At the beginning of the year I wrote about Hillsborough, Plebgate, Corruption, Leveson & Savile all dominating the headlines. This litany of scandals has now been joined by Lawrence and under cover policing and has led to the call from the Police Minister to clear out the stables and consign the canteen culture to history.
For many of us the stables and canteens were already earmarked for closure when many of the historic failings bedevilling the service were manifesting themselves.
However, we need to acknowledge and condemn wrong doing, old and new, when it is established.
Now, as then, each of these issues is serious in its own right. Taken together they have profound implications for individuals, families and communities as well as for the police service. The very legitimacy of British policing is under scrutiny and each issue deserves reflection and thoughtful, expeditious action both by the police service and those now charged with investigating these matters.
However, I am weary of commentators and pundits, some more informed than others, queuing up to postulate on the ‘crisis’ affecting the police service and proffer remedies from the simple to the surreal. There’s clearly no shortage of arm chairs or experts to fill them.
Politicians comment on the proud traditions of policing and talk about 'rediscovering and reconnecting' ourselves but the endeavours and successes of todays police are so heavily caveated that it's no wonder that so many colleagues feel under sustained attack.
So, when do the failings or frailties of an individual become an institutional crisis and should the service of today stand in the dock on behalf of those who served before us?
From its inception in the nineteenth century through to today the police service has made mistakes; the majority by individuals from the minor to the very serious but a significant number have been institutional, calamitous and far reaching in terms of their impact on communities, individuals and reputation.
I have sat on misconduct panels and sacked police officers for gross misconduct; for behaviour that brought shame on them and the service. I also believe the process of investigating and determining misconduct is stymied by overly engineered regulations and a reliance on lawyers to interpret right and wrong. It fails the transparency test and as a process is hampered by a strained relationship with the IPCC, an organisation destined to under deliver through paltry funding and a confused remit. Many, including me, are unclear how the latest set of proposals for the IPCC will work in reality and this should be a cause of concern for the service and wider public.
I am a big supporter of a Code of Ethics and will enthusiastically embrace it when the College of Policing bring it forward. But let's be clear. Bad policing doesn't baulk at breaking the criminal law and usurping the plethora of guidance and regulation currently in place so a Code of Ethics is unlikely to make these individuals pause for thought.
To respond to the legitimate requirement on policing to learn from its past failings and present challenges, the service needs to have inspiring leadership at all ranks, searching scrutiny and accountability mechanisms and most importantly a culture that is founded on humility, respect and learning.
It is the culture of the service that will bring it through these difficult and uncomfortable times.
A Code of Ethics will help to shape and define a culture but on it's own it will not change behaviour.
We need to stay rooted to our founding traditions and principles but we need to be overtly and genuinely responsive to the current challenges. This will require the service at all levels to celebrate the successes of policing which continues to reduce crime and confront criminality every day; where officers walk towards danger on every tour of duty and do this on behalf of their fellow citizens.
On that note, I am not clear how sections of the police service raising questions about the honesty and integrity of their colleagues, by suggesting they fiddle crime statistics, will inspire confidence in the wider public. Let’s be clear organisations don’t manipulate figures. It would be people at all levels with a shared agenda and what would be their motivation? Crime recording and trends within overall crime are complex and getting a consensus in understanding is always a challenge. For the record, in the two forces where I work where crime is down, neither front line staff, their supervisors or senior managers fiddle crime statistics. To do so would be corrupt. To imply they do is unacceptable. If any such evidence exists produce it; I am confident none will be forthcoming.
As we encourage and invite others to be balanced and reasonable in their challenges to the service, we ourselves at all levels need to find better ways of expressing our disagreements and professional differences.
As important we need to proudly assert that the current and future members of the service have much to be proud of. We need to be advocates of policing not defenders of corruption that is neither noble or in a good cause. We need to reclaim the commentary about our service from the pundits and politicians and move forward into the new policing landscape with confidence and certainty because that is what we are here for - working alongside others to reduce crime and to make communities safer and stronger.
*This is an updated & extended version of the piece published this week by Police Oracle.