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Hard-hitting external audit of RGP identifies serious deficiencies, makes wide-ranging recommendations

The Royal Gibraltar Police has been told it must improve its handling of some types of criminal investigations and the way it vets its officers and tackles misconduct and the potential for corruption.

The recommendations are contained in a hard-hitting report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services [HMICFRS], the independent UK body that assesses police and fire and rescue services to promote improvements in the way they operate.

The document makes far-reaching recommendations on assessing and understanding “demand, risk and vulnerability”, and sets out guidance on how the force can better promote “ethics, fairness and transparency”.

It identifies serious weaknesses in systems and processes that lie at the core of the RGP’s structure and the way it engages with both its own officers and the public.

Police Commissioner Ian McGrail said the findings drew on the RGP’s own internal self-assessments and provided “an opportunity to learn and develop” alongside other partners in order to improve the RGP’s service to the community.

He told the Chronicle some recommendations had already been acted on and a working group led by Assistant Commissioner Richard Ullger had been established to address the remaining ones.

The report, published on Thursday, follows an inspection last year conducted at the request of the Gibraltar Police Authority, which periodically invites the HMICFRS to audit the RGP.

The report acknowledges the RGP’s wide-ranging remit and the challenges of delivering that service with limited resources, and broadly finds that the force meets its objectives.

It found, for example, that the police workforce “…was professional, committed and enthusiastic about their work and the force they worked in.”

The report’s authors also acknowledged the RGP’s handling of serious cases - they cited “good police work and high-quality decision making” in two rape cases, for example - but noted too that specialist units were “stretched to capacity” and that the force sometimes struggled to match demand with investigative capacity.

It said such problems were not uncommon in other forces, but may be “more acute” in low crime jurisdictions where there was less opportunity to build skills and experience.

The HMICFRS report also lists deficiencies in the RGP’s management structures and procedures, ranging from the way it logged and recorded crimes to its handling of sensitive issues such as domestic crime and youth offending.

In the 41-page document, seasoned UK inspectors identified a lengthy list of core areas where they believe the RGP needs to improve, including recommendations on oversight of investigations, care of victims of crime and deeper understanding of risks and future demands on resources.

CORRUPTION

Among the most concerning observations in the report is a claim that the RGP does not fully understand its exposure to the risk of corruption, and that its professional standards unit lacks both resources and expertise to deal with this.

There is no suggestion in the report of corruption in the force, but rather an assessment that it is not properly equipped to mitigate the risk of it happening.

“The issue of corruption, even at a low or subconscious level, didn’t appear to be a concern for the force,” the HMICFRS report said.

“Gibraltar’s small population and recruitment pool, the presence of transnational organised crime, and the links and associations between the population and those serving in the force creates the potential for infiltration, corruption, blurring of ethical lines and inappropriate interventions by senior figures in the community.”

The force doesn’t fully understand its exposure to the risk of corruption.”

“Its professional standards unit lacks the resource and expertise needed to develop such an understanding or monitor and mitigate the threat.”

HMICFRS urged the RGP’s senior leadership team to compile a comprehensive, local, counter-corruption threat assessment and control strategy to evaluate and manage the full range of risks to the integrity of its organisation.

It said the RGP’s current structures were unable to proactively identify individuals who were corrupt or susceptible to corruption, and that this represented a risk to the force.

More should be done to effectively audit policing systems to prevent abuse, as well as set out ethical standards in order to challenge poor behaviour and root out corruption, it added.

HMICFRS said the RGP was not unique among police forces in the Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies in facing these challenges, and that it may need to call on the UK Government for assistance alongside other British territories.

Such forces and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office may wish to consider creating a joint or remote capability to fill this gap,” the report added, urging action by November 1 this year.

“In the interim, the force should develop better vetting, business interests and notifiable associations policies.”

“Along with effective use of ICT auditing, these can mitigate some of the risks from corruption.”

'ZERO TOLERANCE'

The report’s observations, however, have rankled with the RGP’s senior command.

Mr McGrail said that in 35 years of policing, he has never known a senior command team that has not dealt decisively with this issue.

The RGP, he added, has a “zero tolerance” approach to corruption, adding that in the past decade, 16 officers have been disciplined, or even arrested and prosecuted, for improper or corrupt behaviour.

Whilst the inspection did not suggest that there was corrupt practice in the RGP, I recognise that we are susceptible to a small but pernicious element whose improper or corrupt behaviour may bring about a negative effect on public confidence,” Mr McGrail told the Chronicle.

We will take on board the recommendation that we have to be better structured to address this matter."

“Consequently, we are going to invest in training officers specifically on counter corruption and also devise the necessary policies designed to support our efforts.”

"Integrity and code of ethics form part of the oath of office of constable and these values are central to our policing model, a basic attribute across ranks that is instilled as soon as the first recruit walks into New Mole House.”

“Strengthening our systems of activity in this area is something that I am sure the organisation as a whole will embrace.”

OTHER CONCERNS

The 2019 inspection followed on from an earlier visit in 2016, after which the HMICFRS made recommendations targeting key areas of the RGP’s operations and structures.

