators;
  • reasonable opportunities to gather evidence were taken in nearly every case;
  • few investigations were delayed; and
  • in every case, arrests were made at the earliest opportunity.

However, there are areas that we inspected, such as protecting vulnerable people, and strategic planning, organisational management and value for money, where improvements can be made. I will come to the reasons for this shortly.

The service should improve its understanding of and response to child criminal exploitation

The PSNI works well with other agencies to protect victims of child sexual exploitation (CSE). But the service should improve its understanding of child criminal exploitation (CCE). There remains a perception within the service that the exploitation of children for a criminal purpose isn’t a significant issue in Northern Ireland. This simply isn’t the case and, while there may be nuances to the criminal structures in Northern Ireland, more should be done to protect victims of CCE.

A service management statement will help the service to understand demand

The service has made some progress in understanding current and future demand. But more could be done. In England and Wales, forces are required to submit a force management statement to us. This document helps forces operate more efficiently and effectively. The PSNI isn’t required to complete such a document.

A service management statement would be an effective way of making sure the service fully understands its demand and would allow the service to demonstrate how it provides value for money. We urge the PSNI to adopt the best practice used by forces in England and Wales, and continue its plans to develop a service management statement.

The service is determined to stamp out misogynistic and predatory behaviour

The PSNI is good at detecting and dealing with misogynistic, prejudicial and improper behaviour, and predatory behaviour. We haven’t previously graded this area. My judgment is based on two criteria. Firstly, how well the PSNI compared to the findings in our thematic inspection of vetting, misconduct and misogyny in the police service in England and Wales. And secondly, on the processes and the service’s determination to stamp out this type of behaviour.

The Northern Ireland context presents a unique and difficult operating environment

We recognise that the PSNI operates in a context that is unique within the UK. The service polices in the shadow of a “severe” terrorist threat, alongside the presence of criminality and community control from armed paramilitary crime gangs. And it has limited routine access to mutual aid support from elsewhere in the UK.

Unlike its counterparts in England and Wales, the PSNI has, in recent years, received annual funding settlements, and it has no ability to hold reserves. This makes longer-term strategic planning difficult. And the predicted budget provision is expected to get worse.

In the year ending 31 March 2023, the police budget shortfall was £80m. In order to meet its budget, the service removed £40m from non-pay costs, received additional funding late in the year of £30m and made £10m savings from headcount by cutting 424 posts (police personnel) – a reduction of nearly 6 percent. Police officer numbers have fallen to 6,699, the lowest since the service was formed.

The budget settlement for this financial year creates a gap in the region of £120m from the resource requirement. Planning assumptions see officer numbers falling to around 6,000 by March 2025. This reduction is in sharp contrast to the growth of police numbers in England and Wales by 20,000 officers under the Police Uplift Programme.

Although we make some critical comments about the service’s workforce planning, we acknowledge that this decrease in officer numbers is likely to have consequences, including:

  • a significant reduction in neighbourhood policing patrol hours, meaning less visibility, problem-solving activity, engagement and reassurance for communities;
  • a reduced number of detectives and less experienced detectives. This will limit capacity for the development of intelligence and proactive investigation of terrorism, organised crime and high-harm offences such as rape, sexual assault and domestic abuse; and
  • fewer specialist uniformed support officers will mean reduced capacity for proactive search operations, specialist resource deployment and less resilience to deal with significant public disorder.

Lee Freeman KPM 

His Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary

Investigating crime

The PSNI is good at investigating crime.

Main findings

In this section we set out our main findings that relate to how well the force investigates crime.

We also provide an assessment of the service the PSNI provides to victims. As part of this assessment, we reviewed 80 case files.

The 80 case files were made up of 10 recorded crime files, for each of the following offences:

Proportion of victim-based crime recorded in the year ending 31 March 2022 with a charge/summons outcome

When the police close a case of a reported crime, they assign it an outcome type. This describes the reason for closing it and provides transparency on how the police deal with crimes reported to them. If a crime is assigned outcome one, it means a person has been charged or summonsed for the crime.

Of the total number of crimes recorded by the PSNI in the year ending 31 March 2022, 19.8 percent were assigned outcome one. This is very impressive when compared to the rate of 6.4 percent in England and Wales.

In the same period, 9.0 percent of all sexual offences and 3.5 percent of rape offences were assigned outcome one. Again, this compares with outcome one rates in England and Wales of 4.3 percent and 2.1 percent, respectively. Although the comparison appears favourable, charging conditions in Northern Ireland are different to those in England and Wales. In Northern Ireland, police can charge a suspect at a much earlier stage without the approval of a prosecutor.

Figure 1: Proportion of charge/summons outcomes assigned to offences recorded in the year, for forces in England and Wales, and the Police Service of Northern Ireland in the year ending 31 March 2022

The figure shows that across the offence groups, the Police Service of Northern Ireland assigned a considerably higher proportion of charge/summons outcomes compared to forces in England and Wales. The proportions are: Total recorded crime: 19.8% in PSNI; 6.4% in England and Wales. Rape: 3.5% in PSNI; 2.1% in England and Wales. Sexual offences (including rape): 9.0% in PSNI; 4.3% in England and Wales. Criminal damage and arson: 12.1% in PSNI; 4.7% in England and Wales. Theft offences: 13.9% in PSNI; 4.6% in England and Wales. Violence against the person: 20.2% in PSNI; 6.0% in England and Wales. Robbery: 24.6% in PSNI; 7.7% in England and Wales. Miscellaneous crimes against society: 36.5% in PSNI; 11.4% in England and Wales. Drug offences: 40.0% in PSNI; 22.7% in England and Wales. Possession of weapons offences: 42.8% in PSNI; 30.5% in England and Wales. Public order offences: 51.3% in PSNI; 6.6% in England and Wales.

Notes: England and Wales data includes all 43 forces and excludes British Transport Police.

Source: Police Service of Northern Ireland recorded crime statistics; Home Office police recorded crime statistics.

The service carries out effective investigations and demonstrates its commitment to victims

As part of our victim service assessment, we reviewed 80 crime reports. In 74 of these, we found an effective investigation had been completed. In 78 cases, investigations were allocated to appropriately skilled officers. In 71 of 77 relevant cases, all appropriate investigative opportunities to gather evidence were taken. Two investigations were delayed. In all 42 relevant cases reviewed, arrests were made at the earliest opportunity.

