Police felt 'disempowered and disenchanted' after chief said force was racist

A major report into the culture of Police Scotland has also found a unwillingness to challenge unacceptable behaviour.

Police felt ‘disempowered and disenchanted’ after chief said force was institutionally racist Getty Images

Police were left feeling “disempowered and disenchanted” by the former chief constable’s statement that the force was institutionally racist, a report has revealed.

An inspection of Police Scotland’s culture, carried out by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary Scotland (HMICS) was published on Thursday, has made 11 recommendations for improvement.

It found misconduct is under-reported in the force and there is a failure to challenge unacceptable behaviour.

In May, outgoing chief Sir Iain Livingstone addressed a meeting of the Scottish Police Authority admitting the force was “institutionally racist and discriminatory”, adding that it was “important to acknowledge issues”.

He stressed the admission “absolutely does not mean” all officers and staff are racist, sexist or homophobic, and he praised the “incredible” work they do each day to keep people and communities safe.

But the new report found Sir Iain’s statement received a “mixed response” from officers and staff at Police Scotland.

“We found that the chief constable’s statement on institutional discrimination had received a mixed response, with some welcoming it and others clearly not recognising the description of the environment in which they work,” it said.

“This statement, its timing and communication – as well as the previous statement on anti-racism – has left many feeling disempowered and disenchanted.”

Police Scotland officers and staff felt 'disempowered and disenchanted' after statementiStock

Staff cuts, barriers to cultural change and ‘canteen culture’

The report found concerns from employees around the size and culture of Police Scotland, the impact of cuts and training and how it affects service delivery and reporting of performance within the force.

Current demand on the service, alongside significant reductions, are leading to ever-increasing pressure on the frontline, the report said.

Craig Naylor, HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland said the removal of the mandate for 17,234 officers is “welcome,” but not if officer reductions are purely to meet budget challenges.

He also said the formation of Police Scotland resulted in training programmes being scrapped.

This meant it was possible for constables who were promoted to eventually become superintendents could have been so “with little to no” leadership training.

It also meant that there are many officers and staff to train, with a significant backlog, and a skill gap that has not been fully quantified.

Mr Naylor wrote that the culture within policing is often “denigrated”, with negative connotations about a “canteen culture’.”

HMICS report outlined 11 recommendations for Police Scotland iStock

The report found probationers felt ill-equipped for the challenging demands of frontline policing, and initial expectations of a focus on fighting crime had been replaced with the reality of dealing with vulnerability and mental health.

Meanwhile, some reported the size and scale of the force affected its ability to treat officers and staff as individuals, with many officers and staff still to train, a “significant” backlog and a skill gap which has not been fully quantified.

Many of those spoken to felt the service had been slow to react to wider societal change and to policing specific events on the worldwide and UK landscape, feeling that traditional policing culture itself can be a barrier to cultural change.

Misconduct ‘under-reported within police’

There is concern among officers that misconduct is under-reported in Police Scotland and there is a failure to challenge unacceptable behaviour, the report warned.

It pointed to “an unwillingness to challenge unacceptable behaviour”, along with a “blame culture”, but found that overall the culture in the force is improving and is “dramatically different” from the early days of the single force, created in 2013.

The report found a “general lack of trust in the misconduct and grievance processes which are viewed as lacking openness, transparency, fairness and pace of resolution”.

Mr Naylor added: “It was only in the past few years that the style and tone has stabilised.

“Resourcing and budget pressures remain, with a resultant lack of investment in improvements.

“Reform of this scale in Scotland has not been attempted beyond police and fire and while the funding and workforce in most public sectors has grown, in policing it has shrunk.”

It identified “a reluctance to challenge unacceptable behaviour, lack of trust and confidence in the misconduct, grievance and promotion processes, a blame culture, a sense of disconnect with the leadership but praise for middle management”.

Frontline officers struggled with a lack of routine and civilian workers “feel particularly undervalued and less respected than their officer colleagues, with their professional expertise often disregarded”, the report said.

It also described a two-tier culture where civilian workers feel less valued than police officers.


Data received from Police Scotland indicates that there were 73 grievance cases (plus one anonymous) recorded during the period April 2022 to end March 2023, 56 of them relating to officers and 17 to staff.

There are 12 tribunal processes currently live and five now closed.

The majority of the 73 grievance cases were in relation to inappropriate/unacceptable behaviours within the workplace, with 41% of the cases being bullying and harassment related and 30% being related to
perceived discrimination.

More than 400 reports of sexual misconduct were made involving officers and staff between January 2017 and October 2021.

The most prevalent of these included sexual assault, inappropriate comments and inappropriate messaging.
Of these, 118 were assessed as criminal, with the remaining 292 assessed as non-criminal.

The reports related to 360 named individuals and 28 unknown persons; 150 related to off-duty matters and 260 to on-duty matters. During proceedings, 44 officers retired or resigned and 16 reports were subsequently withdrawn.

Police Scotland also stated that reports of this nature have increased year on year since 2018. A number of recommendations were made internally, including enhancing vetting arrangements.

In November 2022, an update on the review and its recommendations was reported. It was noted that a further 49 reports had been recorded between October 2021 and December 2021.

At the time of the report, findings for the six months between January 2022 to 30 June 2022 were that:

  • 84 reports were received between January 1 2022 and July 31 2022
  • Reports related to 72 named individuals and 12 unknown persons
  • Most reports related to sexual assault, followed by inappropriate messaging
  • 26 reports related to off-duty matters and 53 to on-duty matters
  • To date, 20 matters had been reported to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.

How the report was carried out

The inspection took evidence from staff and officers at all ranks and grades to gain an understanding of: how culture is set; if there is a conscious effort to define and influence culture; and how people feel within the organisation.

Views and ‘stories’ from staff and officers across the organisation, receiving over 260 responses, with a number followed up in direct interviews.

Mr Naylor’s report made 11 recommendations for the force, including having mandatory initial steps for its grievance process, and renaming this “resolution/mediation”.

Further recommendations include improving leadership behaviours and updating probationer training to enable new starts to feel equipped to deal with frontline policing.

Police Scotland ‘aim to continuously improve’

Deputy chief constable Alan Speirs said: “I’m encouraged by this clear picture of significant cultural improvement in recent years, built on investment in leadership and a focus on our values driven through our Policing Together programme.

“Policing is demanding and we are held to high standards. It is for us as a Police Scotland executive team to support our officers and staff, give them a voice and set clear expectations so they can deliver for the people of Scotland.

“We’re already making progress by bringing more transparency through the publication of conduct proceedings, working to improve our grievance procedures, and delivery of leadership training across the organisation.

“The chief constable has also been clear about the impact that financial pressures are placing on our hard-working officers and staff, and she has set out what additional funding we need from the Scottish Government to enable us to restart officer recruitment for the year ahead.

“In the meantime, we will carefully consider how this report can further inform our commitment to a culture of continuous improvement across everything we do.”

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