Professional standards in police training: Unnecessary harm in use-of-force exercises

Jonathan J. Rusch

Jonathan J. Rusch is Adjunct Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center and at American University Washington College of Law, teaching courses on anti-corruption law,  anti-money laundering and counter terrorism financing law.  He has served as Deputy Chief for Strategy and Policy in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Fraud Section, Director of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Financial Enforcement, and Counsel to the President’s Commission on Organized Crime, as well as Senior Vice President and Head of Anti-Bribery & Corruption Governance at Wells Fargo & Company.  His current research interests include the application of behavioral sciences to organizational compliance, including corporate entities and police organizations.

In the discussions on how to improve policing, one of the articles of faith in law enforcement circles is the importance of training.  As one article by authors with law enforcement experience put it (with slightly mixed metaphors), “training constitutes the glue of effectiveness that forms the foundation for successful law enforcement efforts.”

While much of the public debate today is about reducing harm to citizens, and the right police training to help that to happen, there is another, less visible dimension to police training: if training involving use-of-force is not well controlled, then the law enforcement officers and role-playing participants participating in that training are also at risk.  Several examples from recent years show the kinds of risks that can occur in poorly controlled mock exercises:

In 2013, during Baltimore police training exercises, a training instructor reportedly “mistook his service weapon for a paint-cartridge pistol” and shot a police recruit in the head, critically injuring him.  The recruit was released from the hospital ten days later, but the incident led to the temporary suspension of six instructors, including the head of the training academy.  The Baltimore Police Commissioner later stated, “We had a major procedural breakdown in our systems, and we’re working to correct those. We’re expanding this [review] to ensure we have proper protocols and we’re serving this city in a constitutional way.”

In 2016, a Florida woman who had been selected to participate in a “shoot/don’t shoot” role-play exercise by her local police department was accidentally shot and killed by a police officer who had left live rounds in his service weapon.

In 2018, the Vermont Police Academy ended use of a training exercise that was part of the required 16-week basic training for Vermont police officers, after Burlington police officers suffered concussions and other injuries from repeated blows to the head by trainers.  The exercise, which involved a trainer playing the role of an inebriated hitchhiker, called for the “hitchhiker” to strike trainees in the head with his fist when the trainees looked down at the “hitchhiker’s” identification. Although recruits and the trainers reportedly wore full protective body gear, including padded headgear, eleven officers described being hit by “roundhouse” or “sucker” punches, being knocked to their knees, suffering concussions, and experiencing hearing loss.  On one day in March 2018, there police recruits were sent to the hospital, “two with head injuries and a third with a knee injury.”

In 2019, the Louisiana State Police (LSP) temporarily suspended defensive-tactics training after multiple police cadets were injured (some seriously) during the same week.  The LSP Colonel said only that the training had gone “outside the normal parameters,” but launched an internal investigation, met personally with the injured cadets to apologize for what happened, and had three state troopers transferred out of the training division.  One trooper who was overseeing training was later demoted in connection with the incident.

A June 2020 memorandum by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) provides further evidence that without sufficient supervisory guidance and control, use-of-force mock training by law enforcement officers can result in unnecessary risk of harm to participants and nonparticipants alike.  The OIG memorandum examined mock exercises by Federal Bureau of Prisons Special Operation Response Teams (SORT).  SORT reportedly “are normally used almost exclusively for dealing with violent incidents at federal correctional facilities,” though some SORT members were recently deployed to the District of Columbia in connection with the George Floyd-related demonstrations.

Relevant Policies and Authorities

The OIG memorandum summarized SORT qualification and training policies.  It observed that while the BOP Correctional Services Manual (Manual) sets out eleven qualifications that all SORT members and team leaders must meet, and specifies the number of hours for monthly and annual training, it “does not contain any training requirement associated with conducting mock exercises.”

The memorandum also stated that the Manual “provides minimal guidance on mock exercises.”  The Manual provides that staff assigned to conduct a mock exercise should “consider” (1) determining what plan to evaluate and identifying time limits for the test; (2) identifying  participants and staff monitors; (3) providing a method for terminating the test should a real crisis (e.g., actual escape, disturbance, or staff injury) occur; (4) arranging for a review of the exercise and submitting documentation upon conclusion; and (5) preparing a report of findings for follow-up review that addresses all concerns during the exercise.  With regard to the use of weapons or munitions during mock exercises, the Manual makes only highly general statements that “appropriate safety precautions will be observed” and “where armed posts are involved, such posts will be notified and the Captain will have monitors in place to ensure that appropriate safety precautions are taken.”