In 74 out of 80 cases, we found the victim received a reasonable level of service. In 76 of 78 relevant cases reviewed, investigators contacted victims, as they had promised to, and made a record of the contact. In all 46 relevant cases, referrals were made to relevant partner organisations.

The service should make sure it consistently records whether it has considered evidence-led prosecutions

When a suspect was identified but there were evidential difficulties and the victim didn’t support, or withdrew their support for, police action (outcome 16), a record should be made of the victim’s decision. In seven of nine relevant cases reviewed, we saw a record of the victim’s wishes. This means in these cases the victim’s wishes were fully represented and could be considered before the investigation was closed.

When a victim doesn’t support, or withdraws their support for, police action, the service should consider progressing the case without their support. Generally, this is referred to as an evidence-led prosecution. This can provide a way to safeguard the victim and prevent further crimes from being committed, particularly in domestic abuse cases. Of the nine cases we reviewed, only one had a record showing that officers had considered progressing the case without the victim’s support. In the remaining eight cases, it wasn’t clear whether this had happened.

The service should make sure it consistently records whether evidence-led prosecutions have been considered in all cases where the victim has withdrawn support. This will help it fully understand whether opportunities to protect a victim from future harm or bring offenders to justice have been missed.

The service should make sure all crimes have investigation plans with supervisory oversight

We found that investigations were reviewed and updated consistently and comprehensively. This was particularly evident in cases of rape and serious sexual offences. But in 11 of the 66 relevant cases we reviewed, investigation plans weren’t completed. In these cases, we didn’t find the lack of an investigation plan had adversely affected the investigations. But the absence of an investigation plan can lead to investigative opportunities being missed. In the 55 cases we reviewed when investigation plans were used, they were followed on every occasion. And in many cases, they were of a very high standard.

We found that standards of investigation were improved by supervisory oversight and investigators effectively managed cases.

The service makes sure serious crime is investigated by suitably trained personnel

In the PSNI, suitably trained personnel investigate serious crime. And posts in the public protection branch (PPB) have been protected from budget cuts. This means the branch has maintained enough officers to manage its demand. But it isn’t clear whether this approach will continue in the next financial year. Some PPB officers reported increasing workloads and expressed concerns that this could lead to delays for victims.

The service needs to make sure it fulfils its plans to train, develop and retain officers who investigate crime

The service has plans to train, develop and retain officers who investigate crime. Officers in the PPB are trained to PIP 2 investigator standard. They also receive training in their individual specialism such as child abuse investigation, rape and offender management. This means officers working in specialist teams are equipped with the training and development they need to carry out their roles effectively.

Protecting vulnerable people

The PSNI is adequate at protecting vulnerable people.

Area for improvement

The service should improve its understanding of and response to child criminal exploitation (CCE). Dedicated teams investigate child sexual exploitation. And the service works well with other agencies to protect victims of child sexual exploitation and prevent those children most at risk from becoming victims. There is no similar process for CCE.

There is a perception in the service that CCE isn’t a significant issue. And there is a misconception that it only relates to county lines-type exploitation that happens in England and Wales. Due to paramilitary involvement in organised crime, there are nuances to the criminal structures in Northern Ireland. But the view that this doesn’t involve the exploitation of children is wrong. We found examples of children being exploited by criminal gangs, many of which have been reported in the press.

The true picture of CCE isn’t known. The Department of Justice is working with partners to improve its understanding and determine the approach in Northern Ireland to identify children at risk of CCE. This is an area for improvement.

Main findings

In this section we set out our main findings that relate to how well the service protects vulnerable people.

The service has a good understanding of the nature and scale of vulnerability

The service prioritises the protection of vulnerable people. It features in the strategic threat assessment and the policing plan. We found the service had a good understanding of the threat posed by domestic abuse and child abuse. But it understands threats relating to vulnerable adults less well. This is in line with our inspection findings in England and Wales.

District policing teams have a good knowledge of the vulnerable people in their areas. The daily management meeting reviews current investigations involving vulnerable people and makes sure that the district teams are updated with relevant information. Safeguarding support hubs are part of each district policing team. Officers and staff in the support hubs review incidents and referrals to identify potential vulnerability factors and any further action needed to safeguard the person. They then work with safeguarding partners, such as housing and health and social care, on interventions to prevent vulnerable people becoming victims or perpetrators of crime.

We were given an example of how the support hub monitored frequently missing people. The team works with individuals to understand the reasons they go missing. Then, with other safeguarding partners, the team creates a plan to address the reasons and reduce the number of times a person is reported as missing. This problem-solving approach aims to prevent further incidents rather than just dealing with isolated cases.

Effective governance arrangements make sure there is enough capacity and capability to protect vulnerable people

The PPB has a strong governance structure. And senior leaders in the PPB have good knowledge of safeguarding.

There is an effective daily meeting structure to discuss current demand and a quarterly meeting that considers future demand. A senior lead is responsible for vulnerability, including domestic abuse, child abuse, sexual offences and violence against women and girls.

Currently, there is no overarching vulnerability strategy. But the service is considering producing one. This will help all parts of the service understand their role in protecting vulnerable people.

The PPB has five area-based teams, which are aligned with the five health and social care trusts. The teams are made up of child abuse investigators, domestic violence and adult safeguarding investigators, and offender management teams.

PPB teams investigate incidents related to domestic abuse graded as high risk. Most incidents involving children are investigated by PPB officers. Although local policing teams can investigate lower-risk incidents involving children, they are supported by the PPB if safeguarding issues are identified. We were told there were sometimes disagreements between PPB and local policing teams about what is high risk. This means that some cases may not be investigated by the right team at the earliest opportunity.

Rape, serious sexual offences and CSE are investigated by a central team of specialist investigators.

We found the staffing levels in PPB roles were generally good. The service is currently reviewing staffing levels, but PPB personnel have been protected.

Our inspections in England and Wales found that often force control rooms had to make difficult decisions to prioritise the deployment of a limited number of officers to incidents of vulnerability. This is a less significant issue for the PSNI. All incidents involving potential vulnerability are attended by officers, thereby mitigating the risk to victims.

