Guest Post: Fighting Police Corruption in London, and Beyond

Today’s guest post is from Matt Gardner, who previously served as the Head of Anti-Corruption at New Scotland Yard, Metropolitan Police, and who is currently covers police-related issues or CurbingCorruption.Com (whose launch in October 2018 GAB covered here).

The Metropolitan Police in London (the “Met’) is a large city force, with 30,000+ officers policing a city of over 10 million on any working day. Even in a well-trained professional force like this one, keeping police corruption down to low levels is a constant challenge. The ordinary difficulties of tackling corruption are compounded by the authority that the police are entrusted with: If you are a thief, a sexual predator, a bully, or lean towards corruption and criminality, joining the police service in any country is an excellent career choice. You can hide behind your warrant card, police ID, or uniform.

So what can police departments do to keep corruption within their own ranks in check? In this post, I want to highlight the four most important tools for keeping police corruption at low levels, using the Met’s experience to illustrate each of these elements:

  • First, suppressing police corruption requires an effective internal police command—a division that at the Met we call the Professional Standards Department (PSD), and that is often called the Internal Affairs Department (IAD) in other countries. The Met’s PSD was established as a dedicated anticorruption unit in 1998 by Commissioner Sir Paul Condon. Today the PSD exists as a separate command with 380 personnel (300 officers and 80 support staff), under a Chief Superintendent. (The numbers in the PSD command are approximately 1% of the total number of police officers in the force, a percentage broadly replicated across the 43 police forces in England and Wales, as shown in the figure opposite from a 2014.) The PSD handles all public complaints, deaths following police contact, and gross misconduct; the PSD also has a stand-alone anticorruption wing, as well as a hearings unit that hears gross misconduct level cases for both police officers and staff. When the PSD receives a complaint, the first step is to determine its seriousness; lower-level misconduct cases are referred to local misconduct units, whereas serious cases (such as those that could result in dismissal of an officer, or worse) are investigated by the PSD itself.
  • Second, rigorous external and internal oversight of the police is essential, as numerous studies of police integrity in multiple countries have shown. In the UK, external oversight of the police is required by legislation (the Police Complaints and Misconduct Regulations of 2012), which established the Independent Office for Police Complaints (IOPC), and, within the police the “Appropriate Authority” (AA) function. This AA role, critical to the independence and credibility of the anticorruption effort, is performed by a senior police officer of Chief Inspector rank or above. The AA is legally independent of the investigation, and is to assess whether the evidence presented would, on the balance of probabilities, find the accused guilty at a gross misconduct hearing. Additionally, the AA must refer certain matters (including cases involving serious corruption) to the IOPC, an external body. This mandatory reference to outside oversight is an essential safeguard of independence and neutrality. The IOPC reports directly to the Home Office and has no accountability to the local Chief Constable, nor is the IOPC required to refer its investigations back to the local police force, other than what is legislated for under the statutory guidance scheme. Under more recent legislation, (the Police and Crime Act of 2017), all complaints—not just those that are deemed to warrant investigation—will need to be recorded; and the responsibility for triaging cases is to be removed from the PSD and given to the independent Police and Crime Commissioners.
  • Third, in-depth peer review and feedback from other countries can play a crucial role in improving police integrity systems. In Europe, the most relevant framework here is the GRECO process. The current fifth round of the GRECO peer review process, launched in March 2017, is focused on law enforcement agencies; GRECO has published a report on fighting corruption in law enforcement in the UK, as well as in numerous other countries including Finland, The Netherlands, Estonia, Luxembourg, Iceland, Latvia, Malta, North Macedonia (confidential), Poland and Sweden. Later this year should see reports for Denmark, Slovak republic, Spain, Belgium, Croatia and France. Speaking both as a subject of the GRECO UK review process and as a member of one of the current GRECO review teams, I am deeply impressed both by the professionalism of GRECO process, as well as the persistence of the organization in following up on recommendations through both political and peer pressure mechanisms. This is sector-specific monitoring at its best. I have also found that the informal network of European Partners Against Corruption (EPAC), which includes more than 70 police oversight bodies and anticorruption authorities from Council of Europe member countries is a constructive mechanism for sharing knowledge and experience.
  • Fourth, while all the above developments are to be welcomed, the way forward in the fight against police corruption must also involve preventative “integrity testing” of officers. In the Met, we used a range of techniques to test the ethics and values of the police officers we employed—from “mystery shoppers” to random drug tests—and the Met is currently developing mechanisms to randomly test inappropriate use of IT systems and the sale of police data. Just as random drug tests deterred officers from abusing narcotics, we need to put tests in place that will deter officers from corruptly misusing technology.

