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.