The service uses THRIVE to safeguard and support vulnerable people

The police personnel we spoke to had a good knowledge of vulnerability. They are aware of their responsibilities to identify it and the processes for reporting it.

We visited the service control room and found that call handlers identified vulnerability at the first point of contact. They effectively use and record THRIVE risk assessments for every call. The THRIVE assessment is repeated when an officer is sent to an incident. The command and control system doesn’t have a process to identify age‑related vulnerability. Instead, call handlers work on the basis that anyone under 18 years of age or over 60 years of age is vulnerable, until there is information to the contrary. This positively supports a culture of identifying vulnerability.

The way the service shares information with partner organisations, such as the health and social care trusts, helps to safeguard and support vulnerable people. The central referral unit effectively shares information with the five trusts. We found the processes and relationships between the service and the trusts were good.

The use of THRIVE needs to be extended beyond the initial assessment

Call handlers complete the THRIVE risk assessment thoroughly. But we didn’t see evidence of THRIVE being used outside the service control room. The risk assessment should be used throughout an incident or investigation, and should be repeated whenever new information is received. There should be milestones at key points in the case. And the assessment should be updated with any changes. Supervisors should use THRIVE to assess the case at certain points in the investigation and before closing it.

Although potential threats and risks to victims may have been considered during the incident or investigation, if there is no record of THRIVE, or another structured assessment, the service can’t be sure that it has been done.

In its 2020 report Victims and witnesses: The care and treatment of victims and witnesses by the Criminal Justice System in Northern Ireland, Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland noted a number of areas in which the service provided to victims and witnesses could be improved – for example, by standardising the approach to victim needs assessments. The report made several recommendations, including:

“The Police Service of Northern Ireland should review use of current risk and needs assessment tools that have evolved in response to vulnerability. The review should explore operationally effective technical solutions based on the concept of single data input within six months of the publication of this report.”

Making sure THRIVE assessments are used throughout investigations would help meet this recommendation.

The service has improved how it deals with age-related vulnerability

Specialist adult safeguarding officers investigate crimes against vulnerable adults including assault, neglect and financial abuse. Previously, this work was carried out by officers in a combined role of domestic abuse and adult safeguarding. But the service has recognised that investigating these crimes requires different specialist skills.

There are good relationships between the service control room, PPB and local policing teams to provide ongoing safeguarding to vulnerable victims. Crime prevention officers support older victims of all crime types. And every burglary where the victim is over 60 years old is attended by an officer. The crime is also allocated to the crime investigation department for further investigation.

The safeguarding support hubs identify repeat victims of crime and create individual contact plans. For example, if a person over 60 years old has been a victim of crime 6 times in the previous year, local policing teams create, and are responsible for, a problem-solving plan to reduce repeat victimisation. Officers we spoke to felt intervention would be beneficial at an earlier point. We agree.

The service works effectively with partner organisations to reduce vulnerability and repeat victimisation

We found that PPB specialist investigators had good relationships with specialist services in the five health and social care trusts. We were told that, in response to an incident or allegation, the teams worked well together to protect the child or adult victim from further harm.

We also found that the PSNI worked well with Assist Northern Ireland, a domestic abuse advocacy service. Officers spoke positively about the support they received from Assist Northern Ireland. The referral process between the two services has also now been automated to make referrals more efficient. If a victim withdraws their support for an investigation, it is reassuring they can access support through Assist Northern Ireland.

As part of the Complex Lives project in Belfast, the PSNI works with other partner organisations, including housing, probation and charities, to help vulnerable people with complex needs. The project helps a wide range of people at risk of victimisation including the homeless, ex-prisoners and people struggling with addiction or mental health issues. It has been running for over a year and is providing support to 115 people.

Specialist CSE teams within PPB identify both children at risk of being victims of CSE and potential perpetrators. The teams investigate cases of CSE and also work with health and social care to prevent victimisation. PPB and social care staff jointly decide whether someone is a potential perpetrator. Details of potential perpetrators, and any further information needed, are sent to local officers for their awareness. The CSE team works closely with all departments across the service to provide support and guidance on individual cases. It also provides training and awareness for police personnel.

The safeguarding support hubs are a good example of local partnerships preventing victimisation. They are a relatively new concept and are evolving under the management of a steering group. This is chaired by an assistant chief constable and aims to share good practice across all hubs to provide a consistent approach and service.

Strategic planning, organisational management and value for money

The PSNI is adequate at operating efficiently.

Area for improvement

The service could improve its efficiency by:

  • finalising its workforce plan; and
  • improving the existing performance framework to make it more effective.

All police forces in England and Wales are required to submit a force management statement to us. This document helps forces operate more efficiently and effectively. The Police Service of Northern Ireland isn’t required to complete this. But it has produced a series of documents to help understand demand and make the service more efficient and effective. We encourage the Police Service of Northern Ireland to further develop and embed a service management statement to improve how it assesses current and future demand.

Main findings

In this section we set out our main findings that relate to how well the service operates efficiently and effectively.

Funding arrangements in Northern Ireland make it difficult for the service to make longer-term plans

As we reported in our 2018 inspection, due to the short-term nature of its funding, it is difficult for the PSNI to make longer-term strategic plans. In England and Wales, police forces receive a three-year funding settlement, allowing them to develop longer‑term policing plans. The PSNI receives its funding annually and mostly from the Department of Justice, through the Northern Ireland Executive. Unlike forces in England and Wales, it doesn’t receive funds through local council tax precept, nor can it accrue financial reserves. Given the way in which the PSNI is classified and funded, the chief constable must have appropriate cover for any expenditure: they must adhere to the requirements set out in ‘Managing Public Money Northern Ireland’ and the directions set by the Department of Finance on behalf of the Northern Ireland Executive.

The Northern Ireland Assembly was suspended in February 2022. As a result, the service didn’t know until November 2022 what budget it would have available for the financial year ending 31 March 2023.