Police corruption will never go away. There will always be those among us who seek personal gain, just as there are those in society who commit crime. Our objective must nevertheless be to provide a strong and credible deterrent so that officers think twice before going down this road. There’s sometimes an understandable reluctance of police departments to trumpet their successes in fighting corruption or other forms of misconduct within their own ranks, because exposure of such malfeasance may make the department look bad. But that instinct should be resisted. When we have successes, as we need to shout about them from the rooftops, so that the public knows we are doing our best to combat this problem and keep our own house in order. We must accept that our successes are never easy stories to sell but sell them we must.

17 thoughts on “Guest Post: Fighting Police Corruption in London, and Beyond

  1. Thank you so much for your fascinating post and comprehensive explanation of UK-specific trends in the law enforcement realm. The relevant bodies seem to be taking anti-corruption efforts seriously and using care when designing instruments to make sure they have some independence and concrete competencies. It is also encouraging to read that mechanisms like the GRECO peer review process are developing to put more pressure on parties to reform. While all these examples are steps in the right direction I had a few more specific questions regarding reality of compliance and protections for those drawing attention to corrupt behavior. In the United States, for example, many police force cultures are known for their propensity to rally around their members, especially in the face of criticism. This can be good to foster solidarity but also problematic as it disincentivizes those from within the force from reporting corrupt practices. Do these reporting mechanisms include some type of whistleblower protection? I also question both how independent the AA is in reality and how robust is coordination with the external IOPC. Can you talk more about these realities a bit more? I also wanted to know if complaints are public. Lastly, could you explain integrity testing in a bit more detail (i.e. how a test would play out for a candidate)?

    • Hi Megan, thanks for your feedback. From reading your reply, I see 6 points which you have made, all valid.
      1: Rallying: I accept there can be an urge to protect those accused. From my experience, the internal mechanisms are there to protect officers and staff as they are innocent until proven guilty. This is important to remember but I agree, some forces/cultures protect rather than ‘accept challenge’. I urge forces to look at the evidence as it unfolds, there is a difference between an allegation and the facts that are driven out from the investigation. We have to trust the disclosure test at the end and when there are findings, my evidence is that we should release as much detail as possible on ‘guilty officers’ as they are no longer officers but at best, foolish and at worst, criminals…..and there is no place for them.
      2. Whistle-blowing protection- in the UK we have exceptionally strong policies that protect whistle blowers such as pseudonyms and even reference numbers. The only person who knows the identity of the whistle blower is a single senior officer to whom whistle-blowing status is designated by the force, in my case, the Metropolitan Police. I know from international visits that this is not the case in other countries and I think this is a risk. If people don’t feel safe, they wont come forward which means challenges can be reduced, corrupt officer scan remain and the public, to whom we are here to protect are placed at risk.
      3. AA independence: This is a role define din our law and regulations. Their decisions cannot and should not be challenged, that does not mean that they are sometimes asked to validate their rationale which is a very different position from getting AA’s to change their minds. It is just and appropriate for decisions made by one person to be reviewed so that assurances can be made, but within the regulatory process, which is very clear.
      4. IOPC co-ordination- there is some co-ordination but this is limited, purely because they have to be independent. If the gap is too close, that independence is rightly questioned and challenged by the public and senior figures. I decisions are not agreed with, there is a process for the police to take concerns up with the IOPC.
      5. Public complaints: yes, these are public, there are also internal complaints which you allured to in the form of whistle-blowing.
      Integrity testing: This is a key area and it is tough for me to talk about this in great detail at the risk of revealing our tactics. I am planning to do a follow up blog purely on integrity testing in the future so hopefully that will add some clarity for you.
      Hope this was helpful, thanks for your interest,

  2. Thank you for this interesting post! I think many readers in America would be particularly interested to see how anti-corruption safeguards work in the UK. I was wondering if there is any data on the influence of the PSD division. An issue that I think often comes up is the “protect your own” attitude within the police – I wonder how independent the PSD is (similar to Megan’s questions above) and whether it is possible to quantitatively calculate the impact of the PSD. I also unfortunately know very little about police prosecution in the UK, are issues discovered by the PSD then prosecuted, or handled solely internally?