In addition, the memorandum stated that the Manual “does not contain a policy statement or any guidance on the appropriateness of the use of force during training exercises.”  With regard to the use of chemical agents, oleoresin capsicum (OC), stun guns, and distraction devices, the Manual includes a number of general statements, such as (1) before using a chemical agent or OC, “staff are equipped with working and well-maintained gas masks”; (2) OC and chemical agents may be harmful to an individual who has “respiratory or cardiovascular disease, chronic dermatitis, or psychosis”; (3) medical staff should be consulted before use of OC or chemical agents; and (4) staff should use “extreme caution” before deploying distraction devices in “small or confined areas.”

The Manual also provides that “all aspects of a calculated use of force incident must be recorded,” and when BOP staff must use immediate force, “staff are obligated to obtain a video camera and begin recording the event as soon as feasible.”  Finally, a BOP Program Statement that specifically addresses the use of OC spray states that OC spray “will be used to protect staff, inmate(s), and others from an inmate(s) or visitor(s) posing a threat and when other methods of control are not effective.” Although that Program Statement does not contain guidelines for the use of OC spray during mock exercises, it does state that “inert OC dispensers are authorized for use” when training staff to use OC aerosol spray.

Mock Exercises Involving Injury to Staff Members

The memorandum reported that in 2019, two SORT mock exercises resulted in BOP staff members sustaining injuries.  In the first exercise, the SORT used two “flash bang”-type munitions to enter the exercise location. The second “flash bang”

hit a staff member role player and detonated, causing significant injury requiring surgery and ongoing treatment for that staff member. The BOP subsequently determined that the particular flash bang deployed during the exercise was not an authorized distraction device munition listed in the Manual.

In addition, in its review of this incident, the BOP was unable to locate the Tactical Operation Order (TOO) governing this mock exercise.

In the second exercise, BOP administrative staff members who were allegedly not involved in the exercise secured themselves in a business office shortly after the exercise began. These uninvolved staff members, according to the memorandum,

included employees on restricted duty due to medical conditions. During the exercise, SORT members allegedly demanded the door to the room where the uninvolved staff were located be opened, attempted to breach the room using a crow bar, sprayed OC into the room without obtaining authorization, entered the room, and fired a simunition round [i.e., a “paint marking system” authorized for SORT training that uses rounds that are nonlethal, but painful if an individual is struck without protective gear] that struck a staff member in the chest.  In addition, there allegedly was a physical altercation, including pushing and shoving, between SORT members and the uninvolved staff members. Some of these events allegedly occurred after the uninvolved staff members allegedly yelled that they were “out of role” and allegedly informed the SORT that staff members in the room had medical conditions.

With regard to the second exercise, the OIG identified that certain individuals, “from other BOP institutions or the BOP Regional Office, were responsible for observing and certifying the SORT’s actions.”  One monitor was physically present with the SORT team members, a second monitor was in the Command Center, and a third monitor was outside the facility.

Four factors, however, prevented the monitors from effectively observing and overseeing SORT conduct during the mock exercise:

  • Role of the Monitors: “[I]t was not clear whether the role of the monitors included ensuring that the exercise was conducted safely.
  • Monitors’ Ability to Communicate: “The monitors were not provided with radios, and therefore the two monitors not physically present with the SORT team members did not have the ability to communicate with the SORT.”
  • Lack of Access to Tactical Operations Order: The two monitors who were not in the Command Center “also did not have access to the [Tactical Operations Order (TOO)] outlining the plan for the mock exercise, which was located in the Command Center.” The memorandum also noted that during its review of this incident, the BOP “was unable to locate” the TOO.
  • Absence of Emergency Preparedness Officer: The OIG “determined that the Emergency Preparedness Officer who created the scenario for this incident left the building where the exercise was taking place before the SORT sprayed OC.”

