The Code of Ethics of the UK Police: explained

Being a police officer is much alike to being a regulated person. In fact, many legislative instruments issued by the Home Office for police forces, are called Regulations.

Much, if not all, of the work of the UK Police circles around the document maintained by the College of Policing and called Code of Ethics (of the UK Police).

This fundamental document of 13 pages lists 9 principles of work of the UK Police and 10 Professional Standards.

Those 9 principles are:

You are accountable for your decisions, actions and omissions
You always do the right thing
You are open and transparent in your actions and decisions
You treat people fairly
You lead by good example
You treat everyone with respect
You are truthful and trustworthy
You make choices on evidence and your best professional judgement
You act in the public interest

It appears, by that list, the College of Policing does not suggest which of them is most important one as they are sorted by alphabet. However even cursory look into the document allows to understand that much of the UK Police’s work is about integrity, the fundamental point from which the rest principles are either arising or by which those are encompassed.

There are also 10 standards of Professional Behavior. Some standards are repeating the principles, some are branched into separate practical implementation of those, such as use of the force, fitness for work and challenging and reporting improper conduct. Those 10 standards are:

1. Honesty and integrity

2. Authority, respect and courtesy

3. Equality and diversity

4. Use of force

5. Orders and instructions

6. Duties and responsibilities

7. Confidentiality

8. Fitness for work

9. Conduct

10. Challenging and reporting improper behaviour

One might ask what is special about those professional standards and why do they deserve any special attention. The answer on this question is that those standards, together with the underlying principles, are basing the legal basis of the work of the UK’s police forces, and failing those standards is automatically a proper legal basis for a complaint. By this reason it is important to understand every standard and read description of it in the Code of Ethics: it allows any person who feels himself or herself affected by the improper conduct to gift its feelings a legal format.

Not every violation of the standards is amounting to misconduct and not every misconduct amounts to gross misconduct. Likewise, not every gross misconduct amounts to criminal conduct.

There are the following levels of criticality of possible failures of Professional Standards:

  • Performance issues – the lowest level which often can and is addressed by managerial action – a reprimand or relocation to different duties.
  • Disciplinary conduct – misconduct which, while representing failure of the standards, does not amount to gross misconduct.
  • Gross misconduct – type of misconduct justifies dismissal. Classical example of it is operational dishonesty and any other conduct which may amount to serious criminal offences or put integrity of an officer into question.
  • Criminal conduct – kind of conduct which, due to the nature of it and available evidence, justifies referring the case to criminal proceedings against the officer. Again, a classical example can be officer lying to the court or even his superiors. It should be understood that often the only difference between the cases which amount to gross misconduct and cases amounting to criminal conduct is the quality and level of the available evidence, because the legal test for gross misconduct is the civil test (more likely than not the improper conduct had place) while the test for criminal conduct is the criminal test (beyond reasonable doubt).

Once the significance of the Code of Ethics in the work of the UK police is understood, anyone who feels that he or she faces improper conduct by a police officer, may refer to the Code of Ethics and make analysis of which standards of professional behaviour are fallen short of.

The level of the concerned conduct depends in its categorisation in the level of criticality of the concerned issues (e.g. integrity is more critical than physical fitness for work or punctuality in performing duties) and the consequences: a police officer who ignored a call for help to bring down a cat from the tree is committing much lesser level of misconduct than a police officer ignoring a call for help by a victim of assault – the same kind of conduct differs by the consequences and risks which it poses, which means that evaluation of any conduct is a two-sided medal of valuing how wrong is the conduct in principle and what are the (actual or possible) consequences of it. Some principles, such as the principle of integrity, fairness and honesty are so strong, that failing those are having fatal consequences for police officer regardless of the consequences.

For a member of public to properly address what is suspected to be an improper conduct, it is important to understand the legal basis of it which, in case of police officers, is the expected professional standards: when and if a case goes to the court, what any judge will look into when deciding if there was misconduct, will be the principles of the Code of Ethics and the professional standards which are present both in the Code of Ethics and regulations of the Home Office.

As a result, the Code of Ethics allows to transform what is otherwise perceived as an intuitively understandable supposition of improper conduct into legally sound allegation against a police officer by a member of public who believes that his or her rights were violated.