Police chiefs have been covering up the misogyny suffered by female officers and staff, and must stop using gagging orders to silence victims, the leader of rank and file officers has revealed.
Steve Hartshorn, chair of the Police Federation, which represents 130,000 officers up to the rank of chief inspector, said there should be a “hostile environment” for corrupt officers. He told the Guardian that chief constables bore the brunt of the blame for the crises that were sapping the legitimacy of policing.
His comments follow a report by the official policing inspectorate that warned that “hundreds if not thousands” of suspect officers had passed a defective vetting system and should not be out on the streets with huge powers over their fellow citizens.
Hartshorn said female officers and staff who suffered at the hands of their male colleagues should be treated as victims. “If we are going to take a chief constable or force and hold them to account … there are times when the force will want a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) in place, so they can pay out, not admit liability and almost sweep it under the carpet, which we find unacceptable.”
He said legal advice from the Police Federation for officers who wanted their experience publicised was that they should resist accepting a NDA.
Hartshorn said: “If our members are being victimised and bullied, that needs to be called out on every level to make sure the members know we are supporting them and that the bullies and criminals have no place in policing. Let’s get policing back to where it needs to be.”
Asked why chiefs were using gagging orders, Hartshorn said: “Probably because they’re embarrassed to have to admit they have got significant failings within their own organisation that should have been addressed properly by [senior] officers, and have failed to do so. Let’s get rid of it all, there’s got to be a better way than trying to cover it up.”
A spokesperson for the National Police Chiefs Council said: “The NPCC’s complaints and misconduct leads will be picking up conversations directly with the Fed to understand the basis of their comments and to reiterate that they can’t recall any incidents of NDAs being used in the way that has been suggested by the Fed.”
Hartshorn is a former Metropolitan firearms officers and was this year elected to lead the Police Federation.
The serious issues affecting policing, he said, were down to its leadership. “It is disappointing that these things have not been addressed far earlier, and victims of such behaviour have been let down. The vast majority of my colleagues do an amazing job.
“I can guarantee today on the streets of our country some of my colleagues will have this thrown in their faces. [People saying:] ‘How can I trust you?’ The major problem sits with chief constables who need to address the culture in their own forces. The attitude and behaviours are set by the people at the very top. They have taken their eye off the ball.
“We have to start getting the basics right and then we’ll stop making these horrendous mistakes which have rocked confidence in policing and will do for years. Most of my colleagues do not want to work in that environment.”
One chief constable agreed, saying: “Leadership is why policing is getting itself in this crap. Some do not know their arse from their elbow.”
He said chiefs gave promises – unkept – that vetting of new recruits would not suffer as the service rushed to hire officers as part of the government’s programme to fill the 20,000 positions it had cut.
He said he was open to considering revisiting cases where people had stayed in the police force after bungled investigations into wrongdoing allegations, though this was fraught with difficulty. “It is about making sure those people who are brave enough to come forward are listened to, are understood, supported, to make sure there is no hiding place for these people who harbour such horrendous views.”