16 December 2011

Too many English police officers show questionable ethics. The belief that for the last 25 years British Police Forces have been corruption free has taken a knock. Phone hacking by the News of the World was abetted from time to time by police officers providing telephone numbers. A report was published this week of an inquiry set up to explore the extent to which Police in England, Wales and Northern Ireland exchanged information for personal rewards.

In keeping with many inquiries into public sector standards, the finding is that there is no endemic corruption just widespread, opportunistic abuse of office, facilitated by senior officers who have failed to establish and enforce standards. “There are significant variations between forces … in how they defined what is acceptable and what is not”.

The inquiry undertaken by HM Inspector of Constabulary looked at relations with the media, disclosure of information, hospitality, gratuities, procurement contracts and business interest. These are areas where evidence of self interest quickly erodes public trust and confidence. A third of the public questioned believe that police corruption is a problem.

The report findings are seen as a “wake up” call because of the hugely inconsistent processes across English policing. At its simplest, of the 43 Forces only 20 have written guidance on the acceptance and disclosure of gifts. Too often there is no expectation of public declaration and registration of benefits received by officers. The growing culture, that there is no harm in accepting these benefits, is a denial of research findings that gift giving engenders an unconscious motivation to reciprocate.

The similarity of this report “Without fear or favour” with the Deloittes report on the acceptance and disclosure of gifts and hospitality in the NZ Treasury is notable. “Leaders have, on the whole, failed to grasp the importance of integrity and are therefore insufficiently compelling in setting the values and standards that should apply across all aspects of policing, as well as in setting a personal example to their staff.”


The Police Superintendents’ Association seems to accept the solution. It lies in leadership. “The message from the public is that they expect the police service to be fair and impartial and therefore it is a matter of critical importance that the police should not only act fairly, they must also be seen to act fairly”.

That seems remarkably similar to the responsibility of all employees in the New Zealand state sector to give effect to the principles of public service; “we must be fair, impartial, responsible and trustworthy”.

The problem is a failure to give effect to the “6 trust elements”. The path to improvement is a commitment to putting those elements in place. This requires that agencies

have standards

promote those standards

integrate the standards into operations

ensure managers model the standards

ensure staff know the consequences of breaching standards

take decisive action when standards are breached.