The memorandum also identified a fifth factor, concerning the ability of the Incident Commander (IC), who is ultimately responsible for SORT decisions and actions during a major mock exercise, to observe and communicate.  Even though BOP policy provides that the IC should monitor mock exercises by security camera from the Command Center, during the second exercise the IC

was only able to monitor the exercise by viewing stationary security camera feeds in the lobby of the institution. As a result, the IC was dependent on information relayed to the IC or observable by the limited camera views available to the IC.

Because there were no security cameras in the business offices, the IC did not observe any of the actions described above, and “was not equipped with a radio that would have enabled the IC to communicate with the SORT.”

Conclusions and Recommendations of the Inspector General

The OIG’s fundamental determination was that

inappropriate and dangerous events transpired during the two mock exercises described above. Most seriously, and among other things, SORT members deployed a distraction device munition in a confined space, which was not authorized for use under BOP policy; SORT members deployed real OC spray rather than inert OC spray during a training exercise, allegedly without proper authorization; and SORT members used force, including firing a simunition round, against staff members who were allegedly yelling to the SORT that they were “out of role” and physically vulnerable.

The OIG memorandum also found that “while current BOP policy provides guidance on SORT training generally, . . . the BOP has inadequate policies governing mock exercises.”   Among other things, the BOP policies that the OIG reviewed “did not clearly specify the types of weapons, less than lethal weapons, and munitions, if any, that are authorized for use during BOP training exercises; and did not provide safeguards to ensure that exercises are conducted safely.”  To address these concerns, the memorandum stated that “[m]ore specific and comprehensive language should be incorporated into current guidance to address the concerns” that the memorandum raised.

The OIG memorandum set out four recommendations to address the concerns described above:

  1. The BOP “should suspend all SORT mock exercises until comprehensive guidelines for mock exercises are developed.”
  2. The BOP “should develop comprehensive guidelines governing mock exercises,” including requiring “at least one monitor whose sole role is to be the designated Safety Officer,” and filming of mock exercises “for live video and recorded for training purposes and evaluation.”
  3. The BOP “should develop written policies concerning the types, if any, of weapons, less than lethal weapons, and munitions that may be used during training exercises and when and how such weapons, less than lethal weapons, and munitions may be used during training.”
  4. “All SORT members and designated training monitors should receive remedial training on SORT policy and use.”


No police training exercise that involves use of force can be expected to eliminate all possibility of injury to willing participants.  In fact, a 2018 International Association of Chiefs of Police report on reducing officer injuries found “a relationship between use-of-force training and overall decreased severity of injury, suggesting that proper, proactive preparation for such inherently dangerous encounters is imperative.”  (Emphasis supplied)

The exercises that the OIG reviewed, however, show the risks that police departments face when they fail to establish and maintain proper guidance, supervision, and control of participants in mock use-of-force exercises.   Police and sheriff’s departments should read the OIG memorandum and use it to benchmark their own current policies, guidance, and conduct of mock exercises.


Every country needs Trusted Policing

International experience shows that achieving high police standards with good police morale and good community support is possible, but also strewn with failures

Mark Pyman

Mark Pyman leads CurbingCorruption, an organisation that brings together experience of successful reform  worldwide.  Raising standards takes different forms in each sector – like in education (here), health (here), military and policing (here). He worked for eighteen years as Chief Financial Officer for international companies in West Africa, China and Europe. He then led the Defence and Security Anti-Corruption Programme of Transparency International for twelve years, working on corruption and integrity reforms to military and police forces around the world (here). He is the lead of author of ‘Arresting corruption in the police: the global experience of police reform efforts’ (here).

The death of George Floyd in the USA throws open the integrity of policing services to public scrutiny, not only in the USA but worldwide. The outrage – at brutality, at racism, at impunity, at toxic cultures – is rightly leading to calls for immediate change, new laws, perhaps some immediate improvements, and a formal follow-up inquiry.

