Proposed ‘licence to practise’ checks for police officers branded ‘unnecessary’

Calls for police to face checks every five years to root out bad behaviour and incompetence have been branded “unnecessary” and “fraught with danger”.

The Police Federation of England and Wales, which represents rank-and-file officers, said it was “against” the idea of having GP-style licences for officers.

The proposal, put forward in a report by the Police Foundation think tank, would mean all officers would be subject to fitness to practise tests throughout their careers.

A federations spokeswoman said:

“The Police Federation of England and Wales has always been against the introduction of a licence to practise, an idea that is fraught with danger. Police officers carry a warrant card and make an oath when they begin their policing career.

They should be able to undertake their oath without fear of reprisal every five years.

“Whilst we understand and accept the need for scrutiny and for officers to be held accountable for their actions and inactions, this seems a blunt tool to address poor performance, when there are other processes already in place.

“If this is truly to ensure that police officers are carrying out their roles effectively alongside encouraging learning and development, as the Police Foundation states, then there are other ways to achieve this.

“The devil will be in the detail, but at first sight this recommendation appears to be unnecessary and will do little to assist with recruitment and retention in the police service.”

Former government adviser Sir Michael Barber led what he described as the “most comprehensive review of policing for a generation” and said the findings set out an “agenda for fundamental change”.

Among more than 50 recommendations of what changes should be made in forces in England and Wales, was the suggestion that the Home Office should introduce a licence to practise for police officers which would be administered by the College of Policing.

According to the findings, this should be renewed every five years, “subject to an officer demonstrating professional development through achieving relevant qualifications, passing an interview or presenting a portfolio of activities and achievements”.

Officers who failed the checks could be given further guidance such as mentoring but after “successive failures” their licence would be revoked and they would no longer be able to work in the police.

Launching the report at an event on Tuesday, Sir Michael said the licence would help “reshape the culture” in policing and “deal with the relatively small number of people who are not fit to be part of the police service or incompetent”, adding that it would also give officers opportunities for learning and development.

But he admitted it would need “political courage” to implement after Chief Inspector of Constabulary Sir Thomas Winsor, who said he previously attempted to put forward a similar proposal, warned: “Do not underestimate the opposition of the Police Federation to this.”

Sir Michael added: “There is a crisis of confidence in policing in this country which is corroding public trust. The reasons are deep-rooted and complex – some cultural and others systemic. However, taken together, unless there is urgent change, they will end up destroying the principle of policing by consent that has been at the heart of British policing for decades.

“Policing in this country is at a crossroads and it cannot stand still whilst the world changes so quickly around it. Now is the moment to move forward quickly on the path of reform. The warning signs if we do nothing are flashing red and we ignore them at our peril.”

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