Police Misconduct

Police Misconduct has been the subject of great debate recently. Drs Mawby and Wright of Keele University provide an excellent summary of police accountability . Their document gives us all an excellent overview of a subject we [ the public] know little about. Many may believe that police accountability is not relevant to them but it is important to understand that the public get the quality of service they fight for. Emergencies can happen at any time, day or night - to anyone. A police officer can make the difference between life and death. It is in everyone's interest to ensure that policing in the UK is proportionate, accountable and done with utmost respect to the civil liberties. The public have a right to expect the highest standards - afterall, it is the tax payer who pays for the UK's policing and pays out compensation for the mistakes made. It is therefore in the interest of the economy to have robust, effective policing not a version of the Wild West.

In the latest media tales, the police appear to be trigger happy with a tendency to abuse their power, reckless, potentially dishonest and totally unaccountable. There is also an impression of a reckless disregard of innocence or guilt/ truth or falsity leading to catastrophic consequences. The lack of accountability will result in further abuses of power. The police regulators are not sending the right messages to their subordinates e.g. "misconduct is unacceptable and will not be tolerated". The message currently sent is this " misbehave and we will either ignore it, retire you or you can resign and no one will know about it". Without discipline, there will be no maintenance or respect for professional standards.

Since a number of high profile deaths, the public and the media's attentions have understandably shifted to police accountability. Panorama recently attempted to examine the main issues in Cops Behaving Badly . In that programme, the police tried to represent themselves as "just human". Those who have had the pleasure of dealing with some members of the police know that "guilt" is often assumed. It is only long afterwards that the person is given the opportunity to prove their innocence - that is if they survive the onslaught of a traumatic arrest. I am certainly not about to generalise all members of the police forces, as many do their job extremely well. It does concern me that the police "act" with force before analysing the situation. It concerns me further that there is a literacy problem in the profession, making robust logical analysis of the situation particularly hazardous. Power in the hands of the reckless is a dangerous thing.

If anyone has obtained logs about them under the Data Protection Act, some members of the police have a tendency to write subjective as opposed to "objective" views. Having read a number of logs belonging to various suspects, I felt I was reading a chapter of Hello magazine [complete with accessory spelling errors] not an entry from an esteemed member of the police force paid by hard work of the tax payer. As doctors, we are obliged to write objective accounts without placing a "personal spin" . It is this personal spin within the logs that then creates a general impression of the suspect. It is that prejudicial impression that may dictate the person's fate.

Panorama's conclusion was that many members of the police who face misconduct investigations were likely to jump ship and take retirement. Of course, if one looks back into history, this "retirement" following "misconduct" allegations has been done for centuries potentially as a way of preserving public confidence. A classic example is General Dyer who was never held accountable for the deaths of innocent people in India. He swanned away into blissful retirement with a large pension. Such is accountability within the British Empire. Some habits don't improve.

Deborah Glass, head honcho of the IPCC [Independent Police Complaints Commission] provided some nebulous critical remarks about police regulation but had no constructive solutions. The same applies with many senior officers interviewed. Panorama had pointed out a fairly dangerous flaw in the system- namely there was no overarching body monitoring the police. This major catastrophe in police regulation did not appear to worry those in senior positions. To me, they appeared to be a group of people nodding and smiling and agreeing that there may well be a problem but no one grabbed the bull by its horns and said " Hang on, this is compromising public safety, lets solve the problem". I wasn't quite sure whether Panorama was now featuring a glorified Churchill Insurance advert complete with a chorus of "Ohhhh yes". The impression was that the lack of accountability was broadly accepted through the police force and even within the IPCC. That was how it was, how it had always been and how it was always going to be. It occurred to me that the total unaccountability of the police as depicted in the film In the Name of The Father, had not changed in decades. More on the Guildford 4 can be read here. In the Name of the Father was a movie that really affected me when I first saw it. Until that film, I had always developed the impression that the police were well meaning individuals. Anyone interested in the police unaccountability will find the film an eye opener as its shows the depths the police can go to in order to destroy lives. Even after the destruction and loss of life, many will remain unapologetic.