But, be aware, the historical record is that most such policing reforms fail, for reasons that are specific to the unique characteristics and obligations of policing. Some reforms do succeed, but they take 5-10 years of sustained effort, whether incremental or radical. The failure trajectory goes like this. A terrible event happens that exposes deeper problems in the way the police service operates; immediate actions are taken, a Commission of Inquiry is established, it starts out well-intentioned, does an extensive analysis, runs for several years slowly losing momentum, then fails. Such Commissions may fail for any number of easily understood reasons – the difficulty of the task, funds running low, becoming mired in partisan politics, political attention moving elsewhere, police distrust of the reforms – but more commonly they fail for a more fundamental, police-specific reason: arguably the best qualified people competent to investigate the police are usually current or former police investigation officers. If you use them as the main resource for investigating improper behaviour, you risk protective police self-interest. If you don’t use them, then you don’t have the necessary expertise to sustain a proper investigation.

Mombasa, Kenya. Credit: Benedicte Desrus / Alamy Live News

So, what to do in order to succeed?

First, thoughtful structural reform. We know from experience that large organisations, whether in the private sector or the public sector, are resistant to reform. Despite being endlessly studied by organisation experts, management consultants, government delivery specialists, HR experts and so forth, we still don’t really understand why. This mystery applies just as much to improvements of police organisations, where experience with all sorts of police reforms and oversight models, such as self-investigation, civilian oversight and even civilian control have not led to success; examples abound round the world[2].

However, there are plenty of  positive reforms to remind us that this is a challenge that is being overcome. In Australia, where over many decades police operated with brutality and impunity, most notably in the State of Queensland, reform has now resulted in real improvement. In Georgia (the country, not the US State), the first administration of President Shakshivili in 2004 radically reformed the national 30,000 strong police force, including firing 15,000 of them (Here). In the USA, a poor-performing police department in Camden, NJ was  disbanded in 2013[1] a reform that was led by the local police chief.

There are tricky structural issues particular to policing. One is the natural self-isolation of cops from the community, where policing can develop to be more like a ‘family business’, with multiple generations of cops from the same close-knit families. Spain is one such example, where a significant percentage of recruit vacancies are reserved for serving officers’ offspring.

Another, counter-intuitively, relates to critical mass. Whilst some countries do have country-wide police forces, most forces are local, often extraordinarily small. The US has some 15,000 separate forces[3], an extraordinarily large number for a single country. Such forces are too small to shoulder substantive, stand-alone professional standards department, even where the force is keen to have one; there is also all too often a reluctance to share resources across force boundaries. Furthermore, most countries have multiple sorts of police force, city police, highway police, state police, sheriffs, etc – each with their own identity and traditions.

Also specific to policing is internal oversight, which usually does not work effectively: Professional Standards Departments (PSDs) and Internal Affairs Departments (IAD) are the units usually responsible, but they often suffer from under-resourcing, cultural marginalisation and a reputation as an unattractive career choice: Minneapolis seems to be an example of this, with 439 officer misconduct claims but not one disciplined (here) and yet with three oversight bodies (here), but this will be part of a wider pattern not a stand-out exception.

Standard setting for police organisations is also a world-wide issue with many countries lacking any nation-wide or state-wide oversight, nor having professional colleges which are responsible for setting professional standards. In the UK, for example, the first such formal body, the College of Policing, was set up only in 2012. In the absence of such colleges there is little expertise for objectively analysing which standards work and which do not.

Second, more analysis, evidence and availability of data. Police officers are naturally conservative in attitude, and recruits mostly want to serve as operational front-line police officers, not as analysts. In other professions there is a huge and intricate infrastructure of analytical capability – research institutes, university research in specialist departments, often specialist universities, multiple institutes responsible for researching standards, professional associations with annual re-qualification requirements (e.g. doctors, solicitors) – but these are much less evident in policing.

Other professions have a whole sub-industry devoted to analysing data, proposing new sorts of data, and analysing data trends that can help to improve that profession. For example, there should be a mass of research on key determinants of police officer behaviour like the effect of insufficient police training. In policing, that data is of rudimentary quality, often not shared, and tends to be retrospective rather than forward-facing.

Third, people – bi-partisan political prioritisation, community involvement, police commitment. Only rarely will there be a common will among police, the community and the political leadership on the objectives and priorities. Inevitably, at times of downturns, the priority will be to keep the police officers and staff and to cut investment elsewhere, such as in training. The police are under constant pressure to reduce training to the bare minimum. in Germany, for example, it is 2 years before new recruits in the Berietschaftpolizei are allowed to police in towns on their own, whereas in the UK it is approximately 20 weeks. Economic pressure has also incentivised various forms of dysfunctional behaviour, such as when disciplinary controls are negotiated away by police forces in lieu of salary raises.

