Ed McGuinness is a founder of Conservatives in the City, and contested Hornsey & Wood Green at the last general election.
“Stand still!”, screams my Colour Sergeant on a cold crisp morning at Sandhurst almost ten years ago.
We are formed up as a platoon of thirty men in scratchy and rigid, but exceptionally smart, military uniforms, trying desperately not to wiggle a toe or move from our position of standing up straight – not as simple as you might expect after a cumulative total of four hours sleep over the preceding three days!
Drill practically exhibits at least two of the six core values of the Army – discipline and loyalty. (The others, for the interested, being selfless commitment, respect for others, integrity, and courage.) It might surprise the general public to learn that at Sandhurst, and in all military establishments, every action is steeped in the application of those standards, which are a necessity in the profession of arms.
Yet this approach does not prevail across all uniformed services. And following the most recent heinous, high-profile, and hugely avoidable case of a police officer (whom I refuse to name) committing the most abhorrent crimes on women, we need to investigate how the police are selected and trained.
Moral aptitude, and not just technical ability, must play a much larger role, and there are surely a lesson to be learned from the manner in which the values and standards of the military, which admittedly has endured its own awful scandals, remains a respected and effective institution of the realm.
My first recommendation, of three, is to ensure a critical values component is included at every stage of the application process for police officers and that, crucially, it should carry equal weight to the physical and mental acuity tests which make up the tangible part of the process.
During my own officer selection for the Army, for example, there were often social events and debating assessments where moral questions were discussed and one’s contributions evaluated by serving senior officers and civilian experts.
Values and standards training should likewise not be standalone modules but should be integrated into each and every part of the training syllabus, with reflections and additional training when standards are not met.
My second recommendation, specifically for police forces whose general standing amongst their community has declined, is somewhat nuclear, but necessary: lowering the bar on what constitutes gross misconduct.
Some professions, which exercise great authority and rely on public trust and cooperation, must be held to a higher standard.
This approach is by no means exclusively applicable to uniformed service, For example, whilst it is not illegal to become bankrupt, in some financial professions it would bar you from certain activities, because bankruptcy is seen as a personal negligence which could bring the profession and the industry into disrepute.
Given collapsing public faith in the police, and whilst of course I believe in open and honest investigations and fair due process, I think we are at a stage now where even the slightest whiff of impropriety should result suspension. This step would send a powerful signal to both officers and the public, encourage speedy investigation of wrongdoing – and in some cases, prevent officers abusing their privileged position to attack women.
Finally, I was once asked, on a parade square whilst undergoing a test of my (underwhelming) drill, what I thought was the most important of the six values I listed in my opening above.
Now the traditions of the Officer Corps do require that one must not only learn how to put one foot in front of the other in time with a drum but also expect to be quizzed, at random times, on general military knowledge. But a question on my deep moral understanding, at 06.30 on a crisp Surrey Winter’s morning, I was not expecting.
But the answer is obvious: integrity. Integrity creates trust, and trust makes for an effective team. For that reason I suggest all forces across the country conduct values and standards audit of their forces and establish an action plan whereby effectiveness is not just measured in terms of crime rates, but in terms of mistakes admitted and rectified.
For whilst the crimes committed by the Met officer are unforgivable, what is clear is that patterns of behaviour such as his snowball from minor misdemeanours to major crimes (amplified by the trusted position that he holds), and without nipping it in the bud early we singularly fail not just his victims but the entire public.
Clearly the profession of arms is very different to civilian policing, but in both institutions we, the public, give up some of our individual sovereignty for the collective security of society. But in so doing we need to have faith that those who serve in those professions, and who we entrust with significant authority and power, will not misuse or abuse it.
Put simply, the police’s aim should be for all its officers to intuitively, and always, do the right thing – even on a difficult day, when no one is watching.