The College of Policing launches its long awaited 10 point Code of Ethics for police officers next week. The question is, what will it change?
The answer is, simply, that it is likely to have no impact whatsoever.
We appear to be faced with nothing more than a repeat of what was reported in this article, from 1992: the launch of a ‘new’ police code of ethics following scandal and corruption.
Repetition is meaningless in terms of change, but helpful in understanding the patterns that underpin failures or prevent change, and the 20 year old article exposes the formula:
(Corruption + Concealment / Exposure + Scandal) x Preservation = Code of Ethics.
This new code is not, in fact, even new. It’s already legislated for in the Standards of Professional Behaviour – set out in the Police (Conduct) Regulations – and is, in the end, little more than an insult to intelligence.
The existing Regulations are 10 points.
The 1992 proposal was 10 points.
The new code is 10 points.
The pattern extends beyond numbers.
‘POLICE recognition of faults and criminal behaviour…has inspired a new code of ethics designed to make policing more principled’
‘The..code is designed to force national standards of honesty & integrity..as the reputation of the service was..under the spotlight’
‘The new code, is being drawn up by an ethics working party of the ACPO, Superintendents’ Association, the Home Office and Bramshill’
‘Alex Marshall, Chief Executive of the College of Policing, will publish the code…and Theresa May is to mark the event with a speech’
‘The gap between the public’s expectation of its police force and the services the police delivers has been growing wider’
‘… crucially important enterprise of opening up the Service to…scrutiny…and narrowing the gap between the citizen and the Police’
The similarities between past and present make new promises ring hollow. It didn’t work then and history always repeats itself.
It comes down to what is often said about about organisational learning – issues that the MacPherson Report identified back in 1999. It is culture that prohibits success.
Even the IPCC identified this as a theme in the last report into sexual offence investigation failures in Southwark: ‘systemic problems…the response that “lessons have been learned” begins to ring hollow’.
It’s an insult to decent coppers and amounts to nothing more than lip-service to the public.
The new code doesn’t even resolve the catch 22 in the current regulations: that officers must challenge inappropriate behaviour and be utterly honest, though they must not cause discredit to the service. It is impossible to do the former, without the latter occurring. Think Hillsborough.
A real opportunity has been wasted, a real opportunity to change the fabric of policing and finally resolve the crippling defects that allow the corruption and concealment to arise in the first place.
The new code of ethics is no more ethical than it is new.
Former PC James Patrick is the police whistleblower who exposed the manipulation of crime figures. Bernard Jenkin of the Public Administration Select Committee said: ‘We are grateful to PC James Patrick… for his courage in coming forward to voice his concerns.'