Specific proposals are the best way to stimulate debate on solutions, proposals for new laws and new institutional practices.  Here are some lines of action that the US could take:

  • At Federal level, legislate for nation-wide minimum professional standards for police.  Though policing is a State-level responsibility, it is so central to the nation that there must be minimum standards nation-wide. Such legislation should cover personnel standards and requirements rather than operational matters. For example, it should be standard for police officers to undergo re-vetting every few years during their careers, not just at recruitment. Police officers should not be allowed to have second jobs. Police officers should have minimum levels of behavioural training to instil a uniform Code of Conduct. There needs to be national register established to ensure that dismissed police officers cannot find new employment in other police forces.
  • Citizens and lawmakers should focus detailed reforms at State level. The USA is such a large country, with such diverse policing needs, that top down police regulation will likely be a blunt instrument, one that will engender mistrust from the local police forces. Conversely, sheriff and county level are too low – there is no chance to have effective oversight in such small forces. For example, the need for consistent training could be met through using major US city police training centres in each State capital as the base for state-wide police training; Canada has a model of nation-wide police training despite highly devolved local police autonomy. The US mixture of professional police and elected officials at State level, such as Sheriffs and District Attorneys, should be a big advantage over other countries in developing a high-trust policing model.
  • The police themselves should become a leading driver of improvement and reform. They can build out from the examples of good, trusted policing in US towns and cities – there are always good examples. Building on positive case studies empowers police with models they can believe in and advocate for. My experience working with security forces around the world, even in countries with high level of violence and disorder, is that this desire to do the right thing, to be a source of pride in the neighbourhood, is strong. The way that the US Military, which has been emphatic to stamp out racism and set structures that both encourage and enforce this, might be one good US model of how to lead such a reform.
  • Another way to build leadership of police reform could be to establish a  US Institute of Trusted Policing. This could be similar to how Congress mandated a US Institute of Peace in 1984 (here) and its strapline could be borrowed almost unchanged: ‘The United States Institute of Peace is a national, nonpartisan, independent institute, founded by Congress and dedicated to the proposition that a world without violent conflict is possible, practical, and essential for U.S. and global security.’

These momentum-building actions could be taken in concrete steps. Achieving Trusted Policing across the whole of the USA would be a larger effort, requiring a decade and the application of the pioneer spirit that dominates America folklore. President Kennedy’s inspirational challenge in 1962 to America to put a man on the moon within the decade seems as apt today in relation to combating racism and rejuvenating policing as it was then to the moon challenge: “We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people”.

This is one of two blogs from CurbingCorruption on next steps in policing after the death of George Floyd. The other, here, is from the former head of Police Professional Standards at New Scotland Yard, London. From 2015-2019 Matt Gardner led a team of 430 of police officers and civilians responsible for following up all complaint allegations relating to racism, harassment, bullying and corruption. 

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[1] Glancy and Pullman, ‘City of guardian police a beacon of hope for US as summer of protest looms’. Sunday Times, UK, June 7, 2020.

[2] For analyses of police reforms, see Transparency International (2012) Arresting corruption in the police: the global experience of police reform efforts. Here; Perito (2011) Police corruption: What past challenges teach us about current challenges. Here ; Or Prenzler & den Heyer (2016). Civilian oversight of police: Advancing accountability in law enforcement. Here

[3] US Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2016 here. 12300 local police departments; 3000 sheriff’s offices, 50 states police, 83 federal law enforcement agencies. Other sources quote higher figures, eg 18000 (here) and 40,000 (here)

Policing after the death of George Floyd – a police disciplinary view

It’s not just about the rotten apples, it’s about fixing the barrel

Matt Gardner, former head of Police Professional Standards at Scotland Yard

Matthew Gardner retired in 2019 after 30 years’ service as a Chief Superintendent in the Metropolitan Police, New Scotland Yard, London. He was the Head of Professional Standards & Anti-Corruption from 2015-2019 where he led a team of 430 police officers and civilians responsible for following up all complaint allegations relating to racism, harassment, bullying and corruption. He is an evaluator for the European Commission on anti-corruption and  works with CurbingCorruption on anti-corruption and professional standards in policing.

