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What On Earth Has Happened To Professional Standards?

Last updated on March 14th, 2019 at 02:27 pm

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It’s a question I’ve posed before, but I’ve just read a book, The Crocodile Court, which is basically about a West Midlands Police Sergeant who falls foul of the discipline system and what happens after that.  I’ll not spoil it too much in case you want to read it.

Let’s be honest, Professional Standards, or whatever you want to call them, have never been popular in any of their incarnations, but they are a necessary evil.

My point is this, (and once again my experience is restricted to the Met so if any of you ‘Crunchers’ want to tell me how it is in your Force I’d be pleased to hear it), in the good old days, at least up to the beginning of the 2000s, in my opinion and experience, Professional Standards were at least reasonably fair and I’ve known several Complaints Officers who would look hard for an informal resolution rather than go the whole hog.

In Complaints and Discipline, as in Policing in general, it is important to be able prove or disprove any allegation.  No Man’s Land is a result that doesn’t really satisfy anybody.

There are those out there who won’t like this but it is a fact that spurious and vexatious allegations ARE made for a variety of reasons.

If, for example, an allegation of assault or incivility is made against an officer or group of officers and that/those officer(s) vehemently deny the allegation, it is possible that it’s a false allegation.  If it is possible to prove or demonstrate that the allegation is, or is likely to be, false, then why should we not do it?

In the early 90s I was asked by our Complaints Unit to do a Timeline for an allegation of assault made by a group of people against a DC and a DI.  So I read all of the ‘witness’ statements and produced a Timeline that completely covered a very large table, and when I presented my Timeline to the Complaints Unit they had no alternative but to concede that whether these officers had or hadn’t assaulted anybody, the evidence of the ‘witnesses’ could not be relied upon because they clearly weren’t all where they claimed to be in their statements, and could not possibly have seen what they claimed to have seen.  Result – Complaint Discontinued due to lack of evidence.

Fast Forward to 2015 and what do we have now?

Professional Standards Departments who seem to be hell-bent on prosecuting or disciplining officers at the drop of a hat.  It seems to me (my opinion only) that they’re not too interested in finding any evidence which would assist the accused or undermine their own case, or maybe even, just establishing the TRUTH.

When it comes to Crime (and allegations of assault etc against Police Officers are exactly that) the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 tells us exactly what our roles and responsibilities re Disclosure are,

The Code of Practice requires the police to record and retain material obtained in a criminal investigation which may be relevant to the investigation. In particular:

all police officers have a responsibility to record and retain relevant material obtained or generated by them during the course of the investigation. Material may be photographed, video-recorded, captured digitally or otherwise retained in the form of a copy rather than the original, if the original is perishable, or the retention of a copy rather than the original is reasonable in all the circumstances

  • the officer in charge of the investigation has special responsibility to ensure that the duties under the Code of Practice are carried out by all those involved in the investigation, and for ensuring that all reasonable lines of enquiry are pursued, irrespective of whether the resultant evidence is more likely to assist the prosecution or the accused
  • the Code of Practice creates the roles of disclosure officer and deputy disclosure officer, with specific responsibilities for examining material, revealing it to the prosecutor, disclosing it to the accused where appropriate, and certifying to the prosecutor that action has been taken in accordance with the Code of Practice.
  • the disclosure officer is required to create schedules of relevant unused material retained during an investigation and submit them to the prosecutor together with certain categories of material
  • non-sensitive material should be described on form MG6C and sensitive material should be described on form MG6D.

Most of the ‘Time Bombs’ sit within the Unused Material, i.e. material that the Police possess that they do not seek to use during their proceedings.  The most obvious, and recent example might be tha case of the TSG 6 where hours of CCTV were not disclosed to the Defence, CCTV evidence which ultimately helped clear those officers of any wrongdoing.

Their Judgeships feel so strongly about it they have issued a Judicial protocol explicitly for Unused Material.

“Disclosure remains one of the most important – as well as one of the most misunderstood and abused – of the procedures relating to criminal trials. Lord Justice Gross’ review has re-emphasised the need for all those involved to understand the statutory requirements and to undertake their roles with rigour, in a timely manner.”

Even the Attorney General’s Guidelines bangs on about it “The amendments in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 abolished the concept of “primary” and “secondary” disclosure, and introduced an amalgamated test for disclosure of material that “might reasonably be considered capable of undermining the prosecution case or assisting the case for accused“.”.

