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Police: Convicted Officers

Volume 744: debated on Wednesday 24 April 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the Metropolitan Police Service regarding the arrangements for assessing the continued suitability of officers convicted of serious criminal offences.

My Lords, the Government have not had any specific discussions with the Metropolitan Police Service regarding the arrangements for assessing the continual suitability of officers convicted of serious criminal offences. The Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime is responsible for holding the commissioner to account for his decisions in this regard. My noble friend will know, and I have written to him on this matter, that I share his concern that police officers should meet the highest standards of professional behaviour.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that reply. Although precise numbers are difficult to come by, as he says, is it not the case that there are several hundred police officers still serving in the Metropolitan Police who have been convicted of serious criminal offences but who continue to serve—including, no doubt, giving evidence on oath in other criminal cases? Is that really satisfactory?

I understand the noble Lord’s concern, particularly as it is based on those figures, but in fact those figures are not accurate. I have been able to obtain some accurate figures. In 2005, a total of 46 officers were serving in the MPS who had a criminal conviction. That went down to 25 in 2010, and in 2012 there was a further decline to a total of 15 officers serving with the MPS with a criminal conviction. Of these 15 officers, the majority of convictions, 10 of them, were for traffic offences including excess alcohol.

My Lords, I kindly put it to the Minister that 45 years ago, as I know for a fact, the police regulations covered all manner of conduct, positive and negative, in relation to police officers. Is there now an equivalent covenant which relates to all police officers in England and Wales, and, if so, does it refer to criminal offences?

The Police (Conduct) Regulations 2012 set out the standards that all police officers are expected to maintain. The standard on discreditable conduct, for example, states that police officers behave in a manner that does not discredit the police or undermine public confidence in them, whether on or off duty, and that police officers report any action taken against them for a criminal offence, any conditions imposed on them by a court, or the receipt of any penalty notice.

My Lords, Home Office guidance states that police forces should reject potential recruits with convictions for serious offences. However, I am not aware that there is any guidance about what forces should do if serving police officers then go on to be convicted of serious offences. Is it not about time that the Government took the lead on this and issued clear guidance to forces about the suitability of officers who have been convicted of serious offences and the fact that they should no longer be allowed to serve in the police force?

My noble friend is right about the vetting procedures. The Government are committed to improving the integrity of the police. As noble Lords will know, on 12 February, the Home Secretary announced a package of measures to improve police integrity, and yesterday, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and the police Minister Damian Green discussed police integrity with police and crime commissioners, who, as my noble friend will know, are responsible for making sure that these standards are maintained within their force areas.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, but he sounds a bit complacent about it. He is absolutely right that the integrity of the police is important not just to the public but to other serving police officers, who are dismayed that so many of their colleagues have convictions for serious offences. He says that he has had discussions; can he tell me what action will follow from them?

I have already talked about the 12 February announcement made by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. The noble Baroness will know that part of our policy for improving standards within the police lies with the establishment of a College of Policing, which is leading a programme of ways to improve police integrity. It is important that the police generate these standards from within their own experience. It is not necessary for the Home Office to impose a standard on the police service. We are great believers that the integrity of the police force and the capacity for maintaining it lie within the police service itself. The figures that I have given have shown exactly that.

Noble Lords will perhaps not be surprised when I say that I view the emerging picture of misconduct and, sometimes, criminality in police forces with great concern. There are a number of issues in this matter but one of them has to be attracting the right calibre of recruits in the first place, and then accelerating and developing leadership within the service. Can the Minister reassure the House that he, too, sees this as a fundamental priority? Can he reassure your Lordships’ House that when the results of the recently concluded consultation on leadership and fast-tracking have been evaluated in the Home Office, the Government will address this particular issue urgently and with all possible speed?

I can give the noble Lord that assurance. Earlier I referred to the vetting procedure also referred to by my noble friend Lady Doocey. The key thing is to make sure that you get the right people into the police in the first place. The vetting procedure set up by ACPO states that police forces should not recruit people with convictions, cautions and judicial or any other form of disposals which may call into question the applicant or their role in the service. It also states that each case must be judged on its individual merits; I think that the noble Lord will agree with that. Where standards have not been met, decisions about what action to take are for chief constables, based on the circumstances of each case. Other than in London, those decisions are monitored by the police and crime commissioners.