In their latest report, the inspectors expressed disappointment that not enough had been done to implement those recommendations and that only two of the 2016 guidelines had been met.

We expected the force to have done more to assess and understand demand, risk and vulnerability,” the new report said.

Among other issues, the inspectors found:

- A need to improve auditing of crime and incident reporting;

- A need to improve oversight of investigations to ensure investigative resources were properly allocated to avoid delays bringing cases to court;

- A need to improve the treatment of vulnerable and repeat victims of crime;

- A need to improve the assessment of risk and how the RGP prioritises its response to crime;

- A need for better understanding of demand, including predicting how it must deploy resources including IT in the future and the impact that will have on budgetary requirements;

- A need to fully integrate a code of ethics into its policies, including ensuring officers understand the risks posed by abuse of position for a sexual purpose;

- A need to closely and proactively monitor registers of gifts and hospitality;

- A need to strengthen the protections afforded to victims of domestic violence and to youth offenders, in particular to finding ways of keeping juveniles away from the criminal justice system by closer cooperation with partner agencies.

The HMICFRS inspectors said they found no evidence of bullying, although they noted that looking for it was not within their terms of reference.

They noted too that an external review prior to their inspection had found no evidence of systemic bullying in the force, despite some evidence of isolated cases by a minority of managers.

However the report reflected claims by less senior staff of “firm leadership” to describe management behaviours that may “in a small number of cases” have amounted to bullying.

“A perception exists among an apparently large number of officers that some senior officers sometimes behave in an unacceptable manner when dealing with their staff,” the report said.

“Whether true or not, this perception is a cause for concern.”

The HMICFRS inspectors acknowledged the work done by the RGP with the Gibraltar Police Federation to address these concerns but said more needed to be done.

It urged the RGP senior management to produce “with immediate effect” an anti-bullying statement and improve the force’s processes to prevent bullying.

It also encouraged greater leadership development - including the potential for six-month exchanges with UK forces at inspector and chief inspector level - to experience different management styles in other forces and rule out any possibility of a “blame culture” within the RGP.

The report also identified areas where the RGP was required to work beyond its remit - for example, policing border queues - and encouraged more cooperation with partner agencies.

The aim would be to release RGP resources so these could be focused on core duties instead, something that could only be achieved with the support of the Gibraltar Government and the Gibraltar Police Authority.

On budgeting, for example, it said there was scope for improvement but that this required input and a funding formula from the Minister for Finance.

REACTION

Mr McGrail said the RGP prided itself on transparency and openness, and had granted total access to the HMICFRS inspectors to assess and improve its core systems through close scrutiny.

He insisted the RGP took “a dim view" of bullying and inappropriate conduct in its officers, and had reviewed its bullying and grievance policy even after a 2019 audit found there was no evidence of systemic bullying in the organisation.

The guidance, he said, sought to distinguish between “firm leadership” and bullying in a disciplined service such as the RGP.

It had also launched a well-being strategy to address perceptions that were causing concern to its officers.

"Legitimate grievances of bullying will be rooted out and as Commissioner, my uncompromising views on the subject have been publicly expressed in the past,” he said.

“We will not tolerate this and anyone who feels to have been victimised will have the full sympathy and support of the Senior Command Team.”

Mr McGrail also acknowledged the report’s recommendations that more needed to be done to free up police resources by reassigning non-core duties such as border queue control, detention of prisoners and command and despatch functions to civilians or other agencies.

And he noted too the need to improve the RGP’s interface with other parts of the criminal justice system, particularly in the area of IT where this is lagging.

“We require full ‘buy-in’ from other criminal justice partners, to give effect to a more efficient interface,” he said, adding that technology was a vital element of modern policing.

Mr McGrail said that after the 2016 HMICFRS inspection, the RGP had undergone the an extensive transformation to modify shift patterns and re-align responsibilities to meet increased demands.

But he said the pace of that change was often determined by factors outside the RGP’s control, including resources, technology, budget and infrastructure.

And while the HMICFRS report had detected a reluctance among some officers to embrace change, Mr McGrail said most of his staff were ready and willing to adapt.

As Commissioner of Police with intimate knowledge of the entrails of our organisation, I am of the view that in general terms - obviously in any large organisation there will always be pockets of resistance - the workforce, police officers and support staff, are not averse to change when it is done in a rational, structured and orderly manner,” he said.

“There is strong evidence to suggest this, even if for a fresh pair of eyes such as that of the HMIC this may not be immediately or instantly noticeable.”

He noted too the annual surveys by the Gibraltar Police Authority recorded increased public satisfaction levels in the RGP, alongside significant drops in crime and a 54% detection rate, well above the UK average.

Dr Joey Britto, the chairman of the Gibraltar Police Authority, also welcomed publication of the HMICFRS report.

"Regular inspections are an integral part of the RGP’s continuous professional development cycle and are usually conducted
every three to four years," he said.

"These are non-statutory inspections commissioned with a view to providing a developmental road-map for the organisation."

"The GPA shall, of course, support and monitor the RGP in meeting the demands of these recommendations and can confirm that the RGP has already begun to address a number of key areas for development identified in the report."

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