You can’t just ignore evidence you don’t like.

So what the hell is going on?  I have heard way too many instances in the past year or so where Professional Standards Officers stand accused of playing fast and loose with the requirements of Disclosure and Unused Material.  Why?

I have, occasionally, been described as an Organisational Terrorist (thank you for that SIB), god knows why, maybe it’s to do with the number of times I challenge the establishment and try to tease the truth out.  Now, I’m more in danger of being described as a Conspiracy Theorist.

It can be no coincidence surely that in the last decade or so, the number of occasions where we have heard about alleged abuse of process by Professional Standards offices has increased alarmingly?

Is this mass incompetence?

Is this a positive act to try and reduce the number of serving police officers cheaply?

Is this a vendetta against certain officers.

Is it lack of appropriate training (although I’d be horrified if it was)?

Have ACPO (or whatever they’re called today) had a National Meeting and decided upon a protocol to keep the plebs in their place?

Whatever the answer is, I find it absolutely frightening that this is not just one Force doing things somewhat differently to the others.  This is a Method.

I’m not going to rake them all up again, but in the last year or so we have heard several instances whereby Professional Standards appear to be operating to a different set of rules to everybody else, and if you read The Crocodile Court you’ll be familiar with one more, and the terrible consequences of incompetence.

I’m absolutely certain that if asked we could all name one, if not two or more, cases of DPS/PSD abusing the system and bullying the officer into submission, whatever the reason for that behaviour might be.

So what exactly HAS happened to Professional Standards?

Why has it happened?

Is it just in London or does it happen elsewhere (I know the answer to that one).

Any examples gratefully received.

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12 thoughts on “What On Earth Has Happened To Professional Standards?”

  1. Autistic Detective

    PSD’s / DPS are insular well-resourced, self protecting units with the primary and overriding aim of managing organisational risk for their force not for the wellbeing of officers within in. The support these units have throughout their organisations and the lack of scrutiny they can be subject to combined with legislation (Police Reform Act 2002) which protects how they operate and is more than a match for any current opposition.

    To challenge the manner in which PSD’s practise would take a concerted, organised and well funded effort with sufficient support and dedicated figure heads who see this as a crusade…. The National Police Federation and separate police federations are not willing to challenge the status quo even though they have the resources and funds to do so and the only organisation(s) with an interest to challenge.

    To win individual cases it just takes a good barrister with enough funding to focus on a particular case and to hold PSD’s to account to highlight bad practise / abuse of process etc… but cases on an individual basis are easy for forces to manage and explain away or ignore and do not reveal systemic malpractice.

    Over the last 5 years the National Police Federation have cut the budget allocated to supporting its contributors in legal matters by 25% (about £5 million) even though in 2011 they put subscriptions up by more than 23% and have more than £30 million in reserves and assets of over £25 million and the MPS Federation have excess funds / underspends each year. The backdrop to these figures is that legal assistance provided to officers is meant to be the primary function of the federation. (Figures all in published accounts).

    Personally I think the systemic malpractice which will come to light from the CSA enquiries will act as a catalyst for a light to be shone on this area of policing and if enough of those affected organise themselves and collaborate, link in with an MP or two, an independent firm of solicitors and get press contacts in a mutually supportive relationship things could change and a path for current and past officers to travel down to whistleblow and have support in could work with officers support would force the national federation to support it.

    Together your strong. Regards


    1. Thank you for informative and attention-grabbing comment.

      There is a huge will to challenge and reform this malpractice, but lacking the experience and knowledge for the ‘How’. Maybe your comments will help.