The short-term nature of funding and continued uncertainty about future settlements mean that the service is severely restricted in its ability to plan for long-term investment. And, due to lengthy processes involving the Northern Ireland Policing Board or the Executive, chief officers aren’t given the freedom they need to make fiscal decisions. This means that it is more difficult for the PSNI to make decisions that would be commonplace for most chief officers in England and Wales. For example, recommendations made by the Police Remuneration Review Body for police officer pay awards must be agreed by the Department of Justice and approved by the Department of Finance. Due to the suspension of the Assembly, police officer pay awards haven’t been agreed. This has also affected police staff because the Executive hasn’t set a public sector pay policy. This means the chief constable can’t pay any increases to police personnel, including incremental pay rises.

The service has plans to improve services for its communities. But chief officers told us they were facing significant financial challenges due to increased costs and delayed funding announcements. It is important the service can make savings and find more efficient ways to work wherever possible. It has invested in IT and has provided its workforce with up-to-date technology such as laptops. The service should make sure it gets the most out of its technology to improve productivity and better manage demand.

The PSNI estate needs modernisation. In England and Wales, forces can borrow money to pay for investment in their estate. They can also accumulate reserves and carry these over into the next financial year. But in Northern Ireland, the management and decision-making are complex and require approval from the Department of Justice. This makes progress difficult and prevents investment in essential upgrades or replacement.

We continue to be concerned about the annual funding arrangements for the PSNI. This needs to be addressed if the service is to operate more efficiently. The PSNI chief officer should have greater financial autonomy. This would allow the service to better support the communities in Northern Ireland.

A service management statement will help the service to understand demand

All police forces in England and Wales are required to submit a force management statement to us. This document helps forces operate more efficiently and effectively. The PSNI isn’t required to complete this.

The service has made some progress in developing documents to help it understand current and future demand. But, during our inspection, it was unable to provide us with a service management statement (known as a force management statement in England and Wales). This would be an effective way of making sure the service fully understands its current and future demand. A service management statement will help the service show how it will provide value for money and allocate resources to meet future demand and community needs. We urge the PSNI to adopt the best practice used by forces in England and Wales.

The plans and documents the service provided to us show it has some understanding of the needs and expectations of its communities. The service has a people strategy that includes a community engagement strand. It holds regular local meetings that are open to media and communities.

Governance and meeting structures support performance

The chief officers provide the strategic direction for the service. Senior leaders understand this well and it is supported by strong governance and meeting structures.

Many personnel we spoke to told us they were proud to work for the PSNI. It is clear they understand the chief constable’s intention that the service should be “visible, accessible, responsive and community focused”, and how they can help achieve this.

The service uses boards such as the service performance board, district performance meetings and daily management meetings to manage performance. It holds other quarterly meetings to support the implementation of strategic objectives. Senior leaders recognise the benefit of these meetings for their own areas, and we found they knew their respective portfolios well. But they don’t always recognise how their priorities fit with other departments. Although there is support for the service’s strategic intention, the districts and departments sometimes, as we explain later in this section, operate in silos to achieve their own objectives. A lack of collaboration can create inefficiencies and adversely affect service-wide performance.

These meetings would benefit from quality performance data that has been properly analysed to support decision-making. This will provide better insight into all aspects of crime and its effects on communities, and may support a more collaborative approach from senior leaders.

We were told during our inspection the service was evaluating the effectiveness of the current governance structure.

The service needs to better understand the effect on service delivery of promoting officers in large numbers

We were told that the service promoted officers in large numbers. But it doesn’t consider how this affects resource across the service. At the time of our inspection, the service had recently promoted around 200 officers on the same day. This could create a gap in the ability to respond to incidents and manage demand – for example, if officers with skills such as response driving are moved.

We found the HR department didn’t co-ordinate with other departments to consider the effect of promoting large numbers of officers at the same time or with short notice. For example, duty planners aren’t consulted and training managers may not have planned leadership training to coincide with promotions. The service should make sure that the timing of promotions supports service delivery.

The service could make better use of resources by modernising its workforce

Chief officers told us that, because of financial pressures, the service needed to reduce its police officer numbers by 300 and police staff by 100. Areas and departments are considering these reductions, with oversight from the resource allocation board. This should be accompanied by detailed analysis and data aligned to resource and demand. This analysis would provide a full understanding of the potential impact on service delivery.

The PSNI recognises it could use its resources more effectively. There are still some roles and departments where the establishment is largely made up of police officers – for example, project and programme delivery, and resource management. The service is developing a detailed workforce plan. This will allow it to work more efficiently by releasing officers to roles that require their warranted powers. Throughout our inspection we found other examples of inefficiencies, some because of resistance to change. Generally, we felt there was a lack of understanding of how a more efficient service could improve capacity.

We were pleased to see that the PSNI had plans in place to develop a deeper understanding of its workforce.

The service should do more to embrace the potential efficiencies of innovation

The PSNI has a highly skilled and enthusiastic workforce. But we were told there could be a resistance to adopt innovative solutions to improve efficiency and build capacity. For example, the service has given officers laptops to help them manage incidents and crime reporting. But because of a lack of internal agreement, officers can’t yet submit crime reports using these laptops and must call the crime management support unit by phone. This can take up to 45 minutes and is inefficient. The service should find a way to introduce crime report submissions on police-issued laptops as soon as possible so that efficiencies can be realised.

This example suggests a lack of co-ordination to make operational activity more effective and create greater efficiency in the way the service operates. It is also a potential way to reduce the level of policing demand.

Accessibility of good quality data could improve performance

The service is developing how it uses data. At the time of our inspection, it didn’t fully understand how its resources operated or if they were being used in the most efficient and effective way. For example, strategic leads rely on spreadsheets created by individual departments to understand the demand placed on some personnel. Officers and staff need to extract performance information manually. This is a lengthy process and means information may be out of date by the time the work is completed.

The service needs to develop its understanding of current demand so it can make sure it is operating efficiently and effectively. This should be supported by data from both internal and external partner organisations. The PSNI is aware of this and is developing its performance framework using improved quantitative analysis of data and statistics. This will help support better decision-making.

How effectively does the service vet its officers and staff?

The PSNI’s vetting arrangements are adequate.

Area for improvement

The service should improve its vetting arrangements to make sure that:

  • when concerning adverse information has been identified during the vetting process, all vetting decisions (refusals, clearances and appeals) are supported with sufficiently detailed rationale;
  • when granting vetting clearance to applicants with concerning adverse information, the service vetting unit creates and implements effective risk mitigation strategies, with clearly defined responsibilities and robust oversight; and
  • it analyses vetting data to identify, understand and respond to any disproportionality.

