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Some senior officers “uneasy” about impersonal recruitment process

Poor previous employment history and intelligence linking candidates to crime is being missed

Some senior police leaders have become “uneasy” about the impersonal nature of the online recruitment process the HMICFRS has warned.

Its review of vetting, misconduct and misogyny published today (see main story) also contains “anecdotal evidence of wholly unsuitable applicants” managing to join the service.

There is also anecdotal evidence that the content of recruitment pitches and the process itself does not accurately reflect the realities of the job for recruits. “There have been some examples of applicants joining the service with unrealistic expectations, such as thinking they wouldn’t have to work night shifts or weekends,” the review says.

It says that recruitment at speed and on the “massive scale ” envisaged through the Government’s Police Uplift Programme (PUP) carries risks that standards of recruitment practice including vetting are not high enough.

A lot of the concern expressed in the report is focused on the lack of rigorous checks on candidates’ previous employment history. Because almost the entire process is online not getting character references from previous employers poses higher risks if applicants have lied on the initial form. 

The national sift

The recruitment process set out by College of Policing guidance starts with an online application form. In most forces, those who complete the form properly and meet the eligibility criteria move on to the College’s ‘national sift’ which consists of an online situational judgment test and a behavioural-style questionnaire. Six forces haven’t adopted the national sift and either don’t sift applicants at all or carry out their own paper exercise.

The next stage is the national assessment centre (NAC) which since the start of the pandemic has been an online process. Following the NAC, most forces now hold post-assessment interviews for successful applicants, but some still don’t. According to the College of Policing’s standards, this isn’t a mandatory part of the recruitment process.

This means that in some forces recruits have not been seen in person by any member of a force’s management or recruitment team until they turn up for their first day of work.

HMICFRS says it found “concerning evidence” that in one force inspected the suitability of some new recruits was questionable. In a 12-month period in that force, half of all the force’s misconduct proceedings against police officers (14 out of 28) involved an officer in their first 2 years of service.

Yet no national data is available on the length of service of officers facing misconduct proceedings. A senior officer subsequently told the review team that this data is now being collected nationally.

Employment history

Under the CoP national guidance there is no legal obligation on a force to carry out other checks or to obtain references from previous employers although it does recommend that this should be part of good practice.

The report found that the police recruitment process places fewer checks on a candidate’s previous employment than would be required for a security guard.

Some forces told the review team that they had stopped carrying out checks on an applicant’s employment history all together with predictable results. For example, one new officer who faced misconduct proceedings, disclosed on her application form that she had a series of very short periods of employment. But she didn’t disclose that she had been repeatedly dismissed, and the force didn’t investigate her employment history before deciding to grant vetting clearance.

A senior officer told HMICFRS that six forces don’t comply with the guidance on employment history and that some do no more than just the minimum set out in the guidance. Not all forces request a character reference.

It adds: “As many employers know, some applicants will lie on their forms. Applicants shouldn’t proceed to the vetting stage until forces are as confident as they can reasonably be sure that they have provided accurate information.”

The guidance for police forces advises only a minimum of three years’ history should be obtained. The inspectorate expressed concern that “an applicant’s dismissal from employment four years prior would come to the attention of a security industry recruiter: it wouldn’t come to the attention of a police recruiter.”

An unsuitable case study

A police officer applicant was granted vetting clearance. Five years earlier, he had come to police attention for speeding and other driving-related matters. He also declared that he had been convicted abroad of an attempted theft in that same year. He was fined for this offence. There was also police intelligence, from around the same period, relating to the applicant’s possible link to drug supply. And in recent intelligence, a man was seen with a firearm and involved in a police pursuit. The vehicle in question was a hire vehicle and the address for the hire was the home address of the applicant.There was also recent intelligence linking a separate vehicle, registered to the applicant, to an offence of aggravated burglary. In that offence, five offenders had threatened the occupants with a metal bar before stealing jewellery. When granting vetting clearance, the force didn’t fully assess the risks associated with this applicant. When the inspectorate review team expressed concerns about this decision to the force, “it was clear from its response that the force had dismissed both the attempted theft conviction abroad and the intelligence picture,” the review found. “The force put no risk mitigation measures in place at the time of the vetting clearance and appeared not to do so after our vetting file review.”

HMICFRS concluded: “In this case, the mutually corroborative nature of the intelligence and other information caused us substantial concern.”

Psychometric testing

The national recruitment process includes some psychometric testing of applicants’ behaviour, values, and competencies against those required by police officers. Researchers at Bournemouth University are carrying out some research to see if other psychometric tests can be used to predict future sexual misconduct which was one of the major focuses of the HMICFRS review.

The university has planned a pilot psychometric study with Warwickshire Police, whose chief constable is the NPCC lead for vetting..

The aim of the pilot study is to establish whether lower conscientiousness could be an indicator of sexual misconduct in UK policing.

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