Sussex police defends culture and equality after surge in misconduct charges

In November, Detective Sergeant Paul Elrick, 48, was given a final written warning after sending ‘unwanted sexual messages’ to a female colleague and ‘pinging her on the buttocks’ with a ruler.

Another Hastings officer, Sergeant Rob Adams, was also given a final written warning after being found guilty of gross misconduct earlier this month.

Sgt Adams was found to have sent sexually explicit and derogatory messages about female colleagues in a WhatsApp group chat containing 20 Police Constables and, in 2017, superimposed a female co-worker’s face onto a pornographic picture as a secret Santa gift.

Later this month Detective Constable Damien Cotgreave, also based at Hastings Police Station, faces a misconduct hearing accused of engaging in sexual behaviour with a woman while on duty and for sending explicit pictures and messages to women while on duty.

Mrs Bourne said that rather than the cases highlighting a toxic culture in the force, it was a positive that misbehaviour was being rooted out.

“It’s really positive that we’ve got a new Chief Constable and quite a new senior team as well,” she said, referring to the appointment of CC Jo Shiner in June.

“Of the four most senior officers, 75 per cent are female. That’s a positive change and it will definitely impact culture in the force.

“There’s certainly a drive to have more senior women in policing nationally. I can’t think of any other forces where they have 75 per cent women in the top team, except maybe North Yorkshire. That’s bound to have an impact.

“Nobody wants officers who are behaving inappropriately, nobody wants them in the force. I don’t think this is something people should worry about, I think it’s good it’s being rooted out and dealt with.”

Mrs Bourne also paid tribute to CC Shiner’s predecessor, Giles York, for his work on the United Nations’ HeForShe gender equality movement.

In 2017, Sussex and Surrey’s police forces became the first in the world to participate in the programme, which saw them making commitments to gender equality among their senior teams.

This July, Sussex and Surrey Police appeared on The Times’ list of Top 50 Employers for Women.

For the past 10 years, Sussex Police has utilised an anonymous reporting service for its staff called Break the Silence, where concerns over wrongdoing can be flagged without fear of reprisals.

Complaints go straight to the Professional Standards Department and the force, which shares the platform with Surrey Police, said it aims to respond within 24-36 hours.

A freedom of information request earlier this year revealed Break the Silence received 429 messages between January, 2018 and February, 2020, all of which were fully investigated.

A spokesman for the police said most cases dealt with internally by the force were a result of internal reports through Break the Silence.

The force would continue to take any breaches of professional standards ‘very seriously’, said Mrs Bourne.

“Most officers and staff are pretty horrified at this sort of behaviour when they see it,” she said.

“You are going to get it whenever you have groups of human beings, but you’ve got to have those avenues where people feel comfortable to raise their concerns.”

The onus is on the force to improve diversity across the board, she said, and trying to improve racial diversity was an ‘ongoing piece of work’.

Mrs Bourne pointed to the latest tranche of officers recruited having an above average number of ethnic minorities in its cohort.

She said the strive towards greater diversity and equality, led by Chief Constable Jo Shiner, would continue as a priority.

“A new broom always sweeps clean,” she added.



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