Police culture and behaviour problems not limited to capital, warns watchdog

The outgoing chief inspector of constabulary said he expected there could be “pockets” of similar issues in other parts of the country.

10 March 2022

Problems with police culture and behaviour may exist around the country and are “not limited to London”, the outgoing chief inspector of constabulary has warned.

Sir Tom Winsor said he expected there could be “pockets” of similar issues in other parts of the country after highlighting a recent Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) report which exposed violently racist, misogynist and homophobic messages exchanged by officers based at Charing Cross police station.

He made the comments as he said “major” shortcomings persist in policing and one of the most “important” things forces must do is “rebuild public trust” when unveiling his final annual assessment of policing in England and Wales before he leaves the role later this month.

Asked about the scale of problems with culture and behaviour in policing, he told reporters at a briefing on Thursday: “I don’t think that what we saw in Charing Cross police station is limited to London. But we don’t have evidence yet of just how widespread that is.

Policing in England annual assessment
Chief inspector of constabulary Sir Tom Winsor  will retire at the end of the month (Joe Giddens/PA)

“I think these matters are taken very seriously… by all police forces. And while what has happened recently is London centric, it is not London limited in all probability.”

Revealing how a regional chief constable had told him within the last fortnight “we have this problem too”, without disclosing their identity, he added: “I expect that there are pockets of those things in other parts of the country.

“How much and how bad it is, we don’t know at the moment.”

Professional standards departments need to be “well resourced, with some of the best detectives on the force” and made up of people who have “an intensity of professional curiosity and a quality of investigation which is as high as those which are deployed in other serious offences in the community”, he said.

His latest report, which sets out his view of the state of policing over the last decade, reiterated warnings that the “sheer magnitude and speed” of the recruitment campaign to hire 20,000 police officers “inevitably carries risks”, adding that there is a “heightened danger that people unsuited to policing may get through and be recruited”.

He said in too many cases the system “fails” when, on occasion, organised crime groups try to infiltrate the police which can have “catastrophic consequences”.

Sir Tom added: “When unsuitable applicants lie on their application forms, conceal their social media activity or play down their criminal connections, the quality of vetting needs to be consistently high.”

Describing vetting as being of “enormous importance”, he told reporters it was “essential” that recruitment and continual monitoring of the police workforce is of the “highest standard”.

If during training or the probation period officers display attitudes such as a “fondness for the abuse of power or the exercise of power with fellow citizens, homophobia, racism, misogyny, dishonesty” he said it is “necessary” for the police to take that “really seriously” and where needed “weed them out and throw them out” otherwise they could be storing up what may become a “30-year problem”.

Asked how the police rebuild public trust, Sir Tom stressed trust and confidence in the police has taken a “knock” but it “has not disappeared”.

He said: “They restore it by taking these cases very seriously, by improving – wherever necessary – their vetting and misconduct processes and by showing the public that these things, when they come to light, will never, ever be tolerated and they will be dealt with efficiently, promptly and severely.”

As part of his wide-ranging findings Sir Tom also warned that if police continue to use 20th century methods to try to cope with 21st century technology “they will continue to fall further and further behind”.

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