Main findings

In this section we set out our main findings that relate to how well the service prevents those unsuitable to serve from joining and remaining in the service.

Police vetting arrangements in Northern Ireland

Police vetting arrangements for the PSNI are governed by a number of statutory regulations, primarily the Police (Recruitment) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2001 and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (Recruitment of Police Support Staff) Regulations 2002.

Due to the unique political and security context in Northern Ireland, all PSNI personnel have additional national security vetting (NSV).

Vetting authorised professional practice and the PSNI

In 2021, the College of Policing published the authorised professional practice (APP) (PDF document) on vetting. The vetting APP explains the role of vetting in assessing the suitability of people to serve in the police service. It sets out the minimum standards that should be applied for each clearance level. It also lists the minimum vetting checks that should be carried out on the applicant, their family and associates. The vetting APP has a large section providing guidance on assessing threat and risk in relation to vetting decisions.

The vetting APP only applies to police forces in England and Wales, but it may be adopted by other police services or agencies, such as the PSNI.

The PSNI aligns many of its vetting arrangements with the vetting APP. But there are some differences. Some of the service’s vetting arrangements, such as the roles of the vetting panel and the independent assessor, aren’t covered in the vetting APP. But they are necessary to comply with the regulations mentioned above. The service has also chosen to depart from the vetting APP in some other ways, for example in its approach to enhanced vetting for some posts. We explain these differences in more detail later in this report.

Vetting IT system

The service has designed, and uses, its own vetting IT system. This system allows the service vetting unit (SVU) to manage the vetting process, but it doesn’t fully link with the service’s HR system.

The HR system has an automated function, which notifies the SVU of all vetting renewals that are required within the next three months. The service refers to these renewals as in-service vetting.

However, there is no automated notification process between the SVU and HR teams for individuals leaving, joining or moving within the organisation, or changes in circumstances. To overcome this, the SVU gives weekly updates to the HR department using spreadsheets. This helps the SVU to track internal moves, promotions and people leaving the service. But this is a time-consuming process that leaves room for human error. It creates the potential for the SVU to be unaware of personnel moves within the force and for HR to be unaware of individuals’ vetting clearance.

Current vetting of workforce

The PSNI told us that as of February 2023, it had a total of 9,743 police personnel.

There were 19 people in post without the correct level of vetting for their role because it had expired. This is a substantial improvement. In our last inspection in 2020, around 1,600 personnel were unvetted or their vetting had expired.

In addition, the service told us it had assessed 22 members of the workforce as currently “unsuitable to be granted clearance” due to a change in circumstances or adverse information that meant their clearance couldn’t be granted. The service has recently introduced an integrity board, which will manage these individuals.

In our last inspection, we identified that the service would benefit from setting up a people intelligence board (used by some forces in England and Wales). We are pleased that the service has acted on our recommendation by introducing the integrity board. We will review how well this has been implemented in future inspections.

Vetting demand

At the time of our inspection, the SVU had enough personnel to manage demand. The SVU was dealing with 89 in-service vetting applications. It was taking four to six weeks to complete all vetting checks, from receipt of the application to finalisation. The service told us there was currently a freeze on police recruitment. As a result, the SVU was able to prioritise other work such as in-service vetting and national security vetting applications. The SVU acknowledges that when police recruitment resumes, vetting demand will rise and may have a negative effect on the time it takes to conduct enquiries.

The service carries out its own non-police personnel vetting (NPPV) checks for contractors. Data on the PSNI’s vetting system shows there are 6,611 current NPPV clearances. The service has nominated people who are responsible for informing the SVU of any changes in non-police personnel. When an individual no longer requires vetting, their NPPV clearance is cancelled and their access to buildings and IT is removed.

Designated posts and management vetting

Some police personnel roles have access to more sensitive information and require a higher level of vetting known as management vetting. Forces should also consider the extent to which the role requires working with vulnerable people. The vetting APP states that forces should keep a record of all management vetting roles on a designated posts list.

The PSNI doesn’t use management vetting. And it doesn’t have a designated post list. But the service told us it had almost 2,000 officers and staff vetted to the higher levels of national security vetting. Generally, the service applies these higher levels to posts that require access to sensitive intelligence.

The service carries out some additional checks for posts working with vulnerable people. But these checks aren’t as extensive as those required for management vetting. This isn’t consistent with the vetting APP.

The PSNI recognises that abuse of position for a sexual purpose is serious corruption. The service should consider introducing a higher level of vetting for those working with vulnerable people, to help mitigate this risk.

Transferee vetting

The vetting APP states that:

“Forces must ensure that the integrity of the individual wishing to transfer into the force (or re-join) is beyond question.”

Vetting APP allows forces to accept vetting clearance from another force if it is no more than one year old. But many forces choose to vet officers and staff new to their organisation, even if they are transferring from another force with a current vetting clearance.

The PSNI doesn’t have a specific transferee vetting process. It applies the same process for transferees and re-joiners as it does for new recruits. This means that the PSNI can, in general, decide to grant vetting clearance to people wishing to transfer or re-join the service with full knowledge of all the available information from their previous police service.

Awareness of reporting changes in circumstances

The vetting APP requires police personnel with current vetting clearance to report changes in their personal circumstances.

The PSNI has taken steps to improve the workforce’s awareness that they must report any changes of personal circumstances, for example marital status, name changes or significant changes to personal finances.

Professional standards department personnel routinely contribute to training courses about the standards of behaviour expected in the PSNI. This includes the need to report changes in circumstances. Personnel who have been granted higher levels of national security vetting clearance undertake an annual ‘aftercare’ process. This process prompts them to notify any changes in personal circumstances to HR or the SVU. In addition, the service has recently introduced an ‘integrity health check’ into its professional development review (PDR) process. This includes a line-manager discussion about ethical issues, such as whether there are any changes to report. For this to be of any value, managers must consistently comply with the PDR process.

At the time of our inspection, the PSNI told us that 3,142 officers and staff (32 percent) had completed their PDR.

We found personnel had a good understanding about the changes that needed to be reported. The service should continue to remind personnel about their responsibility to report all material changes.

