Police forces must find ways of continuing to screen officers on a regular basis - Dr Alan Billings

In March 2021, a serving police officer, Wayne Couzens, kidnapped a young woman, Sarah Everard, on a London street, and subsequently raped and murdered her. After Couzens had been arrested, it came to light that he had worked for forces other than the Met and his behaviour there had caused some concern.

Yet he had been able to move between forces without any of these concerns being followed up.

Similarly, after the serial rapist and police officer David Carrick had finally been apprehended for his crimes, it was found that his conduct had also been called into question over a number of years but nothing had been done about it.

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These high profile cases and others, caused a national outcry and in January 2023 both the Home Secretary and Prime Minister called on the police to take steps to ensure that no one else was currently working for the police who should not be.

A photo of Sarah Everard issued by the Crown Prosecution Service. PIC: PAA photo of Sarah Everard issued by the Crown Prosecution Service. PIC: PA
A photo of Sarah Everard issued by the Crown Prosecution Service. PIC: PA

The National Police Chiefs’ Council began a search of all workforce records and last week the results of this ‘historic data wash’ of everything on the Police National Database was made public. The records of all officers, staff and volunteers were screened.

This has been a huge undertaking. It involved 42 forces in England and Wales plus six other forces such as Police Scotland and the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

North Yorkshire was not included because it has been doing this on a monthly basis for sometime through Operation Prism.

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There have been 307,452 checks. This is the biggest exercise of its kind ever undertaken in this country and quite possibly any country. The data searched is the information held before February 2023 – there has to be a cut off point. The findings – national but also local – were published last week.

Nationally, 306,991 of the searches caused no concern. But 461 were scrutinised further. Of these, no further action was required in 97 cases.

Of the remainder, 88 have led to disciplinary investigation, 128 management intervention and 139 triggered vetting clearance. But nine led to further criminal investigation – mainly to do with matters of drugs, sex or fraud.

While every instance of a police officer being investigated for a crime is shocking, these are, thankfully, relatively small numbers given the total numbers of police officers, staff and volunteers we have across the United Kingdom.

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I am pleased to say that there were no cases in South Yorkshire that needed further action.

After the shocks of the Couzens and Carrick crimes and the lax way they had been able to operate for years without being appropriately challenged and stopped, we can all be reassured that the police are now in a better place than we might at one time have thought. I am very reassured by the South Yorkshire results.

But this is a snapshot in time. If we are to prevent those who exhibit poor or potentially criminal behaviour going unchallenged in the future, we must find ways of continuing to screen on a regular basis. North Yorkshire police may have something to teach us all.

Perhaps I should ask its next Chief Constable before he leaves us. Tim Forber came as an Assistant Chief Constable in 2016 and was appointed Deputy Chief Constable in 2021. North Yorkshire is fortunate in having him.

A shortened version of the Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire’s latest blog post.

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