    • Hi Bryndes, thanks for your observations. The PSD in London, which is a replicated process outside of London and thus across the UK is totally one of independence. PSD’s are stand alone departments that often have firewalls from the rest of policing. In London we have our own computer systems, intelligence departments and investigators that sit outside day to day policing and other elite departments such as counter terrorism. There is a plethora of data on police investigations which are shared publicly and through the IOPC and HMIC (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary) which is a Govt appointed body which sits outside of the local force, answerable to the Home Secretary which again, adds a level of independence. Re your last point on on prosecutions, where there is a criminal element the PSD share the investigation evidence with the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service), or the Attourney’s office in US terminology where they decide if they wish to take on the prosecution case on a criminal front. If they decide not to, the PSD take on an internal investigation which is presented at an internal Gross Misconduct board which ultimately can dismiss the officer concerned if the evidence is proven at a level of ‘on the balance of probabilities’ which is a lower level than a criminal case which is decided at the level of ‘beyond reasonable doubt’.

  3. Very interesting topic. Taking into account the Brazilian experience with corruption in police, I think that one of the main difficulties to detecting, preventing and punishing this kind oh offense derives from the fear that victims feel when they consider reporting the facts. A system of substantial incentives (including financial rewards) and effective protection seems to be essential to achieve better results. Another point, made in Megan’s comment, is the corporatism. Corrupt police officers tend to benefit from their own peer’s complicity and protection, which hinders the collection of evidence. In this context, integrity tests appear to be good instruments. However, do not those tests leave room for entrapment defense?

    • Hi Rodrigo. In the UK we have exceptionally clear lines on entrapment levels and layers of safe-guards to ensure that this line is not crossed.

  4. Chief Gardner, thank you for this fascinating post. You have spent a long time in this field and I really appreciate your perspective. As someone who spent four years in the NYPD as an intelligence analyst, I dealt with some of the best investigators in New York. Some of these officers had spent time in the NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB) and I spoke to them extensively about their time there. One thing I think is worth mentioning, is the tension that exists between over-policing officers for fear of corruption and encouraging/supporting police activity.

    In the 1960s and 70s the NYPD was notoriously corrupt. But the reforms (many of which you outline above) made officers afraid to engage in “pro-active” or “anticipatory” policing. Cops and detectives were happy to investigate serious crimes, like murder, rape, or robbery, once they happened but worried that stopping someone they thought was carrying a weapon or enforcing lesser offenses, like turnstile hopping or graffiti, would result in a career-ending investigation.

    This fear ended in the 1990s because Commissioner Bratton changed the metrics of success for both patrol officers and IAB detectives. Starting in 1992, patrol officers were judged by both their activity and corruption record and IAB detectives were assessed by the type of cases they brought and not the number of cases they opened and closed after a successful disciplinary action. Now, in the NYPD, being clean of corruption is necessary, but not sufficient, for advancement. Furthermore, Internal Affairs officers are more carefully managed by police leaders and care less about the number of cases they investigate and more about halting dangerous police corruption or abuse. This shift in metrics encourages IAB to focus on the bigger fish and worry less about initiating investigations to generate overtime and show their bosses they are working.

    • Hi Jacques, its interesting you mention the NYPD as this is a force we (The Metropolitan Police in London) compare ourselves on in several ways due to the similar force size and similar demographic and poverty challenges. Also, our corruption challenges and the start of addressing these challenges started in the 1970’s under ‘Operation Countryman’ which as you mention in a similar example using the NYPD above, stopped the ‘London’ problem by presenting corruption concerns to officers and giving them the opportunity to ‘resign’ rather than instigating corruption charges and criminal cases. Once complete, the culture at the time, not only in policing, but society as a whole, signed on the side of ‘this job is now complete’, ‘the problems gone away’, ‘we can start afresh’. This is never the case and it want until the 1990’s that Internal Affairs or Professional Standards Units were set up on a full time basis.
      The culture of addressing corruption, not standing by and watching is now well established in London and the UK. Regulations have changed and these regulations ‘demand’ officers put their hands up to concerns, if they see something and dont stand up, they themselves are questioned. This takes away that onus or pressure of ‘being a grass or a snitch’ and places that consequence on the officer committing wrong to address their behaviour, this is a 180 degree turn around from where we were and we are definately in a better place.

