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The UK police are hiring applicants with a history of crime, harassment and watchdog finds

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LONDON – An independent inquiry commissioned by the UK government has revealed serious culture and security deficiencies in police forces in England and Wales, leading to job applicants with questionable backgrounds being allowed to participate, and officers going unpunished for harassing women.

In one case highlighted in the 161-page report published this month, a prospective officer was cleared despite a foreign conviction for attempted robbery and intelligence that may have linked them to drug crime and an incident of aggravated burglary.

The watchdog also identified a “culture of misogyny, sexism and predatory behavior” within the police force.

In another case, a cop used coercive means to search for his ex-girlfriend’s work location, who was a police officer, the report said. She turned him in and claimed he had stalked her before. The professional standards department did not investigate her claim, and the officer in charge of the case chose to issue only an informal warning.

The cases were among hundreds of vetting files and investigations into complaints and misconduct reviewed by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS), a government watchdog. Among the files, investigators found applicants with criminal records or family ties to organized crime who were allowed to join the police force with inadequate scrutiny and allegations of misconduct that were not properly reviewed.

The watchdog linked this to lax standards in police vetting and the mishandling of complaint allegations, adding: “It’s too easy for the wrong people to both join and stay on the force.”

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The report’s findings are “stunning,” said Rick Muir, director of the Police Foundation, an independent British think tank that explores how to improve policing. The release comes as the UK and other countries, including the United States, hold national conversations about police misconduct and the future of policing.

British police forces have come under fire in recent years for their treatment of women both inside and outside their own ranks.

The Home Office, which oversees policing in England and Wales, ordered the watchdog inquiry in October 2021, seven months after a woman named Sarah Everard was kidnapped in London by a Metropolitan Police officer who then raped and killed. It later emerged that the officer, Wayne Couzens, had been the subject of previous complaints for indecent exposure, and the Independent Office for Police Conduct watchdog launched an investigation to determine whether the troops he worked for had failed to investigate or act upon it. The findings of these investigations have not yet been made public, and a spokesperson for the group told The Washington Post via email that it “cannot comment further at this time due to ongoing litigation” against Couzens.

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The HMICFRS report looked at eight police forces in England and Wales. Among other things, it reviewed 725 vetting files and 236 investigations into complaints and misconduct; conducted an online survey of more than 11,000 officers, employees and volunteers; and used focus groups and dozens of one-on-one interviews to reach his conclusions.

In a statement shared to The Post, UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman said of the report: “It’s no secret that recent high-profile incidents have broken public trust in the police,” adding that police chiefs are “taking these learn lessons and act on them.” the findings of this report as a matter of urgency.”

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While many of those interviewed and questioned said police culture had improved in recent years, some officers and staff made allegations against colleagues ranging from misconduct to assault. The report found that prospective officers with previous convictions for crimes such as indecent exposure and domestic violence were allowed to join the force, and officers with “a history of attracting complaints or allegations of misconduct” were allowed to transfer between corps.

In one example cited in the report, an officer reported inappropriate behavior and language by his supervisor, a senior police officer, that “appeared to amount to sexual harassment.” The detective decided that the senior officer’s behavior fell short of misconduct and appeared to blame the petty officer for not objecting more clearly and failing to “nip this behavior in the bud”. The watchdog’s report found that this amounted to blaming the victim, saying the matter “should have been investigated” as a possible criminal offence.

Researchers reviewed hundreds of police department decisions about vetting and misconduct and agreed with the majority. But in nearly one in five cases, they disagreed, finding some approval decisions “questionable at best.”

Part of the problem, experts say, is that troops are under pressure to recruit more officers to meet the targets set by the UK government’s Police Uplift Programme, launched by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2019. under that programme, the government has committed to recruiting 20,000 new police officers across England and Wales by March 2023.

To achieve that goal, vetting units are instructed to “recruit quickly and recruit quickly and recruit under difficult conditions,” says Tim Newburn, a professor of criminology and social policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science, the author of several books on police work. “That in no way justifies the failures that are being highlighted [to] in this report, but it possibly explains somehow – and only somehow – why such failures might exist.

Braverman, the Home Secretary, said the government has given funding to individual troops as part of the Police Uplift Program to improve recruitment processes. screening risks.”

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Britain has a long history of dealing with inappropriate behavior within law enforcement. Police misconduct, and corruption in particular, has been the subject of internal and official investigations in recent years, and has become entrenched in popular culture through television series such as “Line of Duty” and “Between the Lines.”

Corruption was a problem for the police in the 1960s and 1970s and led to a large-scale investigation in police work. Operation Countryman, which ran from 1978 to 1982, investigated police officers accused of taking bribes from criminals. Investigators claimed their work was hindered by police leadership; none of the suspects were convicted.

The 1990s saw increased attention to racism in the force, particularly after the failed investigation into the 1993 murder of Stephen Lawrence, a black teenager who was stabbed to death by a group of white boys while waiting for a bus in London. An inquiry found that the Metropolitan Police Service’s investigation was “marred by a combination of professional incompetence, institutional racism and failing leadership by senior officers.” The so-called MacPherson report led to changes in police regulations and criminal law.

Now there is a reckoning going on around misogyny and violence against women in the police force.

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After Everard’s murder, Michael Lockwood, the director general of the IOPC watchdog, said it was “now or never for the police to change”.

This report makes 43 recommendations to change police culture, vetting and grievance procedures, including establishing minimum standards for pre-employment checks of prospective officers and defining inappropriate behavior at the national level.

On March 13, Londoners paid their respects to Sarah Everard, 33, whose body was discovered after her disappearance. (Video: Karla Adam, Blair Guild/The Washington Post)

The report’s authors are scathing in their denunciation and warn of the dangers of not implementing these changes. A monthly survey of Britons conducted by YouGov shows that earlier this month 17 per cent had no confidence in the police’s ability to tackle crime – up from 12 per cent last year.

“Given the risks associated with recruiting officers at the scale and speed required by the abolition program, it is essential that police leaders act now on our recommendations,” said Matt Parr, an HMICFRS inspector and lead author of the report.

“Our report highlights that they simply cannot afford to wait any longer.”

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