A case not mentioned by Panorama that demonstrates this "retirement when caught" was the case of Robbie Powell. This concerned the death of a young boy and the faulty investigation by Dyfed-Powys Police. The BBC article summarised the issues . The BBC stated

"A father who felt his son's death was not properly investigated feels cheated two police officers retired before being disciplined, says a watchdog."
The message here is that if faced with misconduct charges, the person is allowed to jump ship before they are pushed. Amusingly, many years later, Dyfed Powys Police spent large amounts of money on mediums/mystics . Perhaps they felt that a crystal ball was more effective than real detective work. Such is the irrationality of some forces.

A similar controversy has plagued the General Medical Council, the regulatory body for doctors. Diagnoses such as "anxiety related to the GMC" and others were sported in applications for voluntary erasure. Indeed, Dr Jane Barton, another CPS/Police/GMC Combo done in the establishment's interest was allowed to jump off the register with her pension preserved.

This was reviewed by the Health Select Committee. BMJ Careers reported as follows

"Voluntary erasure should be relatively easy, but it shouldn't cut across the requirement to regulate professional practice," said Mr Dorrell. "Otherwise you get to the point where there's professional misconduct and the doctor removes themselves from the register, which is fine from the point of the protection of future patients, but it doesn't achieve the other objective here, which is that professionals ought to be held accountable."

A similar issue arises with police regulation. Regulation is about deterrents and is "jumping ship" in the face of misconduct proceedings adequate to protect the public? Given the present state of affairs and the anecdotal evidence splashed in the media, this "retirement/resignation" archaic empire model does not appear to be effective in a population that cannot be placated by police cosmetics. The UK is beginning to realise that there is a difference between what is said and what is done.

On examination of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, the organisation appears to provide largely arbitrary definitions of "misconduct" open to subjective interpretation. The Standards of Professional Behaviour are largely vague . I had to hunt for the Home Office copy Police Officer Misconduct, Unsatisfactory Performance and Attendance Management Procedures to provide further detail of these so called Standards . In terms of human rights, the guidance is not readily available for the public is the European Code of Police Ethics . While the General Medical Council has put some thought into their Good Medical Practice document , the document related to the Police appears to be ill thought, without detail and open to subjective interpretation. Recently, West Midlands Police and the IPCC confirmed that Institutional Racism is not recordable as police misconduct under the Police Reform Act. It is only recordable as a "Quality of Service" issue. Quality of Service issue is effectively a large black hole where concerns of the public are thrown into and never seen again. There is no feedback or assurance that concerns were taken seriously or something done about them. The Chief Constable is not held accountable for failures in policy even if there is a negative effect on the minority groups.

I refer to this issue as it is a startling discovery following Stephen Lawrence Inquiry . . It is also concerning given the recent concerns raised by admirable campaigners such as Smiley's Culture and Deaths in Custody [also featured in the Guardian ]. Their concerns may be related to the negative effect of faulty policy. Sadly, no one will be held accountable.

The police has issued a glossy publication on human rights complete with smiling multi-cultural community . Reality is quite different from these glossy brochures. The fabulous George Monbiot crashed into these glossy brochures with his damning evidence based article entitled "Justice is impossible if we cannot trust police forces to tell the truth" . Within this piece was a disturbing case concerning the violation of human rights - the case of Michael Doherty. This is George's summary :-

In August 2008 Michael Doherty, who lives in Hillingdon, discovered a long series of messages exchanged by his 13-year-old daughter with someone who appeared as if he might be grooming her. The messages were sexually explicit. At one point the person proposed staging a kidnap and whisking her away. Doherty went to the police. He presented them with an 86-page dossier. When he wasn't satisfied with the action being taken, he phoned Hillingdon police station five times to try to speak to a senior officer to complain, and to find out why, in his view, the investigation seemed to have stalled. Then a series of remarkable things happened.

Two plainclothes officers arrived at Doherty's house at seven in the morning, when he was feeding his baby, to arrest him. Among other charges, the police claimed that he had been harassing the commander's secretary. She had produced a witness statement in which, she said, he had phoned 10 times in two days, that he was "raging", "abusive", "rude and aggressive". Doherty offered to get dressed and then present himself at the station - but the officers, after threatening to smash down the door, handcuffed him and dragged him out of the house in his dressing gown.

