Skip to main content

The Professionals

In the second of our posts on the Stevens commission, we look at the proposal that police officers become a registered, chartered profession. The commission identifies a number of failings with police In the second of our posts on the Stevens commission, we look at the proposal that police officers become a registered, chartered profession. 

The commission identifies a number of failings with police competence and the current police disciplinary system.  At the heart of these criticisms is a lack of centralisation for standard setting and an 'alphabet soup' of bodies such as HMIC, PCC, NPIA and the PSA with opaque roles and responsibilities.  The commission concludes that the current system needs to be radically overhauled and simplified in order to (i) give police officers greater competence through an enhanced professional status, (ii) help ensure that the public have confidence in the competence of the police and (iii) help the public have confidence in police disciplinary processes.                                                                         

The commission's proposal is for policing to be a chartered profession, with registration and professional development coming under the ambit of the College of Policing and serious disciplinary issues coming under the ambit of a new Independent Police Standards Commission (IPSC) which would replace HMIC and the IPCC.  Police officers would have to achieve a minimum standard of competence in order to become a chartered police officer and the College take the lead in setting standards, dealing with matters of competence, retraining and embedding a culture of improvement.  While more minor disciplinary issues would still be dealt with at force level, serious disciplinary issues would be investigated by IPSC and would be dealt with at public hearings by a full powers panel.

The aims of the proposed charter system are, on their face, admirable and the commission cites persuasive examples of how the various bodies tasked in recent years charged with regulating police have suffered from a jumble of functions and a lack of central focus.  It is hard to disagree with the argument that public confidence would be strengthened by a culture of competence and from the greater independence and transparency of the proposed disciplinary system (which would have public hearings in the majority of cases and might put an end to the current system where up to 200 officers a year facing non-criminal allegations of misconduct are able to retire rather than face sanction).

There is a question mark over whether the proposed regime change would have the necessary support at force level.  Rank and file police are sometimes often criticised for a 'siege' mentality in which there is a culture of resistance to change, no matter how well-intentioned or well-supported at senior level.  It is not difficult to imagine a sizable number of officers arguing that the office of constable is unique and not appropriately described as a profession, and that a professional regulatory system that works for the likes of healthcare professionals is not appropriate for the thin blue line.  In addition, it is a matter of debate as to whether the idea will gain traction in Westminster.  In our previous post, we considered whether the commission's report will do much more than generate short-term headlines before gathering dust on the shelf.  While this may yet be the case, it is interesting to note that in 2011, a Home Office commissioned report by the former Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police also called for a similar regulatory overhaul underpinned by a royal charter whereby regulatory authorities would develop into organisations similar to the General Medical Council.  An idea whose time has come perhaps?

Sign up to our email digest

Click to subscribe or manage your email preferences.