Huhne: police officers with criminal convictions should be sacked. (Question: should they?)

by Stephen Tall on March 11, 2009

Here’s how the party’s lead press release today, picked up by much of the media today, reports this latest crime statistic:

Over a thousand serving police officers in Great Britain have criminal convictions, according to new figures revealed by the Liberal Democrats. …

• There were 1,063 serving police officers in 41 police forces across Britain who had criminal convictions
• This includes five officers who were sacked by the force but reinstated by the Home Office
• There are 77 serving police officers with convictions for violent offences who have kept their jobs: 59 with convictions for assault; 14 for violence against the person; two for battery; and one for wounding
• In the last five years, just 45 have been dismissed from the police for violent offences
• 96 serving police officers have convictions for offences of dishonesty: 36 for theft; five for perverting the course of justice; three for fraud; and one each for dishonesty and forgery
• In the last five years, just 37 have been dismissed from the police for dishonesty
• 210 officers have been dismissed or required to resign in the past five years as a result of other criminal convictions

The Lib Dems’ shadow home secretary, Chris Huhne, has adopted an ultra-tough line, calling on all police officers convicted of a criminal offence involving violence or dishonesty to be dismissed:

The public entrust the police with the use of legal force precisely because they are self-disciplined and restrained, which is why anyone convicted of a violent offence should be dismissed. … “The public will be rightly concerned that there are serving police officers who have committed crimes as serious as GBH, assault, wounding and robbery. Allowing police officers convicted of offences of violence or dishonesty to continue serving merely brings the vast majority of law-abiding and diligent officers into disrepute. Police forces should get tough on bad apples.”

There are two issues to highlight here. First, I think the party was wrong to splash the news release with the figure “over a thousand”, since more than half of those 1,000+ criminal convictions were traffic offences, and not therefore comparable to a conviction for GBH. Sure, it makes for a good headline, but the moment it’s revealed that a significant proportion are traffic offences it actually detracts from the seriousness of the other figures.

The second point, though, is a bigger one: is Chris Huhne right to argue for automatic dismissal of police officers with serious criminal convictions? There are two (eminently liberal) arguments to be made against what Chris is saying.

First, that each and every case must be judged on its own merit; there may sometimes be extenuating circumstances why it’s felt an individual convicted of a criminal offence (even a violent one), and who has served their sentence, deserves a second chance. After all, rehabilitation is the very essence of the optimistic liberal belief that we are all citizens capable of making a positive contribution to society.

Secondly, Chris criticises the fact that different police forces operate different policies: for example, North Yorkshire police have a zero tolerance approach to officers with criminal convictions, while in Grampian 2.5% of serving police officers have criminal convictions. The implication of Chris’s statement is that there needs to be a nationally enforced policy of zero tolerance. But isn’t that something best left to the police forces themselves – at least if they’re made democratically accountable, as Lib Dems propose – to decide? After all, if the citizens of Grampian are content with their force’s policy, why should a Westminster politician seek to tell them otherwise?

Set against these two philosophical arguments is a cold, hard fact which Chris is right to point out:

I cannot see how a police officer convicted of dishonesty can perform their duty effectively, as any prosecutor would be reluctant to call them as a witness for fear of being taken apart by the defence.

If the individual officer can no longer perform their job as a result of their conviction then, ultimately, they have only themselves to blame, no matter what the extenuating circumstances.

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No comments

Completely agree with your analysis. Of course if the offence was serious it would be difficult to keep someone in the police force, but it must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis (as all justice issues should be). And your point about local decision making is equally correct – Westminster politicians are too quick to demand national answers to local issues, which is what this is.

by Graham Smith on March 11, 2009 at 8:12 pm. Reply #

Agreed that it looked a bit strange at first glance, but

Hiring and firing must ultimately be the decision of the Chief Officer but it would be sensible for the Home Office to issue some guidance. The Home Office recognises this decisive problem for applicants but not for serving officers.

seems relevant.

by Ned on March 11, 2009 at 8:18 pm. Reply #

Every so often Chris gives a fantastic impression of being a right wing authoritarian reactionary; this and excluding Geert Wilders – whatever happened to liberalism?

by Andrew Tennant on March 11, 2009 at 8:23 pm. Reply #

why shouldn’t traffic offences be counted?
why do people persist in trivialising offences of this sort?

by johninpenarth on March 11, 2009 at 8:58 pm. Reply #

Doesn’t our leader have a conviction for criminal damage (in Germany). And we didn’t exactly take a zero-tolerance approach when one of our MPs assaulted another party member last autumn.

by Hywel on March 11, 2009 at 10:19 pm. Reply #

Hywel

But that was in another country and besides, the cactus is dead …

by Anonymous1 on March 11, 2009 at 11:22 pm. Reply #

Agree with the analysis. Every case should be counted on its merits. In some cases, a fight that was started by someone else could end up as an assault conviction if things got out of hand, or there are biased witnesses. That should clearly be treated differently to a police officer who walks into a supermarket and beats up a checkout girl because the shop is closing.

by Mark Wright on March 11, 2009 at 11:31 pm. Reply #

We trust the police with a lot of power over us I don’t think it too much to ask that the police not actually be convicted criminals themselves.