      Again, thank you

      1. Autistic Detective

        I couldn’t see where i could email you as am new to the world of blogs / twitter and social media in the main but am of the opinion that if people wanted to get organised in this vein it is perfectly feasible and I would be happy to assist in the organisation. I have seen a number of individual efforts from different past officers which need to link in with each other. I am on . There are a number of reasons why it could be achievable, one being a appeal case up this month at the high court which could open the door for victims of crime to sue the police for poor investigations and change the landscape of policing etc.. Regards AD

  2. To be fair, not much really has happened to the DPS, it has been a hodge podge of some good people there, and others, frankly, frighteningly incompetent for a long time. I was for about ten years an almost full time ‘friend’. I never refused to assist any one who came to me, unless I was conflicted. Therefore I was a friend to some people who socially I would not be seen dead with.
    I have represented officers of varying ranks at interviews, hearings tribunals and in court as a Mckenzie friend.
    My close experience with the conduct system ran from 1992.
    I have met many DPS/CIB IO’s. Some were fair and understanding, some were fair with no understanding or acceptance of human nature. Some were very competent;

    One Detective Chief Superintendent from CIB giving evidence to a Conduct Hearing admitted to never having read the Home Office Guidance on conduct matters. That is akin to a Custody Officer not ever having read the PACE act or codes of practice.
    When I pointed out to a DCI from 1 area complaints that there was no evidence against my ‘friend’ he said, He is guilty by association. (He was a friend of another accused officer, one who was mentioned in the witness statements which my ‘friend’ was not.) He, my ‘friend’ walked out of Tintagel House at half time after a No Case to Answer submission I made.
    One DCI charged and was prepared to board on a sacking board an officer for , damage to police property, The officer had written a love poem, a very bad love poem, on an old copy of a police notice. Not a file copy. Total cost of the paper from the defence witness statements I took from MPS procurement came to less than one tenth of a penny, assuming that paper was not destined for the shredder, which another defence statement said it was.

    I could go on and on about the stupidity of much of the disciplinary process. One redeeming feature was that different officers of ACPO and superintending rank heard and made the decisions. Therefore it was a professional tribunal, most of the time, with a varied background in policing. Normally I could find one of the panel I could pitch sensible arguments at. If not the AC or the Commissioner at the review stage.
    PAT’s generally had a greater sense of fairness and the Chair could be expected to accept good legal arguments which would fail at the hearing.

    When all else fails there is JR, but you are batting uphill always there, you need a very good point to win.

    The current system of a full time, ‘hanging judge’ hearing all the cases is bad and clearly not what was intended. It makes for injustice.

    1. The current hanging judge, if it is still Julian Bennett, is the one who reduced the gross misconduct charges against the DPS officers who tried to fit up the TSG 6 to simple misconduct. They should have faced criminal charges in my opinion and it is clear they were protected. It wouldn’t have happened for officers outside of the DPS who had withheld CCTV footage in such an outrageous manner.

      I have to agree with the point about the old system. I had to face a central board in 1998 for something that everyone involved on the fed side agreed should have been dealt with as “words of advice”. Submissions were made at the half way point and the panel agreed there was no case to answer. I doubt this would happen now under the current system with the hanging judge deciding what evidence would be heard and who would give evidence in person…………………..unless the officers before him were DPS of course.

  3. Where do I start? 🙂 The current misconduct system can be manipulated very easily by local management and the DPS. It is manifestly unfair and it was certainly used against me in a corrupt manner by my SMT, the professional standards champion and the DPS. I raised several concerns and examples of misconduct about my SMT and in response I was told my behaviour was unacceptable by the professional standards champion and the SMT. DPS ignored my concerns and assisted with the witch hunt that was being conducted against me.

    What had I done? I recognised the early signs of bullying by my team sergeant and challenged him. MPS policies and procedures were ignored and I took it to Commander Steve Allen (now a DCC in police Scotland) who proceeded to tell me that if the Met followed all policies and procedures properly it would grind to a halt.

    There followed a 3 year witch hunt which culminated in me facing a misconduct hearing 7 weeks before my retirement date for sending 2 inappropriate e-mails to my manager. She had alleged I had conducted a campaign of bullying and harassment against her, but her counter allegations were a pack of lies. So all the DPS could run with was 2 e-mails. Because I was on a final written warning thanks to a trumped up misconduct meeting they were able to put me in front of Julian Bennett.

    Unsurprisingly he found against me. Surprisingly, despite counsel for the DPS pressing for an immediate dismissal (which would have affected my commutation enormously, he dismissed me with 2 months notice. The impact of this was that my retirement date was 28th March and my dismissal date 2nd April. So, I retired with pension intact and got the commutation I wanted.