The world is asking questions around the death of George Floyd, and rightly so. The circumstances of his death cannot be defended and the officers responsible are now rightly facing the US justice system. The challenge for the United States is that this is not the first time this has happened and community lack of confidence in America’s police forces has been brought to the fore-front of debate, again.

The immediate focus of this tragic incident is how the police forces in the United States operate. However, a broader debate has also now surfaced, of how police forces operate in other countries across the world in relation to brutality, harassment, corruption and racism; the anger and debate about police forces is legitimate, as evidenced by the demonstrations around the globe.

Photo by Giulia Spadafora / NurPhoto via Getty Images

This weekend in Bristol, UK, public frustration and anger resulted in demonstrators pulling down the statue of Edward Colston – a renowned slave trader. Years of  political debate about whether such a statue should still be acknowledged was ended abruptly as the demonstrators threw the statue into the river. In Belgium, a statue of King Leopold was graffitied with the words’ shame’ as a result of his oppressive acts against the Congolese people.

It is clear that the death of George Floyd has rapidly expanded into a plethora of issues that people across all spectrums of life are now demanding answers upon, and they are demanding that action is seen to be taken. His death has catalysed the debate on the inequalities of race and opportunity in each of our societies, people want to see change and they want to see it now. That demand for change ranges from a review of policing accountability, to a review of how people from minority groups were instrumental in developing countries into the democratic states that we have today, to how this is recorded in our history books, and to how this is taught more openly within our education systems.

In view of what needs to change in respect of police accountability, there are obvious challenges that need to be tackled by the United States and more generally, by the wider international community. Some individuals or groups may question my suitability to reflect on such an emotive issue, as they may believe me to be defensive of policing ‘at any cost’. But I think I offer the opposite perspective, because I had overall responsibility from 2015-2019 for overseeing the professional standards and behaviour of all of London’s 30,000 police officers and 15,000 police staff. My department was vigilant in setting the tone of London’s Metropolitan Police Service, defining what was right and what was wrong, following up all complaint allegations relating to racism, harassment, bullying and corruption. In London’s Police, Professional Standards and Anti-Corruption is a major department. I led a command of 430 people – 350 police officers and 80 civilian staff. I was the senior officer responsible for identifying police misconduct, overseeing the investigations and seeing discipline meted out.

The most crucial issue of all for a police service is that of legitimacy, which equates to trust. If trust is lost, it is a long way back for any policing authority. I feel that the United States is at, and in many areas, has already traversed over that ‘crossroad’. To recover that position requires the public to trust their police officers, and for this trust to be present, or in the case of the USA, for this trust to be re-built. Communities have to see their officers act with the upmost professionalism and restraint, even in times of great challenge, indeed, especially in times of great challenge. This ‘challenge’ is what separates police officers apart from society, the ability to show that restraint in adversity, challenges which few other professionals have to face. This restraint has to be learnt – it comes from training, training and more training.

What are the fundamental steps that are needed to regain legitimacy, whether in the case of the USA, or  across the world, given the light that has now been placed on international policing in general. In effect, what is needed to re-start on, or continue on the path of legitimacy? I believe there are three areas of action for police forces: values, transparency and consistent application.

Step 1 is Values. Values are the backbone of any organisation, they define the way we live and breathe, they are our core way of working, our ‘raison d’être’. Values are supported and driven through leadership, tough requirements for personal integrity, such as regular vetting, and a code of conduct which defines what is acceptable and what is not for police officers. The code of conduct draws a line in the sand as to what we do and how we do it. It is supported by various aspects such as a strong ‘whistle-blower’ policy and a complaint intervention scheme, which identifies officers with a recurring complaint history, to proactively ask, ‘why is this happening’ – instead of reacting when it is too late. In Europe, a recent review of corruption concerns in law enforcement agencies shows there are significant deficiencies in many European countries – another reminder that this is by no means just a US issue[1].

A good Complaint Intervention Scheme enables line managers to proactively question an officer’s behaviour and where necessary, challenge, investigate and ultimately, dismiss. I understand from media reports that the officer involved in George Floyd’s death had numerous complaints for using excessive force. It would be useful to know how and if this behaviour was addressed, which again, brings me back to my original point on transparency and legitimacy. This all needs to be shared with communities once the ‘full facts and evidence’ are identified. A code of conduct captures innumerable issues and advises a police service on how to address challenges.