  5. Thank you for this post, all of these steps indeed seem crucial to combat police corruption, especially within lower ranks. Most of these measures, however, seem to promote either the chances of catching misconduct after the fact or screening in advance (such as the ethical tests). The third leg, which is increasing in popularity in many other contexts, is monitoring, and specifically moving towards using technology for more air-tight monitoring. For example, the Met is currently in the process of introducing body cameras for police officers (“Body Worn Video”), but they will only be activated at the discretion of the police officer. Most police officers are honest and will activate the camera whenever it is justified to do so, resulting in high-quality evidence of the interaction between a police officer and a suspect/citizen, and consequently better incentives for good behavior on the side of both the citizen and the police officer. However, extending the use of body cams such that they will be activated automatically, without the police officer’s discretion, while entailing some difficulties, also seems to have great potential for monitoring police officers that would otherwise engage in corruption

    • Hi Haggai, a great point. I have 2 observations to make:
      1. I believe the Met in London was the first worldwide force to routinely make BWV available to all front line officers. It came with concerns of suspicion by some officers but now it is seen as THE opportunity to IMMEDIATELY define their actions and thus honesty. You are right that if not activated, questions may be asked why, but this is often addressed by other officers activating their BWV’s, getting the situation where no-one had BWV evidence activated was not a scenario I came across. Officers were only too keen to activate and reveal. This cannot account for the actions of lone officers with a bad intent, but we are talking about miniscule numbers when compared to the 30,000 cops policing London, the vast, vast majority who put themselves on the line every day, as they do in many other couuntries.
      2. Automatic activation is a logistical impossibility. The practical downloading of 8 hrs of activity by any officer on a routine day and the consequent storing of that data for what is generally a 7 year period for legal reasons, is physically and financially challenging. WE have to have some starting point that as police officers, they are trusted by the public to protect and serve the public.

  6. Thank you for the interesting blog. You do not define corruption but as you indicate in your opening, it comes in many forms. You make some good generic points but anyone wishing to learn what doesn’t work in practice need only examine the UK model, and London in particular.
    In the last few days the UK Govt announced a Select Committee Inquiry into the relatively new IOPC, ;prompted in part by well reported recent cases which have undermined what little public confidence existed in the UK’s processes for dealing with complaints, including corruption.
    The quoted DPS has always shrouded itself in secrecy which makes it very difficult to assess its effectiveness and results in a body that lays itself bare to allegations of corruption of its own, which then do not get answered due to the defensive culture of the MPS.
    Openness and transparency are advocated in most anti-corruptions campaigns as they tend to help in building trust. That trust is vital for any agency seeking to have any credibility in this space.
    That trust, in both the process and the body empowered to investigate, also needs to be developed amongst the operational, public facing officers if we are to change the culture.
    The UK needs to radically transform its anti-corruption efforts. A first step would be the creation of an Independent Anti-corruption Commission which could draw on the experiences of similar institutions from around the globe. Of course that would require the UK to admit there were corruption issues and find the courage of leadership that has apparently been lacking.

    • Hi Gary, thanks for the challenge back. I picked up 3 key areas:
      1. The IOPC is not working and it is being reviewed: I agree, there are challenges, ‘checking the checkers’ means where do you stop. If you look, you will find flaws. I saw flaws with the IOPC when I was in post and I am sure that if asked, they would have found flaws with the police, we are all human. Now there are processes where Chief Constables can air concerns with a new IOPC Director General, a source not available pre 2018. No system will be perfect but I believe the UK is in a much stronger position than many other countries, if not all in respect of this regard.
      2. DPS secrecy. Of course we have to be secret, up to the point of evidential presentation. We will not disclose our tactics else they become void, but since I started in 2015, we now reveal all our findings and the detailed allegations and findings that were presented at Gross Misconduct Hearings or criminal level. previously, we did not always ‘sing from the rooftops’ about our successes fir fear of public concern over findings of guilt against the officers employed to protect them, and I must stress, we are talking about minute numbers here.
      3. An independent Anti-Corruption commission. My observation here would be,
      A. how would these people have or develop/maintain their skills?
      B. What authorities would they have, they would need a warrant of office, ie they would need to be a cop, so we go down the current route we have.
      C. We have a NCA – (National Crime Agency) where corruption could sit but currently does not routinely, I woudn’t say this is down to ‘courage of leadership’ as you suggest, but rather due to capacity and priorities. Corruption remains minute, especially when compared to previous decades. That said, it always needs to remain policed and where and how will always be a debatable issue.

