Let me begin with this undeniable truth. There is no room for corrupt officers within policing.
The overwhelming majority of police officers are brave, hardworking and above all else scrupulously honest. Corrupt officers are rightly given a pariah status and from experience are mostly if not always exposed by their colleagues, whether that is immediate colleagues or through the excellent work of individual Professional Standards Departments.
Yesterday, the Home Secretary made a statement to the House of Commons as a consequence of Lord Justice Leveson's recommendations. Her statement started well;
"We are lucky, in Britain, to have the finest police officers in the world. They put themselves in harm's way to protect the public. They are cutting crime even as we reduce police spending. And the vast majority of officers do their work with a strong sense of fairness and duty."
The Home Secretary stated that corruption and misconduct are thankfully the rare exception and not the norm in our police. Both the Leveson Inquiry and HMIC had cleared policing of widespread or endemic corruption. We were off to a good start.
Alas, the content of her statement (and the disappointingly poorly attended debate that followed) left many, many officers (me included) feeling that we were all somehow tarnished by this rare exception of corruption.
The casual or even not so casual observer might be forgiven for thinking that if corruption is such a rare exception why the need for all the announced measures. I would go further and question the impact some of these measures will actually have on this rare exception?
Let's be clear, if a police officer engages in corrupt practices then they have breached both the criminal law and the Professional Standards of Behaviour, the latter being a regulatory code of conduct that details how an officer should behave on and off duty; it is a single, national regulatory code that was updated in November 2012. If an officer is minded to be corrupt, then they are prepared to break the very laws they swore to uphold and the Standards of Professional Behaviour. So, why would they abide by a new code of ethics or single set of professional standards on which officers will be trained and tested throughout their careers? We already have a single set of professional standards and frankly, if an officer needs to be continuously trained and tested on honesty and integrity then they've no business being a police officer.
A second job seems to be an issue that exercises both politicians and the media. Officers who engage in secondary employment have to seek the approval of their individual chief officer. An integral part of that approval is whether or not that second job conflicts with the Office of Constable; if there is a conflict, perceived or real, approval is not granted. Officers have second jobs for a variety of reasons from earning extra money to maintaining a qualification such as coach driving or nursing. At a time when officers' pay has been frozen, increments frozen, pension contributions increased, prices rising etc. is it any wonder that more officers are seeking secondary employment to pay their bills? That's not a comment on government policy but rather the hard realities of running a household. Let's not forget the desire to increase the number of special constables all of whom have their normal occupation but still manage to hold the Office of Constable.
If the public has an issue about officers having a second job, then I contend it has been made an issue by the media and politicians and not any corruption that has arisen out of that employment.
Finally I will turn my attention to the seemingly "controversial" issue of officers resigning before a misconduct hearing. If an officer resigns they are no longer paid. A resignation avoids lengthy and expensive internal processes. It saves real money in difficult economic times. If they are destined for the criminal courts, a resignation doesn't stop that. If the criminal offence is of such a serious nature then there are processes for the forfeiture of pension; it is rightly a high threshold test for any forfeiture. Let's make sure we don't throw the baby out with the bathwater to deal with the unique circumstances of Simon Harwood.
Resignation only appears to be controversial for police officers though. A little over a week ago, Chris Huhne MP stood outside court, having pleaded guilty to an extremely serious criminal offence, and resigned as Member of Parliament for Eastleigh. Did we hear a chorus of calls for him to go through a process to be sacked? Did we hear calls for his pension to be forfeited? Were there some who dressed up his resignation as a virtue? Was his admitted criminal behaviour described by some as a "mistake"?
Officers are infuriated by what they see as double standards. As law enforcers they know and accept that high standards should be applied, but shouldn't those same high standards apply to the law makers too.