Step 2 is Transparency. Communities need to see with their own eyes that police forces are accountable when things go wrong, that they are above reproach. The system to provide that transparency are internal professional standard units or internal affairs departments. Here lies the challenge as some community members simply do not trust ‘the police, policing the police’. To address this, we need independent oversight from the external government ombudsman and better still, community groups which are actively engaged in reviewing and adding reassurance that processes are fair. For the United States to recover from the present position there needs to be a fundamental review of the countless examples we see in the media of police ‘crossing that line’, especially with minorities, exceeding their  authority and acting as an outside entity, above apparent approach.

How do we best take away the inclination that police investigating police simply aids a cover-up?  I remain convinced that in large police forces – with an officer head count exceeding 5,000 – a stand-alone function within a police service to perform this role, supported and challenged by strong external oversight, is the best method we have to date. I know that in smaller forces this is more challenging. We could move to a position of independent oversight, whereby outside bodies would conduct misconduct investigations, but these have a mixed record; although they have the advantage of being independent, they lack the professional skills and resources to sustain the investigations.

To ‘seep transparency’, we need to be clear in releasing findings when misconduct cases are investigated, sharing all the evidence when in the public domain and sharing that evidence in great detail. The media have a social responsibility to accurately report on the evidential facts, and not seek the ‘sensational headline’.

Step 3 is consistent application. By this I mean application of the rules of behaviour identified in ‘conduct regulations’, not walking by, but addressing and challenging inappropriate behaviour and setting a tone. Step by step, this sets the culture of an organisation. This starts from the top and is the responsibility of all. In reverse, and just as importantly, it is also about identifying ambassadors for change, identifying excellent work and placing high performing officers on a pedestal and by doing this, as an organisation you effectively say: ‘this is what good looks like, this is how we want you to behave’. From my experience, this is what 99.9% of police officers set out to do on joining a police service. As in all walks of life, some lose their way, some meander and some turn bad. For the minority that turn bad, this is why, legitimacy and transparency, supported by a rule book in the form of a code of conduct are required, to drive an organisation’s values and change culture, so that we have a police service that our communities can trust.

The inequalities that the tragic death of George Floyd have raised have pushed this to the fore-front of our minds like I have never seen before. This is an opportunity we need to take as individuals, as a community, as societies on a national and international basis. As Covid-19 has tasked us to change our ways physically, the death of George Floyd is now asking us to change our ways mentally, and change we must.

This is one of two blogs from CurbingCorruption on policing after the death of George Floyd. The other (here) is on international experience of police reform. It is from Mark Pyman the lead author of ‘Arresting corruption in the police: the global experience of police reform efforts’ (here) and founder of CurbingCorruption, an organisation that brings together experience of successful reform  worldwide.

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[1] The Group of States Against Corruption, or GRECO, is the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption monitoring body. Among its other functions, GRECO conducts regular peer reviews of its member states – predominately European countries and the USA. The two main focus areas for the current evaluation round is ‘corruption and prevention at the top executive function in the central government’ and ‘corruption and prevention in law enforcement agencies’.  So far, fifth round assessments have been conducted for 18 of GRECO’s 50-member countries. The most significant gap that the GRECO evaluators have identified to date is the inadequacy of a code of conduct for Law Enforcement Agencies


Europe’s Law Enforcement Agencies have failings of Professional Standards and anti-corruption

Matt Gardner

Matthew Gardner retired in 2019 after 30 years’ service as a Chief Superintendent in the Metropolitan Police, New Scotland Yard, London. He was the Head of Professional Standards & Anti-Corruption from 2015-2019 where he led a team of 430 of police officers and civilians responsible for following up all complaint allegations relating to racism, harassment, bullying and corruption. He is an evaluator for the European Commission on anti-corruption and  works with CurbingCorruption on anti-corruption and professional standards in policing.