Would you really want someone convicted of GBH policing a potential football match with a potential hooligan problem or even a peaceful protest?

As for convictions relating to dishonsty if we can’t trust a police officer’s word then what good are they? How do we know the testimony they give in court would be truthful or the evidence they find real and not invented/planted.

by Peter1919 on March 11, 2009 at 11:49 pm. Reply #

Peter1919

But that argument seems to deny the possibility of rehabilitation. It seems to assume people can never change for the better, and it seems to assert that people who have made mistakes should never be given a second chance.

by Anonymous1 on March 12, 2009 at 12:29 am. Reply #

Sorry to be so off-topic, but thought that this was as good a thread as any to air this issue.

On politcalbetting at the moment is a thread that has civil liberty implications, and I suggest that we should be getting our MPs to ask why.

This copy from the other blog sets out the story:

Right. I know a bit about what RBS is up to here (or at least, what I think it is), so here goes:

Firms are required by the FSA and JMLSG (Joint Money Laundering Steering Group – there should really be an ‘anti-’ in there but there isn’t!), to put in place measures for identifying and dealing with Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs). The assertion within the regulations is that

“individuals who have, or have had, a high political profile, or hold, or have held*, public office, can pose a higher money laundering risk to firms as their position can make them vulnerable to corruption. This risk also extends to members of their immediate families and to known close associates.”

* The regulations subsequently go on to say that they shouldn’t apply to people who left office more than a year ago unless there’s a compelling reason to the contrary (I paraphrase but the essence is right).

The full guidelines are here (they’re pretty long – the key sections are paragraphs 5.5.18 to 5.5.29):

http://www.jmlsg.org.uk/content/1/c6/01/14/56/Part_I_-_HMT_approved.pdf

While RBS is being cackhanded in the implementation, I know for a fact that it is far from the only financial institution that is gold-plating the regulations. PEP monitoring should only apply to national-level politicians or those with a similar status or prominence (mayors could reasonably be considered as such, likewise ministers in regional governments etc), and their family / business associates. More crucially, the way they’re written, they only apply to foreign politicians or Britons occupying those positions in an EU or international body, though apparently the Law Society has produced guidance to say that they can be applied to UK politicians too.

Even so, there is no justification whatsoever to apply the regulations to members of a political party or politicians at a junior level (eg councillors) – and their families and associates. I should mention that part of the implementation of the regulations is an ongoing monitoring of transactions on the account(s). Doing so would surely breach the Human Rights Act and involve highly questionable behaviour regarding data protection.

RBS is just the first institution to be caught out like this. It would be a good idea for journalists (and pressure groups of the nature of Liberty etc) to contact other financial institutions to find out how each one is implementing the regulations.

by Ed Clover March 12th, 2009 at 8:53 am

by Ian Stewart on March 12, 2009 at 11:33 am. Reply #

What the regulations for the Police should say is something like: “upon an officer being convicted of a serious criminal offence, or a second less serious offence, the officer will leave the force at the end of 30 days thereafter; unless the officer has appealed formally against the conviction or to stay in the Force.” That gives scope for allowing for special circumstances; and time for the officer to resign. But it creates the presumption that he or she will go; a presumption that appears to be lacking at present.

by David Heigham on March 12, 2009 at 12:24 pm. Reply #

What next, saying that convicted child sex offenders should not be barred from working with kids because they might be reformed? They might, but some risks are not worth taking. So too with the police: if you are found guilty of dishonesty, violence, etc, you are out. Allow an appeal to the Home Secretary for special circumstances, but the presumption must be out. Chris is right (as usual).

by Tim Leunig on March 12, 2009 at 11:10 pm. Reply #

The Question is
One Law for the police , different rules for everybody else eg. teachers, social workers etc.

or Not ?

by simonsez on March 12, 2009 at 11:43 pm. Reply #

I’m a foreigner in Britain. I found it hard to understand why people in this country hate the police, when there’s worse to hate about the ones in my homeland.
But now I know why, after reading this article

by biggsleezy on March 15, 2009 at 1:18 pm. Reply #

Chris Huhne is spot on – law breakers can’t be law enforcers. It just makes them hypocrites.

I’ve no problem with leaving it up to the local police boards – but how can I contact them to check what they’re doing? How can I try to persuade them to do what I think they should be doing? No idea, of course.

by Andrew Turvey on March 15, 2009 at 1:46 pm. Reply #

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