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Avon & Somerset Police Federation

Chair's view: Home office launches targeted review of police dismissals to raise standards and confidence

25 October 2022

The Home Office has announced it is launching a “targeted review of police dismissals to raise standards and confidence in policing across England and Wales.”

Avon and Somerset Police Federation Chair Mark Loker shares his thoughts on the plans.

“Before you read further, please let me be very clear, I do not want corrupt Police Officers in our ranks.

“I know it causes personal rancour for every single law abiding, ethically sound Police Officer to be associated with the reported villainy or high-profile cases. It cuts to our core when we hear of these people committing atrocities that goes against the very core of Policing in England and Wales.

“But not every Police Officer who is investigated following a complaint or report of misconduct is corrupt or deserving to be dismissed simply because they are a Police Officer.

“The regulations introduced in 2020 were designed with learning at its core because it was recognised that simply dismissing ‘issues’ isn’t the answer, it does nothing to address the behaviour and promote public confidence in our service.

“The College of Policing’s own guidance quotes stated case where it dictates that the outcome imposed can have a punitive effect, which should therefore be no more than is necessary to satisfy the purpose of the proceedings. Panels are directed to consider less severe outcomes before more severe. The framework is sound and it works, Legally Qualified Chairs are doing their jobs.

“But what is not reported upon is that the current Conduct and Complaint regulations were written, in collaboration with the College of Policing only 2 years ago. The Home Office are essentially criticising their own work.

“In my view there is no need for another review into police conduct. What we need to see is more objective investigations, more learning for our officers to prevent the issues in the first place, a leadership academy and focused trauma practises, add to that an Independent Office of Police Conduct that is efficient and fit for purpose and Chief Constables not wanting to be judge, jury and executioner and we could be on to something.

“The criticism of legally qualified chairs in misconduct hearings is simply baffling. It is a 3 person panel made up of a Senior Police Officer, an independent member of the public and a legally qualified Chair, usually at least a solicitor, but quite often a barrister or equivalent. What more could it be? How could it be better?

“Also let’s not forget that this was something the Government introduced when Theresa May was Home Secretary when it was just a senior police officer as chair of the hearings. Back then she accused us of ‘marking our own homework’ or ‘looking after our own’. Her disdain for Policing is still renowned for her vitriolic approach to Policing and especially the Police Federation.

“When he was our Chief Constable, Andy Marsh, now head of the College of Policing, once said “that our problem in Avon and Somerset; we have a blame culture. We’re expected to stop anything from going wrong, and when we don’t the media and the IPCC can appear hell-bent on finding someone to blame. This can lead to a fixed and defensive mind-set: people covering their backs or complying wholly with the rules for fear of slipping up and because ‘it’s always been that way.’ This is holding us back and creating a culture that’s counter to the one I know you want to work within.”

“He is also quoted saying “I’m pleased to see the latest reforms that will come into place as part of the new Police Complaints and Misconduct regulations. The changes apply to all police officers in the UK and affect the way we handle misconducts and complaints from 1 February 2020. While these are national changes, they fit perfectly with our force values, and particularly our value of learning. They introduce a reflective review process with an emphasis on ‘putting things right’ through clear actions and constructive outcomes, with increased importance placed on reflection, learning and development, rather than blame, punishment and sanction.  As part of the reforms, the threshold for misconduct will be raised so that less serious underperformance or conduct will be managed locally by the new review process. The definition of a ‘police complaint’ will also change and be renamed an ‘expression of dissatisfaction with a police force’. This moves the focus of these complaints away from individual failings and encourages us to consider the broader scope of whether there has been a service delivery issue at an organisational level”

“So my final point is who exactly are these changes and reviews for? Politicians, Chief Constables of public confidence? I’d contend it is anything but the latter.”