New powers to allow police chiefs to sack officers guilty of gross misconduct will erode a fair and transparent system, says Cambridgeshire Police Federation.
Scott Houghton, the branch’s conduct and performance liaison officer (CAPLO), described the changes as a “retrograde step” that would undermine members’ confidence in the process.
His comments follow a Government announcement that a finding of gross misconduct will automatically result in a police officer’s dismissal, unless there are exceptional circumstances.
Under the new system, chief constables or their deputies will chair misconduct panels and will be handed greater powers to decide whether officers should be dismissed. They will also be given a right to challenge decisions.
Until now, they have been chaired by an independent lawyer, known as legally qualified chairs (LQCs). Instead, legally qualified persons (LQPs), will provide independent advice.
Scott said: “I’m sure all of our members would agree that there can be no place in policing for corrupt officers.
“However, these changes feel like a knee-jerk reaction to extreme cases when forces already had the powers to remove those officers.
“It’s a retrograde step that will erode a fair and transparent system and undermine our members’ confidence in it.
The perception in the days when chiefs chaired conduct hearings was they were already a fait accompli, and it feels like we’re returning to those bad old days.
“Our members are important stakeholders in this process and need to be confident they will receive a fair hearing, and we had that under LQCs.
“They provided openness, fairness and independence to the proceedings, which we’re always striving for with the public. Are we saying that officers aren’t deserving of that as well?”
Scott said that proportionality was also being removed from the process.
“There should be an assessment of the proven case and then an appropriate and proportionate sanction applied – and that may well be dismissal but gross misconduct shouldn’t always mean dismissal,” he said.
“We need proportionality and that’s been lost.
“I don’t think it will do much for members’ morale,” he added.
Under the changes, officers who fail vetting checks can also be dismissed.
Scott said: “While we support the vetting of officers to remove officers who shouldn’t be wearing our uniform, again there needs to be openness and transparency to the process.
“It’s not been our members who have failed to properly implement vetting procedures over years.”
Tiff Lynch, the national Federation’s deputy chair, said speeding up the disciplinary process would help to rebuild public trust.
She said: “Ministers want chief constables to act fast, and chief constables want to act more swiftly. We would urge them to back our Time Limits Campaign to make a real difference to the dismissals process, to make it fairer and more robust for both police officers and complainants, paving the way for the rebuilding of public confidence which is paramount.
“Disciplinary investigations take too long to conclude. In the Baroness Casey Review it was highlighted that on average, the Met takes 400 days to finalise misconduct cases – but this is a nationwide problem.
“Latest statistics show one in eight cases still take more than 12 months to conclude, according to the Home Office.
“Via our long-running Time Limits campaign, we are fighting for police disciplinary investigations to be concluded within 12 months from the moment an allegation is made.
“We are proposing legislation which would give legally qualified persons power to impose deadlines on investigations which have dragged on for a year.”