When the SVU is notified of a change in circumstance, it carries out relevant vetting enquiries to identify risks and to decide if the individual’s vetting status is affected.

The vetting APP states that at the conclusion of misconduct proceedings when a written warning or final written warning is issued, the individual’s vetting clearance should be reviewed. The service does carry out these reviews, including when misconduct proceedings result in a reduction in rank.

The role of the vetting decision-maker

Researchers in the SVU conduct vetting enquiries and record the results on the vetting IT system. In cases when there is no adverse information about an applicant, their family or associates, the researcher submits the file to a manager in the SVU to make a decision on vetting clearance. In cases when adverse information indicates the applicant may not be suitable to join the police service, the SVU sends the application to the vetting panel for consideration.

The chief constable has established the vetting panel to decide on the suitability of police personnel applicants. This is in line with the regulations referred to above. The panel is chaired by the service vetting officer and comprises of representatives from:

  • the anti-corruption unit (ACU);
  • recruitment;
  • legal services;
  • the Police College;
  • the public protection branch; and
  • an independent panel member appointed by the Northern Ireland Policing Board.

A separate panel exists for non-police personnel vetting applications. If either vetting panel decide to refuse vetting, the service advises the applicant in writing.

We observed a vetting panel, which made vetting decisions in seven cases. The panel discussed each case in detail and identified all the relevant risks. We agreed with the panel’s decision in each case.

The SVU told us it carried out vetting interviews with applicants when necessary – for example, to clarify any ambiguities or inconsistencies in a vetting application. However, when we observed the vetting panel, a vetting interview hadn’t been carried out with any of the applicants. In four cases, although we agreed with the decision, we felt an interview may have clarified ambiguities and helped the panel in their decision-making.

Guidance to vetting decision-makers

At the time of our inspection, the only guidance available to vetting decision-makers was an information document for applicants. This document outlines the factors considered by the vetting panel when deciding on an applicant’s suitability. This document is limited in its scope. For example, it doesn’t provide guidance about intelligence held about applicants, or non-conviction data, such as coming to police attention as a suspect in a crime. The service has drafted improved guidance for vetting decision-making. This is based largely around the vetting APP. Once adopted, this will provide more comprehensive guidance to vetting decision-makers.

Risk mitigation measures

The vetting APP gives advice to forces on using risk mitigation strategies. The APP states that when a decision is made to grant clearance following assessment of identified risks, forces must consider whether there are reasonable, proportionate and manageable mitigations that can be put in place.

In some cases, the PSNI has granted vetting clearance, despite there being adverse information about the applicant, their family or friends. In some of these cases the service has used risk mitigation measures, including:

  • restrictions on where an applicant can be posted;
  • IT monitoring; and
  • continued reviews of an applicant’s management of their finances.

The SVU discusses risk mitigation measures with other units that are responsible for implementing them, such as the ACU and HR. However, as we explain below, we found the service wasn’t consistently making use of risk mitigation measures, when they were necessary.

Awareness of corruption risks

The PSNI produces a counter-corruption strategic threat assessment. This outlines the current threats facing the service. The ACU shares the strategic threat assessment with the SVU. When we observed a vetting panel, we were pleased to see a copy of this was made available to all panel members.

Appeals and quality assurance

The vetting panel considers all cases where there is adverse information about an applicant. If the vetting panel decides not to grant clearance, the applicant can ask to have the decision reviewed. In such cases, an independent assessor reviews the decision.

The independent assessor is a public appointment made by the Minister of Justice. The recruitment regulations that govern this appointment require that the independent assessor shall have held judicial office within any part of the United Kingdom. The independent assessor provides a review process for candidates rejected by the vetting panel, should the candidate request this.

In considering an appeal, the independent assessor has access to all the material that was available to the panel. They may request additional information and can ask the panel to reconsider their decision. The independent assessor then reports to the chief constable, stating whether they agree or disagree with the panel’s decision. They can also make any recommendations they consider necessary.

The chief constable is responsible for the final decision to grant or deny vetting clearance. In the PSNI, this decision is delegated to the head of the professional standards department.

In effect, the role of the independent assessor provides a quality assurance process in cases where vetting clearance hasn’t been granted and the applicant requests a review. There is no quality assurance process in place for any other case. In our vetting, misconduct and misogyny report we made a recommendation that chief constables in England and Wales should introduce an effective process to quality assure all vetting decisions. We encourage the PSNI to adopt this recommendation.


It is widely recognised that there is a risk of vetting having a disproportionate impact on underrepresented groups. Police services should monitor vetting applications against protected characteristics to identify whether there is any disproportionality in vetting decisions.

The service gives some consideration to potential disproportionality in its vetting decisions. The HR department collects data on recruitment outcomes across all protected characteristics. This includes gathering data on vetting refusal decisions. But it could do more regular comprehensive analysis to identify any disproportionality in its vetting decisions and understand the reasons for it. This would help the SVU to take any necessary action to address it.

Vetting file review

We asked a vetting specialist from another force to review 40 clearance decisions from the preceding 3 years. These files related to police personnel who had previously committed criminal offences or who the service had other concerns about.

In five of the cases reviewed, the vetting specialist disagreed with the decision to grant vetting clearance. In each case the decision to grant clearance was made by the vetting panel. We found the recorded rationale wasn’t detailed enough and didn’t demonstrate that the panel had fully considered all the identified risk factors.

We were told the independent assessor had recently provided feedback to the vetting panel that their decision-making rationale lacked detail. Encouragingly, in more recent cases, we noted the rationale recorded by the vetting panel contained more detail.

Before deciding whether to grant vetting clearance, the vetting panel should consider risk mitigation measures, such as IT monitoring or where the applicant is posted. Panel members should determine if the service is able to implement the measures they suggest.

We found nine vetting files that may have benefited from risk mitigation measures. But we found no evidence the panel had considered such measures in these cases.

Detecting and dealing with misogynistic and predatory behaviour

The PSNI is good at detecting and dealing with misogynistic, prejudicial and improper behaviour, and predatory behaviour.

Area for improvement

The service should improve how it detects and deals with misogynistic, prejudicial and improper behaviour, and predatory behaviour, by:

  • making sure police mobile devices are better managed and monitored; and
  • ensuring that its professional standards department has enough trained people to meet demand and allow for proactive intelligence collection.

