A REVIEW by a watchdog found not all police officers in Scotland have proper vetting records and some officers and staff have not been vetted since initial checks at the start of their careers.

The review came after the murder of Sarah Everard by Wayne Couzens, and the conviction of David Carrick, who was found guilty of dozens of sexual offences committed while he was a serving police officer. It was then decided that there would be a nationwide check of all police officers in the UK.

You only need to look at a snapshot of last week’s news to see why it is more important than ever that all police forces ensure their officers are fit and proper people to be in the role.

Among other things, we learnt there are currently 335 Metropolitan Police officers waiting to face gross misconduct hearings. A former Thames Valley officer was jailed after grooming and sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl.

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A Dorset police officer described as “predatory” was jailed for 16 and a half years for raping one woman and sexually assaulting another. And an officer in Kent was jailed for six months for having an inappropriate relationship with a woman who was being investigated for a crime.

Closer to home, the trial began of a Police Scotland officer accused of sexually assaulting a woman at his flat in Edinburgh.

This was all just in the last week, so it’s no surprise that the vetting procedures of police forces attract headlines when they are found to not work as they should.

Reports of police criminality or misconduct have an inevitable impact on levels of trust in policing, regardless of where in the UK those officers are based.

And once that trust is broken, it is very hard to win it back.

The findings and recommendations from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) should be viewed against this backdrop.

While the overwhelming majority of police officers in Scotland are people with integrity and good intentions, any appearance of flaws in the vetting system needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency, to protect the public and so that the same poor perception of the police that we see elsewhere doesn’t begin to take root here.

One of the findings from the report was that there is currently no easily identifiable requirement for officers to notify their superiors of any offence, charge or criminal conviction relating to something that happened while they were off duty.

In this tech age, many will be astonished that this isn’t already done digitally and automatically – or if it is, that it isn’t foolproof enough to not require notification from the officer who has been found to have been engaged in, or is accused of, wrongdoing.

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Perhaps before this relatively recent reckoning we’ve seen with standards in policing and bad-apple officers, it simply wasn’t deemed necessary. If it wasn’t then, it certainly is now.

Police officers deal with some of the most vulnerable people in society on a daily basis. Their uniform elevates them above ordinary people. It signifies trust and authority. Those wearing it have to be – and be seen to be – worthy of the status it affords them.

The (HMICS) review also found that there isn’t a proper process for reviewing the vetting clearance of an officer or member of staff following an incident of misconduct and there is no requirement to report changes to relevant circumstances, such as a change of address.

Responding to the findings of the review, Police Scotland Deputy Chief Constable Alan Speirs said the safeguarding of the force’s values and standards “has never been stronger” and that, overall, the report “rightly highlights the high standards of our vetting”.

The National: Angela Constance

Justice Secretary Angela Constance said it is vital the public has confidence in policing.

“Vetting is a key strand in providing that assurance and we welcome the work Police Scotland is already taking to address the review’s recommendations,” she said. “We are committed to exploring the legislative basis for vetting and are considering the report and all its recommendations.”

The findings of the report require small, mostly administrative remedies. This is a positive. It should be relatively simple to make the changes necessary, providing there is the political will and resources needed to do so.

The review is ongoing but any recommendations should be implemented at pace. Because, as we know, it is often women, children and vulnerable groups who pay the price for any gaps in an oversight process. And any gaps in a system in place to root out rogue actors will be exploited by the very same people that it is designed to uncover.