Assault, burglary and animal cruelty: Police officers convicted of crimes working for UK forces

More than 200 serving police officers in the UK have convictions for criminal offences including assault, burglary, drug possession and animal cruelty, Sky News can reveal.

Forces across the country employ at least 211 police officers and PCSOs who were guilty of crimes, according to data released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The actual number is likely to be much higher, however, after just a third of forces revealed how many of their officers have criminal convictions, with many claiming it would cost too much to retrieve the information.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) told Sky News that having a criminal record has “never been an automatic bar to joining the police” and insisted officers are vetted “throughout their service”.

But Steven Smith, who was assaulted in Bristol by an officer who was allowed to keep his job, said he believes anyone with a conviction for violence should be banned from working for the police.

He told Sky News: “Obviously everyone makes mistakes but when it’s a violent assault, I don’t believe they should (be able to work for the police).

“You’d expect police men and women to have no convictions.”

Mr Smith, 45, said he was “gutted and upset” to learn that the officer who was convicted of assaulting him in 2014 continued working for Avon and Somerset Police.

“You should be able to go to the police and their judgement should be above board and impeccable at all times,” he added.

Integrity in policing has been under the spotlight in recent weeks following widespread protests over the killing of George Floyd while in police custody in the US.

Among the UK forces to reveal how many of their serving police officers have criminal convictions:

  • The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said 99 serving officers had received criminal convictions while employed by the force. The offences included death by careless driving, common assault, harassment and possession of a firearm/drunk in charge of a firearm
  • North Wales Police said 20 police officers and five PCSOs have criminal convictions, including a sergeant convicted of assault, two officers guilty of drug possession and two officers convicted of cruelty to animals
  • Kent Police said 22 serving officers have been convicted of crimes, including five officers ranked “inspector or above”. The offences included common assault, criminal damage and drink driving
  • Fourteen Avon and Somerset Police officers have convictions for crimes such as assault, burglary, theft and obtaining money by deception
  • Seven Dorset Police officers have criminal convictions including a constable convicted of burglary and ABH, and a constable guilty of causing unnecessary cruelty to a protected animal
  • Devon and Cornwall Police said nine serving police constables have convictions for crimes including drink driving and Data Protection Act offences
  • Norfolk Police said three officers have criminal convictions including a constable guilty of battery and another constable convicted of possessing an imitation firearm in a public place
  • Cheshire Police said 18 serving police officers or PCSOs have been convicted of crimes but refused to reveal any further details, saying it would breach the Data Protection Act

It comes after Sky News submitted freedom of information requests to the UK’s 45 territorial police forces as well as British Transport Police and the Ministry of Defence Police.

Just 16 forces revealed how many of their officers had criminal convictions, with the Metropolitan Police, Police Scotland, Greater Manchester Police and Merseyside Police among those that did not provide the information.

Several forces said retrieving their records on police officers with criminal convictions would exceed the cost limit set out by the Freedom of Information Act.

Thames Valley Police said it would be a “disproportionate and unjustified diversion of policing resources” during the coronavirus epidemic.

Meanwhile, Nottinghamshire Police said the request for the information was “vexatious” – meaning it intends to cause annoyance, frustration or worry.

Home Office guidelines state that police forces “should not recruit people with cautions or convictions, which may call into question the integrity of the applicant or the service”.

But the guidance states that “each case should be dealt with on its individual merits”.

Chief Constable Craig Guildford, the NPCC’s lead for professional standards, told Sky News that “having a criminal record has never been an automatic bar to joining the police or many other public sector professions”.

He added: “Applicants must declare their convictions and every case is assessed and considered by vetting departments using national guidance.

“We review what someone was convicted of, the sentence they received, how old they were at the time, what the circumstances were and how long ago it was. We also re-vet officers throughout their service and have higher levels of vetting for particular posts.

“The vast majority of police officers and staff fulfil their duties in serving the public to the highest standard.

“Society rightly expects the police service to act with honesty and integrity and any instance of conduct falling below that standard, or when a crime has been committed, will be dealt with directly based upon the evidence presented as nobody is above the law.”

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “There are around 125,000 police officers in England and Wales, the overall majority of whom carry out their duties with the utmost professionalism and integrity and are committed to keeping the public safe.

“Forces are required to adhere to a stringent vetting code when recruiting and we have introduced reforms to strengthen the disciplinary system and ensure that the small minority of individuals who fall short of the high standards their peers and the public expect of them are held fully accountable.”

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