His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) has today (2nd November 2022) published the results of its inspection of vetting, misconduct and misogyny in the police service, finding that it is currently “too easy for the wrong people” to join and to stay in the police.
The review was commissioned by the then Home Secretary following the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met Police officer, which the inspectorate say raised substantial questions about police recruitment, vetting and standards of behaviour in the workplace.
The report emphasises the ‘long standing’ nature of these problems and the ‘ample warnings’ that have been ignored going back at least a decade. Worryingly, it also comes at a time when the police are carrying out a major recruitment campaign to bring in tens of thousands of new officers.
The report finds evidence of systemic failings in police forces, including:
- Too often, the recruitment process is not rigorous enough to identify unsuitable applicants. Some forces appoint applicants without seeking references from previous employers or even assessing them in person first.
- This is of particular concern given the current ‘size and speed’ of police recruitment via government which the inspectors highlight carries risk.
- Disturbingly, in a review of 725 vetting files, ‘questionable’ vetting decisions in almost 1 in 5 cases.
- Police officers and staff received vetting clearance after committing offences of indecent exposure and domestic-abuse related assaults, as well as being suspects of rape, racially aggravated damage and other serious violence.
- Forces reportedly justified vetting clearance decisions by considering these violent and abusive acts as a ‘one-off’, being reassured that ‘time had passed’ since the behaviour, and in one force because they felt they couldn’t consider information that hadn’t resulted in a conviction – with one senior officer saying ‘innocent until [proven] guilty’.
- The inspectorate also disagreed with decisions to allow officers to transfer to other forces despite a history of complaints and allegations of misconduct.
- In some forces, a police officer or staff who is arrested in another force area would not come to the attention of vetting units unless self-reported because police don’t use Automated Police National Database (PND) checks.
- Vetting which revealed potential ‘discriminatory, inflammatory or extremist’ language and views did not result in rejection.
- Some risky vetting decisions were influenced by the need to meet certain recruitment targets, leading some forces to clear applicants despite knowing disturbing information about them.
Detecting and dealing with misogyny and predatory behaviour
- A survey of officers and staff found an ‘alarmingly high number’ of female officers and staff experienced appalling behaviour by colleagues, including sexual harassment and serious sexual assault.
- Female officers provided disturbing accounts of their male colleagues’ behaviour, some of which ‘came from supervisory ranks.’ This included male officers pursuing women in lower ranks for sex (including via police email systems), viewing pornography on suspects’ phones (not as part of investigations), making inappropriate sexual comments about victims and women in public, stopping cars of women they regard as attractive (referred to as ‘booty patrol’), and setting out to take advantage of female colleagues who had consumed alcohol at work-related events.
- In many of the cases relayed by female officers, the perpetrator had been previously reported for similar behaviour but the force failed to take seriously or investigate them.
- Many spoke about worries of ‘repercussions’ for making reports, and most officers were dissatisfied with the outcome of reporting.
- The inspectorate believe ‘the poor behaviour’ they were informed about is prevalent in many – if not all – forces.
- Some forces failed to consider the link between misogynistic behaviour towards police colleagues and members of the public.
- The inspectorate found occasions where cases to answer for ‘gross misconduct’ were reduced to ‘no further action’ following disagreement by a senior officer.
Overwhelming evidence of police misogyny
Today’s report is the latest in a growing pile of alarming evidence about the police response to violence against women and girls, including that perpetrated by its own officers.
Only last week, Baroness Casey’s interim report on police misconduct in the Met found its culture of racism and misogyny empowers officers to abuse with impunity, days after the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the College of Policing found forces are failing to act on police-perpetrated abuse.
These follow the Independent Office for Police Misconduct’s findings under Operation Hotton earlier this year, which found misogyny in the Met Police, while the conclusions of Baroness Casey’s Inquiry and the Angiolini Review are still to come.
The inspectorate underlines the importance of these findings, noting the sheer scale of officers’ access to police information, and their “intrusive powers over other citizens”, normally people who are vulnerable at that time.
The inspectorate made a total of 43 recommendations, described as ‘an unusually high number’ for their reports; reflecting the extent of change needed.
The End Violence Against Women Coalition is clear that at the root of this is systemic misogyny, racism and other forms of discrimination that empower police officers to perpetrate violence with impunity.
These findings must be treated with urgency, given the rapid scale of police recruitment – and the ‘intrusive powers’ that police can exercise over other citizens. As the inspectorate points out: “this will often be in relation to people who are vulnerable at that time”. They also reaffirm EVAW’s serious concerns about handing ever more police powers to an institution in crisis and what this means for women’s safety, and public safety more widely.
Andrea Simon, Director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), said:
“These shocking findings by the police inspectorate are the latest indictment of the state of policing. It is abundantly clear that there are widespread and serious issues with vetting, standards, professional conduct, and systemic misogyny in policing which demands urgent and profound change.
In this context it is not only counterproductive but clearly dangerous to rush into recruiting tens of thousands of new officers when such longstanding and deeply rooted issues remain unaddressed.
It is astounding that a public service which wields such power over our everyday lives is recruiting individuals without even meeting them face to face. What’s worse is that such practices continue while the government is handing ever more powers to the police through the Public Order Bill.
It is highly concerning if we are enabling individuals with a history of abuse to join or remain in the police force where they have access to and power over vulnerable people. Women who have experienced violence and abuse are being both failed by the poor response to crimes like rape and domestic abuse and by the organisational culture of policing that has been slow to respond to the need to address misogyny and racism in its ranks.
We keep hearing about plans to rebuild trust and confidence in the police, but we have yet more evidence of the extent of failings and a lack of concrete improvements in outcomes for women. Transparency, scrutiny and accountability are the building blocks to restoring confidence in policing. If there isn’t transparency and scrutiny about how police are doing their jobs, there won’t be confidence.”
Sinead Geoghegan, Communications Manager, EVAW: 07960 744 502 firstname.lastname@example.org