'It's now or never for policing to change'

Police officers need to feel willing and able to challenge unacceptable behaviour from their colleagues, says Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) Director General Michael Lockwood.

Oct 8, 2021
By Michael Lockwood
Michael Lockwood

Policing by consent can only work where there is trust. That trust is fragile. It is easily lost and hard to build with the tragic murder of Sarah Everard further undermining this.

The vast majority of police officers do incredibly difficult work and with a clear intent to serve the public. It is important we keep perspective on this.

But now is a watershed moment for policing to act and above all else, change. Policing must re-focus on building trust and take a long hard look at its own culture.

A police culture that allows racist, misogynistic or homophobic behaviour to exist is not one we can trust. These breaches are compromising the relationship police have with communities they most need to serve.

From our own work, more than 1,500 police officers and staff have now faced examination by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) for their conduct. Of those, 58 per cent faced disciplinary proceedings or were told to improve their performance.

As an example, in two years, we have seen 394 referrals where abuse of power for sexual gain by police officers was a factor. Of these, 106 were serious enough to be investigated independently by ourselves.

We have raised concerns about police behaviour on social media, racism, stop and search and most recently published a review of 101 Taser investigations which was met with mixed reactions from policing.

The latter was an opportunity for policing to consider what changes might be needed to improve community confidence. Instead, we sadly saw a defensive response dismissing our report as only a few cases and not relevant.

Our work highlights that police officers falling below the standards of behaviour expected are not one-off events, nor can they be dismissed as being an isolated ‘bad apple’.

We remain concerned about a culture where some officers don’t see anything wrong with sharing deeply offensive messages on social media and where others feel unable or unwilling to challenge this and other unacceptable behaviours.

Colleagues calling out poor behaviour when they see it should be the norm, and not the exception. Officers need to feel protected to do this out in an environment where there is zero tolerance. You cannot rely on individuals to do this if the culture does not support them.

There must be self-awareness of the problem and firm action to tackle it by senior leaders.

There must also be consistent and appropriate sanctions being applied by all forces to send a clear message about the standards of behaviour expected from officers.

Sadly this is not always our experience.

It’s now or never for policing to change. We all want confidence in policing.

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