HM Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland Derek Penman said “speculation and ill-informed commentary” was undermining confidence in policing and having a “significant impact” on those who are subject of allegations.
Publishing his final annual report ahead of his retirement, Mr Penman said he accepted there was “legitimate media interest” in alleged misconduct. But he said “sustained” periods of press attention had the potential to damage the force by putting off candidates applying for top jobs.
Chief Constable Phil Gormley is currently the subject of four separate investigations amid claims of bullying, while Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins and Superintendent Kirk Kinnell are suspended pending a criminal inquiry into allegations including the unauthorised use of the police firing range.
All three men deny any wrongdoing.
Mr Penman said: “Whilst I fully accept the legitimate media interest in reporting on alleged misconduct of chief officers, it cannot be in the public interest for the detail of these complaints to be played out so publicly, whilst they are still being actively investigated.
“Media coverage fuelled by speculation and ill-informed commentary not only has the potential to affect adversely the confidence of the public in policing, but has a significant impact on the lives and families of those who have come forward to make complaints, those who are subject to complaints and others who may be potential witnesses.”
He added: “I am concerned that the premature publicity around investigations may discourage those who wish to raise genuine complaints.
“The sustained media attention on senior police officers in Scotland may equally discourage quality individuals from coming forward in the future to take on these crucial leadership roles.”
Scotland’s national police force has never been too far from controversy since its formation in April 2013.
But Mr Penman, a former assistant chief constable, said he remained confident there is “no crisis” in policing.
He said: “I believe Police Scotland is well served by the many senior officers, team leaders and support staff managers who provide essential day-to-day leadership across the country.”
Earlier this month, Deputy Chief Constable Iain Livingstone said that he and his colleagues had been unprepared for the “intense” scrutiny Police Scotland would be under when it was formed following the merger of Scotland’s eight regional forces.
Mr Livingstone called for space to make decisions free from political interference.