The Chief Inspector of Police in the United Kingdom, Sir Denis O’Connor has called for an end to the “freebie culture” within the police service and an end also to the “revolving door” that permits police officers to leave their jobs and start working immediately for one of their police forces’ contractors.
A report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary said that while it found no endemic corruption in the police service, many police forces had become complacent about the risks to their reputation from relationships with the media, businesses and contractors. Just published, the report is worth reading even if you are unconnected with the police but are interested in anti-corruption compliance for your own company or clients.
Sir Denis O’Connor reported that accepting free tickets to sporting events such as the FA Cup Final and Wimbledon Tennis Tournament risked creating the deception that officers had conflicts of interest, which could damage the police service’s reputation in the eyes of the public.
The report, Without Fear Or Favour: A Review Of Police Relationships recognises that the public might wish to show their appreciation for the police (also, we suppose, sometimes possibly the reverse!). The report concludes that among most police officers
“a box of chocolates was seen as entirely acceptable, whereas an invitation to attend a sporting event or pop concert was felt to be unacceptable”.
“we found numerous examples of senior officers accepting hospitality from suppliers and others who are tendering for business…concert and premier sporting tickets were accepted from companies which were tendering for business or have been successful in tender”.
Twenty out of the 43 police forces in England and uidance to help them to decide whether to accept or decline a gift, with 15 placing an acceptable value on gratuities of between £5 and £75. All forces have mechanisms for formally recording hospitality although these were not consistently completed in most cases.
Interestingly, the report does not offer the same guidance as the Government’s guidance which was issued on 30 March 2011 by the Ministry of Justice under the Bribery Act 2010. This suggests that for businesses, ordinary hospitality could continue and would normally be acceptable including tickets to popular sporting events.
Whilst some of us may disagree with the Government’s Bribery Act guidance not least because there may be a view that inviting customers to expensive sporting events is of course intended to influence the customer’s decision making processes (whether that influence is improper is of course very much a subjective issue), it should be remembered that the police are not in the same position as ordinary businesses as they are in a very particular position of trust and authority to the community and to the country as a whole. It follows, therefore, that one should not expect the public’s tolerance for the levels of hospitality for police officers to be the same as those people within the commercial sector.
In addition, if individual police officers, by accepting hospitality, undermine the confidence of the public within their particular police force, this naturally has an effect on the public’s perception all police forces around the country, particularly when reported in the media.
It is clear that the police, like employees in commercial organisations all around the world, need to receive much better training and much clearer guidance from their employers as to what is acceptable and what is not in order to avoid the suspicion of corruption. Further, as with ordinary business people, there needs to be proper enforcement of these guidelines against the police themselves, because corruption within organs of the state undermines the very fabric of the state itself and of the society it serves.