The crimes of David Carrick are abhorrent. The fact that he was a serving police officer compounds the dismay and consternation surrounding his crimes. Policing by consent can only happen if the public trust the men and women who swear an oath to protect them.
I have no doubt that Carrick’s actions will revile the vast majority of decent and hardworking officers. But reminders that not every GP is Harold Shipman and appeals for proportionality will not cut it.
In my view, this latest scandal is further evidence of systemic failures within a public service that is in crisis. I spent over two years leading the department responsible for investigating complaints against Wiltshire police officers. Admittedly, this was twenty years ago, but I know how the system should work.
The department was line managed by the Deputy Chief Constable and I met with him once a month to review our caseload. All complaints had to be referred to the independent Police Complaints Authority, who quality assured all investigations and sanctions. Wiltshire’s Police Authority routinely dip sampled investigations as a further check.
I completed two investigations in other Force areas supervised by the Police Complaints Authority and Independent Police Complaints Commission. One concerned a suspicious death, and the other a death in police custody. My actions were scrutinised at every stage in each investigation.
The fact that Carrick was able to evade detection for so long is evidence of the grossest systemic failures. Senior officers within the Met, the Mayor of London as Police Crime Commissioner and the Independent Police Complaints Commission must bear some responsibility for this debacle.
In addition to my despair at the crimes committed by Carrick and the suffering experienced by his victims, is my fear that there will inevitably be further outrages of this nature.
Questions were rightly asked about vetting following the murder of Sarah Everard by Wayne Couzens, a serving Met officer. The Home Secretary ordered an enquiry into police vetting and counter-corruption. His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, Fire and Rescue Service identified that several forces across England and Wales were not complying with national guidance.
The Inspectorate noted that some vetting units were under-resourced and struggling to cope with demand. Officers have been recruited with criminal convictions, which should have disbarred them from being appointed as police constables.
The Inspectorate reported that ‘We believe that sometimes this may be influenced by the need to meet certain recruitment targets. As a result, some forces have too great a risk appetite, which has led them to grant vetting clearance despite knowing disturbing information about applicants.’
This approach is storing problems for the future. Eradicating failures of this nature and changing the culture within the police service will take time.
A good place to start would be to ensure that there is a robust vetting process in place to weed out unsuitable applicants. A proportionate approach is required however, the ‘risk appetite’ should be minimal. This means that vetting units must be properly resourced.
If the police service is to attract recruits of an appropriate calibre, then pay and conditions must be improved. The starting salary for a new recruit in a provincial force is £23,556. This might be affordable for a school leaver or graduate living with their parents. I doubt that this will be the case for more mature candidates with a family and a mortgage.
The police service is currently suffering from immense challenges when it comes to retention. Common complaints include pay and conditions, including excessive workloads. This is having a heavy toll when it comes to the impact on mental health.
Furthermore, low pay will always increase the risk of corruption. If we expect police officers to run towards danger rather than away, they must be properly rewarded for their service.
Culture is a huge issue, as evidenced by the misogynistic chatter that Wayne Couzens indulged in with his colleagues. Supervision is essential to maintaining appropriate standards of behaviour.
The Inspectorate has identified that within Wiltshire Police frontline staff are being managed by equally inexperienced supervisors. The police service needs to ensure that supervisors are both suitably experienced and properly supported in developing their management skills. This will be difficult to achieve unless the issues regarding retention are resolved.
There is a grave risk that in the desperation to do the right thing, police officers and staff become victims to a harsh and overly oppressive management style. We rely on them having the confidence with minimum supervision to make life and death decisions in the knowledge that their managers will support them. Trust has to work both ways.
The Met’s Commissioner and Home Secretary are justifiably appalled, but they need to take action. Rather than more hand-wringing and platitudes, we need to see real leadership from those with the power to deliver change. Inevitably this means greater investment in order to support a well-resourced and modern police service that is fit for purpose. How many more victims have to suffer before we see much-needed police reform?