The Group of States Against Corruption, or GRECO, is the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption monitoring body. GRECO was established in 1999 by 17 Council of Europe member States, and has since opened up to non-European States. It currently has 50 members. Among its other functions, GRECO conducts regular peer reviews of its member states. During that evaluation process, a team of four subject matter experts conduct a week-long peer assessment in the nation under review, and present a detailed report to the Council of Europe, which then discusses the report, before presenting it for sign-off at the national level.

Since GRECO’s establishment in 1999, four evaluation rounds have been completed, and we are currently in the middle of the fifth round. Each round of evaluations has a thematic focus, and the two main focus areas for the current evaluation round is ‘corruption and prevention at the top executive function in the central government’ and ‘corruption and prevention in law enforcement agencies’. So far, fifth round assessments have been conducted for 18 of GRECO’s 50-member countries, and while there are of course significant differences between countries, some common themes have already emerged in the assessment of corruption in law enforcement.

The most significant gap that the GRECO evaluators have identified to date is the inadequacy of codes of conduct for Law Enforcement Agencies (LEA’s). Indeed, some countries lack a code of conduct for internal professional standards altogether. While law enforcement agencies in most Western countries do have a code of conduct, they are marginalized or ignored, with insufficient efforts to disseminate and reinforce the principles advocated in ‘the code’ to the rank-and-file.

Law enforcement agencies often neglect the development and day-to-day enforcement of a code of conduct due to precedence given to higher public protection issues such as tackling serious criminality, violence, promoting public confidence, thwarting terrorism and latterly, supporting other front-line services in responses to huge matters such as Covid-19. A ‘code of conduct’ or ‘ethics policy’ often doesn’t take high priority—until, that is, something goes wrong and the agency finds itself at the centre of a scandal.

This neglect is a mistake.

As with any doctrine, there is a judgement to be made between having a policy that records all the principles and standards expected of a work-force, so that internal discipline procedures have a composite record to refer against, and having a tangible product that front-line law enforcement staff can understand and adhere to. It has to be something that someone shouldn’t need to look up in a book, that is common sense, almost automatic and entwined in daily routines and behaviour.

Accepting that ‘codes’ or versions of codes exist in the majority of States reviewed by GRECO to-date, the focus needs to be on how these codes become the ‘life and breath’ of ‘LEA’s’. There were some worrying themes across the States that need to be addressed: some LEA’s allowed law enforcement officers to take political appointments whilst in service; some lacked clarity on permissible roles conducted post-retirement; there were conflicts of interests in relation to family members having a criminal record and a duty on the officer to report; there were inconsistencies about business interests, gifts and hospitality declarations.

Most serious of all, the reviews showed a lack of routine vetting procedures for officers throughout their service. It should not be the norm that routine vetting checks are only conducted on an officer prior to their joining a law enforcement agency (LEA). An officer’s career can last anything between 25 to 40 years, depending upon the state concerned, and during that time, human nature shows that people change and a minority of officers, as in many organisations, become susceptible to corruptible approaches. These approaches can be from lone criminals, organised gangs or from less obvious examples such as taking traffic bribes, selling police information, taking advantage of vulnerable people for sexual favours, or simply ignoring a crime committed by a friend or family member.

Not having a robust vetting procedure contained in a ‘code of ethics/conduct’ is dangerous. Without a routine ability to demand an officer to report if a close-relative has been arrested for a criminal offence leaves the LEA open to the potential for a serving officer to be coerced into illegal actions to protect that family member or close friend/associate. Taking this a step further, not having a robust vetting procedure to demand that an officer declares if they have been convicted of a criminal offence such as theft or assault leaves the LEA open to an employee who enforces the law onto others, yet could be a criminal themselves. Without a thorough ‘in service’ vetting procedure, an LEA depends upon the honesty of its officers’ to admit to having such a contentious issue like a criminal conviction: unlikely, to say the least.

A robust Code of Conduct / Ethics needs to be the spine of any Law Enforcement Agency (LEA). The simple reality is that this area of business is critical, easy to remedy and something we all need to promote further. Opportunities can be taken to spread the word contained in the codes, to drip daily reminders such as at training events, notice boards, weekly newsletters, blogs, or something as simple as having ‘key statements’ on the home page of a work computer. This GRECO 5th round is reminding us that corruption prevention is as at least as much about such daily matters as about having the right policies – like washing our hands today to limit Coronavirus transmission.

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