A scandal surrounding cheating by trainee police officers has damaged the reputation of the PSNI, the Policing Board has said, as the full extent of the problem was revealed.
Over 50 would-be police officers have been told to go back to the start of their 22-week training programme after it was revealed that they were conspiring with one another to try and find out the questions which students would be asked on their final exams.
A source at the college had given a detailed account to the News Letter of how students were scheming with each other on a large scale to try and find out exam questions.
The Policing Board – which scrutinises the work of the PSNI – convened a special meeting on Thursday to discuss the problem.
The PSNI had told the News Letter on Monday that its investigation into the allegations was “at an early stage and it would be premature to consider what all the outcomes might be”.
After Thursday’s meeting, the Policing Board revealed what the outcome had been.
It said that 20 officers who had been found to be involved in the scheme had been allowed to graduate regardless – although they were given written warnings.
Another 50-plus were also given such warnings, and will be put back through the training course again.
The News Letter asked exactly how much it costs to train an officer for 22 weeks, but the PSNI failed to answer this.
Following the Policing Board meeting the Chief Constable George Hamilton said: “I considered all the information available to me including the early and fulsome acceptance of responsibility by the students concerned while acknowledging the negative impact their behaviour was likely to have on community confidence in them as individuals and the damage to the reputation of PSNI more generally.
“I concluded that the student officers had, at best, demonstrated extremely poor judgement and their behaviour was a breach of the student officers’ Code of Ethics.”
He added: “I stand by my own judgement on this matter and fully appreciate the views and concerns expressed by the Policing Board. These 54 student officers have been given a final opportunity to prove their integrity, academic ability and high ethical standards of behaviour. Only when they have done so will they be attested as Constables in the PSNI.”
Following today’s meeting, Policing Board chairwoman Anne Connolly said: “The Chief Constable has been left in no doubt that board members consider this to be a very serious matter which has caused reputational damage to the PSNI.
“The integrity of officers is not negotiable and public confidence in the PSNI relies on officers acting with the highest levels of professionalism in all that they do at all times.
“It is deeply concerning to the board that so many trainees, at the very start of their careers, have been prepared to engage in this impropriety.”
It said that members of the board had questioned the Chief Constable on the would-be officers’ “suitability and future credibility to perform the duties of constable”.
The Policing Board’s statement said members “did not agree that the sanctions imposed were appropriate or adequate”.
It added: “The board is of the unanimous view that a clear organisational message needs to be conveyed that inappropriate behaviours can simply not be tolerated.”