Main findings

In this section we set out our main findings that relate to how well the service detects and deals with misogynistic, prejudicial and improper behaviour, and predatory behaviour.

Defining misogynistic and predatory behaviour in a policing context

In 2021, following the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving police officer, the then Home Secretary asked us to examine forces’ ability to detect and deal with “misogynistic and predatory behaviour”. To identify more precisely the types of behaviour in question, we had to define what they were, as we found no nationally agreed definition.

We defined ‘prejudicial and improper behaviour’ as:

“Any attitude and/or behaviour demonstrated by a police officer or police staff that could be reasonably considered to reveal misogyny, sexism, antipathy towards women or be an indication of, or precursor to, abuse of position for a sexual purpose.”

During our inspection of vetting, misconduct and misogyny in the police service in England and Wales, we heard numerous examples, mainly from female police personnel, of such attitudes and behaviour towards them. This was usually, but not exclusively, from their male colleagues. When police personnel don’t treat colleagues with respect and courtesy, it suggests that they may be more likely to behave in a similar way towards the public, and towards vulnerable women.

The code of ethics defines acceptable behaviour

In 2003, to meet the requirements of section 52 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, the Northern Ireland Policing Board published a PSNI code of ethics. The second edition, published in February 2008, sets out the standards of conduct and practice for police officers. Police staff working in the PSNI are required to act in accordance with the police staff handbook. These codes provide the ethical framework for decisions and actions, and outline the standards and behaviours expected of all personnel working in the PSNI.

The service has produced a statement of action on conduct and standards

In March 2022, the service executive team published a statement of action on conduct and standards. This statement, which is publicly available, sets out the PSNI’s commitment to a dignified, safe and ethical workplace. It explicitly outlines that the service will not tolerate:

  • sexual violence;
  • abuse of position for sexual purpose;
  • sexualised commentary;
  • harassment or bullying;
  • domestic abuse;
  • downloading of illegal images; or
  • behaviour that is misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic, racist, sectarian or discriminatory towards people with disability.

The statement also sets out the determination of the organisation to deal with such behaviour using criminal law and misconduct regulations.

In December 2022, the deputy chief constable provided a briefing to all middle and senior managers on the expected standards of behaviour and culture within the PSNI. The briefing reinforced the service standards of behaviour and made clear what behaviours wouldn’t be tolerated, with specific emphasis on prejudicial and improper behaviour.

The service has clear policies to prevent and deal with prejudicial and improper behaviour based on gender

The service has several policies that provide guidance to personnel to prevent and deal with prejudicial and improper behaviour.

The PSNI has published a service procedure advising the workforce about appropriate workplace relationships. And the service’s people and culture board has approved the implementation of a new bullying and harassment standard operating procedure. This was due to be implemented by June 2023. These procedures are intended to deal with prejudicial and improper behaviour.

Personnel we spoke to knew about the policies and how to access them on the intranet.

The service communicates with the workforce to prevent prejudicial and improper behaviour based on gender

The professional standards department (PSD) has produced a communication and engagement strategy. It is intended that the strategy will help the department to raise awareness about the expected standards of behaviour and culture within the service.

We were told this strategy was being rebranded as a “prevention-first” plan and was in the final stages of development. The corporate communications team has allocated a member of their team to support this work.

The PSD is developing e-learning on standards. This training will raise awareness about behaviour that amounts to misogyny, abuse of position, and prejudicial and improper behaviour. All personnel will be required to complete this training.

The service publishes misconduct outcomes on the intranet. But the information relating to these is often limited. Some members of the workforce told us that this made it difficult for them to learn from the mistakes of others who had misconducted themselves. We were also unclear about how consistently misconduct cases were published, with some personnel saying they were no longer published at all.

Publishing the outcomes of all misconduct cases is an effective way to inform personnel of the standards they are expected to meet. There must be enough information for people in the service to understand what the behaviour was, why it was wrong and what the consequences were. The service should make sure that sufficient information about the outcomes of misconduct hearings is published to help individual and organisational learning.

More widely, the PSNI’s Tackling violence against women and girls action plan includes information from the PSD aimed at increasing awareness and understanding of misogyny and prejudicial and improper behaviour.

The service is working to improve the workplace culture

Most personnel we spoke to told us that the culture in the PSNI was positive and that they enjoyed working for the service. The organisation leaves them in no doubt about the importance of high standards of behaviour.

In our survey, carried out as part of our vetting, misconduct and misogyny inspection, we asked respondents if they thought prejudicial or improper behaviours or attitudes had changed in their force in the past decade. Of the 352 responses from people who indicated they worked for the PSNI, 35 percent (122) thought these behaviours and attitudes had stayed the same while 53 percent (188) thought they had improved.

We also asked respondents if they thought the PSNI’s culture discouraged prejudicial and improper behaviour. Of those who responded, 54 percent (217) believed it did. But there was still a large proportion (26 percent or 106 respondents) who believed the PSNI’s culture didn’t discourage such behaviour.

One supervisor told us that inappropriate banter still existed, but not to the same extent as when they joined the service. They said: “There is now a fear of the consequences, not that people have necessarily changed, but the job has been successful in imparting that culture.”

Another supervisor said: “The job [service] is pushing us in the right direction to report wrongdoing.”

We spoke to representatives from the Women in Policing Association Northern Ireland. The association was established almost 15 years ago and has nearly 1,000 full members (women) and just under 100 associate members (men). It told us that not everyone views the PSNI as a safe space where they can challenge inappropriate behaviour.

This is because people feel challenging this behaviour:

  • will have a negative impact on their career; and/or
  • the burden of proof is heavily on them and they won’t be believed.

Despite this, most of the personnel we spoke to said they were confident to challenge and report prejudicial and improper behaviour. They told us there were various ways they could report this – for example, telling their supervisor, emailing the PSD or using the confidential reporting line.

The survey results reflect this confidence. But of the respondents who had witnessed or experienced this type of behaviour, only 14 percent said they reported it.

We were also told that supervisors helped reinforce the messages about expected behaviours, set standards for their team and challenged poor behaviour. One interviewee told us that inappropriate comments would immediately be challenged. Another told us: “Supervisors challenge people and pull them up. I’ve seen it happen.”