At the same time the police dropped the grooming investigation. They hadn't looked at his daughter's computer. A note by a detective inspector at the Hillingdon station later justified this decision by maintaining that "there is no evidence of a crime capable of proof". Doherty believes that this conclusion could not be supported without examining the computer; the police maintain that they have established that the correspondent was only 15, had met Doherty's daughter, and was who he said he was.

Doherty had proof that the calls he had made were not rude, abusive, raging or aggressive: he had recorded them. I have listened to the recordings: he remains patient and polite - remarkably controlled for someone faced with alleged police indifference to what was happening to his daughter. The police failed to pass these recordings to the Crown Prosecution Service, so off to court he went. There, though she had signed a legal witness statement, the secretary admitted that her recollection of the calls was hazy, and he was acquitted; but had he not recorded them, and meticulously documented everything else that happened, he might have been convicted.

In a case that is one of its kind, the determined Mr Michael Doherty is seeking justice by prosecuting a member of the Metropolitan Police staff and the Hillingdon Gazette has the story . If successful, this will be a landmark case for the common man. The charming Doherty is determined to hold the police to account for the injustices meted out on him.

When reading the narrative above, we all wonder whether the police actually considered how to make a proportionate response. The highly intelligent Doherty frequently tape records the officers and these can be found on You Tube. In the end, if he had not tape recorded the police and their staff, he would not have been able to prove his case. Are we therefore in a culture where we cannot even trust the police to be truthful hence the requirement to have cast iron evidence in the form of tape recordings? I suppose having personal recordings is not a bad idea for anyone faced with problems of this nature. It may be a sign of the times we live in.

We ask why so much public money was spent on a case that should never have made it past PACE and it is difficult to see what heed was paid to Mr Doherty's human rights. We then ask the question - why isn't there a report on the IPCC's website relating to the serious problems within this case? Perhaps Deborah Glass who assured the public that they will go wherever the evidence leads them to, will outline the relevant problems in this case and how they would be avoided in the future. What is concerning about Doherty's case is this - there is an attempt to twist legitimate conduct into potential criminality. There is a tendency for the police to act without examining the circumstances of the case - a knee jerk reaction with maximum force. If we compared that to a doctor - if a doctor acted without taking a full history, they would be struck off. The same does not appear to apply to the police. In this case, the IPCC has provided no assurance that a repeat of the Doherty incident will not happen to other innocent members of the public. The Metropolitan Police appear to lack insight into their failings thereby informing us all that they intend to lie under our beds hence the reason for their slow response to the recent riots.

The general consensus and the message from those affected is that the catastrophic failure in police accountability may now be costing lives. The British police do not appear to have a solution to this problem. Many, who have seen the actions of the police first hand, understand that the UK is a Police State. Indeed, the case of Michael Doherty shows us that fundamental civil liberties are now non existent. It is left to the person whose rights have been violated to police the UK's statutory rights single-handedly.Is this an acceptable situation for the average man on the street ? In my view, this situation is completely unacceptable. Doherty may be dubbed as the Man of Steel but his stamina is borne out of the determination to seek out justice despite a tortuous road paved with many dangers. Few would have the courage to walk that road.

The numerous deaths in custody show us that there is no accountability even after the death of a loved one. The only way forward is for individuals to empower themselves by collecting evidence, making subject access requests under the Data Protection Act and accessing internal protocols from the forces under the Freedom of Information Act and learning the way the police system of accountability works. Information gathering is essential for everyone. It is important to support pressure groups who campaign to ensure British policing changes for the better. At present, there appears to be a broadly cosmetic response from the Police with little by way of constructive reassurance. It is not clear whether there is a lack of insight or simply a cultural lethargy. One thing is for certain, the current failure in police regulation is affecting the public purse, reducing public confidence and costing lives.

Related Links

1. Police Watch UK
2. Timeline for Police Misconduct - Bhatt Murphy Solicitors.
3. Police and Racism - Ten Years On
4.National Policing Improvement Agency Guidelines
5. Data Protection Act - using the Act to access your data from the police.
6. Phone Hacking - Key Police Quotes.