Editor's Viewpoint: PSNI misconduct figures disturbing
The latest details published in this newspaper about disciplinary proceedings within the PSNI are revealing in many instances, and deeply disturbing in others. The figures were obtained from the PSNI's Professional Standards Department as the result of a Freedom of Information request .
They show that in the last three years 83 officers were convicted of offences at internal hearings, but that only 18 were dismissed or required to resign from the police service. The rest were allowed to stay in the PSNI, but faced sanctions such as a reduction in rank, a fine or a reprimand. Another 22 officers chose to resign rather than face proceedings. In another eleven cases the officers were found not guilty, or their cases were thrown out.
In general there was a wide range of offences or alleged offences, including theft, drugs, assault, and attempting to pervert the course of justice, as well as drink-driving, sex offences, dishonesty and assault. These cover a similarly wide range of misconduct among the population at large, for which members of the public face the due process of law. It is appropriate that members of the PSNI should be subject to strict internal discipline, and in some cases the rigour of the law as well.
The public can take reassurance from the fact that the police themselves are being "policed", but one of the worrying factors is the length of time taken in carrying out some of the PSNI disciplinary procedures. Currently there are 25 officers suspended from duty, and they have been paid a total of nearly £700,000 while they await the outcome of their disciplinary investigations.
In one particularly disturbing case, an officer suspended for more than seven years may have received some £275,000 in pay while off duty. The taxpayer is perfectly entitled to ask why this case is taking so very long.
It is important that every individual is presumed innocent until proven guilty, but the PSNI must devise a system that is fair yet less cumbersome and financially daunting. Justice is important, but so too is financial accountability.