    Let’s look at the DPS and their role in this. When they interviewed me, they only gave me disclosure of 130 pages of statements and other documents on the day of the interview. They ignored medical advice from the MPS psychiatrist and my GP about my fitness to be interviewed. They called in a tame FME who after a 5 minute chat declared (surprise surprise) that I was fit for interview. I lost it big time in the interview and they had to terminate it.

    The DS from DPS SW then declared that I had been given ample opportunity to give my side of the story. I would love to name the corrupt scumbag, I really would. And also his DI who is equally culpable.

    Despite having no evidence of bullying against my manager, the loathsome twosome wrote up the case papers for the hearing in such a way as to say I had conducted a campaign of harassment against my SMT. Remember, I was only up on a charge of sending two inappropriate e-mails, and their star witness had been undermined by no less than FIVE of my colleagues who all made statements which contradicted her evidence.

    There is much more I could write, other brushes with them. But suffice to say the current DPS have demonstrated that integrity is negotiable when it suits them. They comply with the law only when it suits them, and don’t bother when it doesn’t.

    They are not fit for purpose and there needs to be a root and branch reform of how they operate, their accountability and their failure to comply with policy and law.

  4. Alan,

    Your quite right in what you have said throughout your post.

    I will tell my story hopefully in the not too distant future.

    My case concerns a county constabulary but also the Met.

    I have had to pay privately for a barrister to assist me due to the fed’s reluctance to help as they effectively acquiesced in the malpractice by PSD.

    You will hear how the PSD was used by a senior officer purely to assist in a personal vendetta as I had made disclosures to the HMIC and also challenged corruption concerning a Paedophilia case where I had been the OIC.

    I can emphasise with the author of the Crocodile Court as I was arrested whilst off sick and put in the cells of a station I had worked as a custody officer.
    I was then re bailed on several occasions each time to return to a different police station in the same force area to cause maximum embarrassment and no doubt act as a warning to others who may have been contemplating challenging corruption within the force.
    With regards to CPIA, this is not treated seriously by the courts nor is disclosure in tribunals.
    Having assisted many other officers over the years, suppressing evidence is standard procedure within professional standards departments.
    In my case, the most important documents being the policy books kept in a safe had allegedly gone missing and PSD apparently did not keep a safe register which I find hard to believe.

    In another case in my force a case was dropped at court when it was discovered that the PSD officer had failed to disclose relevant evidence.

    The PSD officer claimed ignorance and received a note in their appraisal regarding additional training.

    I have found that no matter how serious an allegation against a PSD officer, the outcome is usually the same;’management action’ previously know as words of advice.
    With regards to PSDs, ultimately it depends on the integrity of the investigating officer and/or what they have been instructed to do whatever the rights or wrongs of the matter.
    Ultimately, their conduct results in miscarriages of justice and if it is okay for PSD to act this way it is okay for the rest of the force to act in this way.
    In the same force, a person was released after serving 25 years having been wrongly convicted.
    There has been little change between then and now with regards to the culture and what is sometimes known as noble cause corruption.

    An interesting part of this case concerns Mr Marshall the head of the College of Policing who appears to have departed from his own code of ethics in failing to deal with the conduct of his PSD prior to his appointment at the college of policing.

    Due to the ongoing bullying and pending legal matters, I have kept this comment brief and have made it in the public interest.
    Good Cop Down

  5. There needs to be an equivalent of the Criminal Cases Review Commission for cases of police misconduct. Police officers have no redress for unfair dismissal due to an incompetent investigation. It is the the interests of all parties for the investigation to be independent and thorough but please don’t mention the IPCC who tend to cherry pick their investigations. If police officers and the public both have no confidence in the system then things need to change.

    1. “If police officers and the public both have no confidence in the system then things need to change.”

      Things definitely need to change – but to what system and how do the police or the public or both make it happen?

      1. Thanks for your comment. I can only suggest that the lead needs to come from the Federation. They have sufficient financial resources to obtain legal advice, come up with an alternative system and get a campaign under way. If the proposed alternative was realistic they would soon get the Public behind them and present a united front to whoever will have Cruella’s job after next week. I have already kicked off and proposed a system in an earlier post, I’m sure finer minds than mine could come up with a workable system and get the Public on board too. The main components would need to be a) a QUALITY investigation b) Integrity, c) Transparency and d) Consistency. I’m absolutely certain that both Police and Public would support a system that contained those 4 elements as a bare minimum.

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