      • Thank you for your further comments. My comments about faults with the system in London were not restricted to the IOPC but include the DPS. It is clear to me that many of the problems are not simply occasional human error. I also understand why it is so difficult for senior officers, especially those in charge of the DPS, to admit to systemic faults due to the resulting risk to public confidence in the wider organisation.
        Your response to point 2, especially about secrecy, nicely sums up some very dated attitudes in policing; nowhere more so than in the DPS. How can keeping findings of guilt from the public be reassuring? Were there so many that we would be shocked by the number of ‘convictions’? Yet, on the other hand, twice you stress the numbers are “minute”, in which case the public would be very reassured about the integrity and honesty of the vast majority of officers (something that I believe).
        Your point 3 again reflects a defensive stance. An Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) would not replace existing arrangements but would help draw together many of the excellent efforts and initiatives by public, private and 3rd sector bodies.
        If an ACC developed an operational investigation arm (not actually promoted in my earlier comment) I would respond to you as follows:
        A. How do the police (and other) investigators develop and maintain their skills?
        B. Powers could be granted by statute according to identified and justified need.
        “They would need to be a cop.”(?) Impossible to debate such a fine, well reasoned argument… and “our current route” is not fit for purpose in my humble opinion (and possibly in the opinion of very many others).
        C. I do not believe the NCA is the right agency, so possibly we agree on that, but for different reasons.
        Corruption is surely the biggest priority in policing as it undermines any efforts to tackle every other crime, thereby destroying the credibility of LEAs and the whole justice system.
        Globalisation has introduced new threats to the UK and I have no doubt that includes changes to the nature, level and sophistication of corruption (and not just in the police). Our current system is not fit to meet these threats and hence my advocacy for an ACC in the UK to bring some innovative thinking to both the problem and the solutions.

        • Hi Gary,
          To clarify your comments about point two, “How can keeping findings of guilt from the public be reassuring”…. we DO REVEAL all findings through public hearings which are open and transparent. We have nothing to hide here so not sure how our wires got crossed. We wont reveal our tactics as to how we ascertained evidence, the same as covert techniques are not revealed in major significant inquiries such as murder, covert operations and CT investigations, but we do reveal the results.
          Finally, you state corruption is the biggest challenge in policing. I agree to some extent but many would argue that serious crime, CT etc have a larger precedent as they are larger in volume. Corruption numbers remain minute. Figures on investigation volume are publicly available.

  7. This is a very interesting exchange between Gary and Matt, thanks gentlemen. Matt Gardner’s original post described how to maintain a police force which is almost free of corruption and shows that this requires constant expense and effort. A more common problem facing countries (and their international donors) is how to transition from a corrupt police force to a non-corrupt force. The Metropolitan Police was viewed (by many) as a corrupt force in the late 1970s and transitioned out of corruption by the mid 1980s, partly because of a specific investigation named Operation Countryman. The transition involved other mechanisms such as higher pay, greater empowerment of lower ranks and regular internal transfers of officers, especially between detective units (as described in the books of the two relevant Commissioners of the period, Robert Mark and David McKnee). To my mind there is much to learn from this period that would help current officials and donors tackling corruption. I would be interested in your views about important mechanisms that reduce police corruption beyond investigating it and whether lessons from the 1970s are relevant to today. Would you care to comment?

  8. Thank you very much for this thorough and informative post. I am interested in the global dimensions that you point to. Most of the anticorruption forces that you point to in the UK system seem like they may be fairly resource-intensive to implement and, moreover, rely upon significant political will to reform. International associations that provide monitoring and oversight seem like they may offer an outside check on corruption that is at least separate from the incentives of possibly corrupt actors within a given country’s domestic politics. I wonder whether you have seen evidence of external pressure leading to substantial change in the corruption of individual police forces, distinct from that efforts of domestic actors.

    • The idea that reform is resource-intensive is worth extra examination. In the course of the reform of traffic police in Georgia the government decided to sack the entire force. They reasoned that they were not effective at road safety and that they could be dispensed with until new non-corrupt staff could be recruited. Globally, the terms & conditions of many police officers are too low, corruption is fostered and this makes the officers ineffective; it’s a false economy. It follows that reform is not necessarily prohibitively expensive. An ineffective police force is surely a total waste of money.
      The politicisation of police is a cause of corruption in my view, so in a sense an absence of political will is needed rather than close political engagement. I would have to be convinced that political will drove corruption reform in the Metropolitan Police, a political desire for a well-paid force had the unintended consequence of tackling corruption (imho).
      I cannot provide clear evidence of external pressure leading to reductions in police force corruption, but some direct intensive external efforts to help the police in some countries have made tangible progress, in the end reform must come from the local officials it cannot be delivered, only helped, by outsiders (imho). Most external pressure is focused on building up ACCs; I do not advocate a single body to tackle endemic corruption through enforcement. This approach makes corruption somebody else’s problem, it puts all the resource in one place, and makes that place vulnerable to corruption and political pressure, often it delivers form over substance to satisfy short-term donor goals. Also typically, ACCs do not have independent prosecutors, which fundamentally undermines their abilities.
      One day I will write a book on this stuff, so follow me on LinkedIn just in case you want to read more.

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