Fast-track promotions for officers who are academically bright but inexperienced in policing may be leading to mistakes like the decision to investigate former Conservative MP Harvey Proctor over false claims he murdered children made by a fantasist, writes Jim Duffy.
Imagine a country where the police can knock down your door at 6am. Eighteen officers, all kitted out, coming into your home. As you wake up wondering what in god’s name is going on, you are being filmed as the contents of a warrant are read out to you. You are shaken. Is this really happening or are you dreaming a very bad dream? No, it is real. And why is so much fire power entering your private home at that time in the morning? Well, it seems you are being investigated for the murder of children. A crime you did not commit. But, it gets worse.
This is what happened to former MP Harvey Proctor, who now has his lawyers all over the Metropolitan Police like a rash. Mr Proctor has literally gone through hell over the past four years as he fought to clear his name.
And this is harder than you might think. For, although he was apparently informed that the raid on his house would be kept private and away from the media, it was splashed all over the TV and newspapers the next day. In short, the false suspicion that he was a child murderer was now all over the internet and would be thrown up anytime anyone searched for his name. But, Mr Proctor will now have his day in court it seems.
When I was in the police force, the criminal investigation department (CID) was seen as the place where the cream rose to the top. In short, if you had any brains at all, had a good head on your shoulders and the ability to think things through, you were invited to join the CID.
As a young aspiring cop, getting a six-month secondment to the CID, or aide to the CID as it was known, was gold dust. Being a detective was a great achievement. It meant you supposedly were a bit smarter and a bit more savvy than the regular bobby on the beat.
My question is, what the heck were the detectives in the Harvey Proctor case thinking about when they took as gospel the words of a known fantasist, who is now serving 18 years for his lies?
This case will run and run and so may the senior officers who were involved. Certainly the Met has apologised publicly and knows that it was inept and that it looks rather stupid. But the crux of this case and many others like it for me is this: what kind of senior police officers do we now have running our police service?
Poorly qualified cops
The problem we have now is we there are too many career police officers intent on getting to the top and big salaries as quick as they can. It is too tempting to climb the promotion ladder via accelerated promotion and by moving from force to force. The system is set up that way. As a consequence of this rapid advancement in career and responsibility, I wonder if we have too many poorly qualified cops running the show.
In the old Strathclyde and Lothian & Borders police forces, it took a long time to be promoted to sergeant never mind Area Commander as they call it in the Met. To get to sergeant in ten years was fast. But on that journey one would have to plod the beat, perhaps do a couple of years as a community cop, then a stint in the administration unit or case management section. If one was lucky, a secondment for six months to force headquarters in emergencies planning or personnel. But before those stripes could adorn your shoulders, a six-month tester as acting sergeant was very common. Then and only then would you be ready for the real thing.
And so it went on. As a sergeant, you would run a shift then do a few years in a department or several before you were deemed ready for inspector. But then some bright spark dreamed up “accelerated promotion”. The idea here was you could be a chief inspector within seven to ten years, usurping every cop who was on the standard route to promotion. And here is where it has all gone wrong in my opinion.
Policing cannot be learnt from a textbook. It cannot simply be taught in a classroom. If that were the case, newly minted cops would leave Tulliallan after ten weeks and that would be that. Instead, the police probationary period is two years and for good reason.
It takes experience and getting your hands dirty to appreciate what policing is all about. And even as officers rise up the ranks they come across multiple situations that call for circumspection, scrutiny and bucket loads of understanding of what life is like out there. In short, sticking pips and crowns on the shoulders of the inexperienced but academically bright is a recipe for disaster.
The detectives and those senior officers who took the word of Nick the Fantasist as “credible and true” have made big mistakes, for which the Met has said sorry. But, I wonder if the cops we have running the show nowadays in Scotland are the real deal.
I’m still pretty confident that a good police detective in Police Scotland would be able to sniff out a wrong-un. Hopefully, senior officers are wiser than them and know when the right questions are not being asked.