PSD officers told us there had been an increase in the number of prejudicial and improper behaviour matters reported in the past two years.

The service uses a range of measures to gather intelligence about prejudicial and improper behaviour based on gender

Personnel can report suspected misconduct to the PSD in person or by telephone, email or online. Misconduct matters can also be reported confidentially and anonymously via the service’s Integrity Matters reporting system or by telephone using Integrity Line (Crimestoppers).

Details of how to report matters to the PSD are on the intranet. Most personnel know how to make a report of wrongdoing, including using the confidential reporting systems.

The PSNI is proactive in identifying prejudicial and improper behaviour. The anti‑corruption intelligence unit conduct operations to identify intelligence relating to misconduct, including gender-based prejudicial and improper behaviour. This includes auditing force systems and social media accounts.

We were told the service couldn’t monitor some mobile devices issued to personnel. This makes it more difficult to keep information safe and is a potential security and corruption risk. The service should make sure it can monitor effectively all work-issued mobile devices.

When we inspected the PSNI in 2020, unlike some forces in England and Wales, it didn’t have an established people intelligence meeting. We recommended this as an area for improvement. The service has recently created an integrity board and the first meeting took place shortly after our inspection. It is responsible for following up and acting on intelligence that suggests an individual may be vulnerable or in need of greater welfare support. Individuals whose vetting status can’t be confirmed will also be discussed at the board. We are pleased to see the service has acted on our recommendation.

There has been a rise in the number of reports relating to prejudicial and improper behaviour based on gender

There has been a large increase in the number of reports of misconduct related to prejudicial and improper behaviour. In 2022, there were 11 misconduct hearings. A further eight cases relating to sexual or domestic abuse were also directed to a misconduct hearing. This is an increase of 17 cases compared to the previous year. It is likely that this increase is due to greater attention on, and willingness to report, misconduct related to prejudicial and improper behaviour, rather than an increase in the behaviour itself.

We reviewed how the PSNI develops misconduct investigations and intelligence reports relating to gender-based prejudicial and improper behaviour. In 9 of the 19 cases we reviewed, we found that investigations were the result of reports made by colleagues. We also found that personnel used the confidential reporting line to report inappropriate behaviour. This suggests that personnel are confident to report prejudicial and improper behaviour.

The service has improved training to help the workforce understand prejudicial and improper behaviour based on gender

PSD personnel recognise more can be done to educate the workforce about expected standards of behaviour. The service is providing additional resources to carry out this work, which will include the development of e-learning and other training.

PSD personnel provide professional boundaries and inappropriate association training to student officers. Further training on standards and behaviour is given to student officers every ten weeks.

During our inspection, we found that this type of training was being extended to other areas of the workforce including supervisors and district trainers. This is a positive step.

The service also uses its Call Sign magazine to promote standards, particularly in the use of social media.

The PSD needs more resources to effectively investigate prejudicial and improper behaviour

Most personnel in the PSD are experienced investigators, and some have a background in vulnerability and safeguarding. This has improved the department’s capability to investigate prejudicial and improper behaviour as these are often sensitive cases that require specialist skills.

There has been a substantial increase in the number of officers facing a prejudicial and improper behaviour related misconduct hearing. And this has resulted in an increase in officer dismissals.

The PSNI has also created a cold case review team to review historic cases. This work, known as Operation Roric, involves the review of 120 sexual misconduct investigations and 170 sexual misconduct intelligence files to establish whether investigations were carried out to the required standard.

As a result, several cases have been reopened and are being reinvestigated. Undoubtedly, this will add to PSD demand but it provides further assurance that the service is determined to tackle this behaviour.

We found investigations into prejudicial and improper behaviour were well structured, had clear investigation plans and were well supervised. Decisions made by the appropriate authority were effective and supported by detailed rationales. The decisions were also consistent with the PSNI statement of action on conduct and standards. Because of this approach, the investigations were thorough, and relevant lines of enquiry had been identified and followed.

Nine investigations resulted in misconduct hearings where the case was proven against the officer. Of these, seven officers were dismissed, one received a final written warning and another resigned from the service. The remaining ten cases hadn’t yet been concluded.

Although we found cases were dealt with thoroughly, they were also taking a long time to finalise. Personnel told us this was partly because of the volume of work. One investigator had over 30 cases and a supervisor had over 20 cases to investigate. This is too high. The existing level of resources allocated to carry out misconduct investigations means further delays are inevitable.

A senior officer should be appointed to chair all misconduct hearings. In practice this is one of the four assistant chief constables, and we were told this was a significant demand on their time. The availability of a senior officer to chair misconduct hearings is adding to delays in investigations being finalised. The service and the Northern Ireland Policing Board should consider how it can reduce these delays.

A service review of PSD demand found the department was under resourced. As a result, the service intends to allocate an additional eight officers to carry out misconduct investigations, but they haven’t yet been transferred into the department due to continued budgetary pressures. If the department had appropriate resource and chairs for misconduct hearing were readily available, it is likely delays in investigations would be reduced.

The service understands abuse of position for a sexual purpose

All new intelligence and conduct referrals are discussed at the PSD daily management meeting, chaired by the head of PSD. It is attended by the senior management team, including the appropriate authorities, and the intelligence manager. The meeting supports information sharing within the team and has helped to identify and address new or emerging threats such as abuse of position for a sexual purpose. This approach has led to an increased number of misconduct cases being identified and greater oversight of intelligence.

We were told that the PSD maintained effective relationships with public and third‑sector partner agencies, which support and advocate for victims of domestic and sexual abuse. We were told about a case where an advocate supported a victim of a serious sexual offence, alleged to have been committed by a police officer, to report the matter to the PSD.

In July 2022, the PSD hosted a multi-agency conference, Shining a Light on Betrayal in the PSNI. The conference aimed to raise awareness of abuse of position for a sexual purpose. Delegates included police officers and external partner organisations that work with vulnerable victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse.

The keynote speaker was a leading academic on police sexual misconduct. Their presentation covered sexual misconduct, culture and misogyny in policing.

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The Police Service of Northern Ireland – An inspection of police effectiveness, efficiency, vetting and standards