Police Code of Conduct

Below is a copy of the police code of conduct, a set of guidelines laying out how the police should act and behave, both on and off duty. It is a useful guide for what you can complain against regarding the behaviour of police officers. When making a complaint, it is worth quoting the applicable section(s) of the code.

The code of conduct does not carry legal status, but the police officers are expected to adhere to it as part of their condition of employment. To break it with out very good reason would be heavily frowned apon, in particular by the courts; serious breaches can lead to dismissal.

The Police Code of Conduct

There is a Code of Conduct which sets out the principles which guide police officers’ conduct. The primary duties of those who hold the office of constable are the protection of life and property, the preservation of the Queen’s peace, and the prevention and detection of criminal offences. To fulfil these duties they are granted extraordinary powers; the public and the police service therefore have the right to expect the highest standards of conduct from them.

The Code does not seek to restrict officers’ discretion: rather it aims to define the parameters of conduct within which that discretion should be exercised. However, it is important to note that any breach of the principles in the Code might result in action being taken by the police, which, in serious cases, could involve dismissal.

The Code applies to the conduct of police officers in all ranks whilst on duty, or whilst off duty if the conduct is serious enough to indicate that an officer is not fit to be a police officer. It will be applied in a reasonable and objective manner. Due regard will be paid to the degree of negligence or deliberate fault and to the nature and circumstances of an officer’s conduct. Where off duty conduct is in question, this is to be measured against the generally accepted standards of the day.

The Code sets out the principles listed below:

(1)   Honesty and integrity. It is of paramount importance that the public has faith in the honesty and integrity of police officers. Officers should therefore be open and truthful in their dealings; avoid being improperly beholden to any person or institution; and discharge their duties with integrity.

(2)   Fairness and impartiality. Police officers have a particular responsibility to act with fairness and impartiality in all their dealings with the public and their colleagues.

(3)   Politeness and tolerance. Officers should treat members of the public and colleagues with courtesy and respect, avoiding abusive or deriding attitudes or behaviour. In particular, officers must avoid: favouritism of an individual or group; all forms of harassment, victimisation or unreasonable discrimination; and overbearing conduct to a colleague, particularly to one junior in rank or service.

(4)   Use of force and abuse of authority. Officers must never knowingly use more force than is reasonable, nor should they abuse their authority.

(5)   Performance of duties. Officers should be conscientious and diligent in the performance of their duties. Officers should attend work promptly when rostered for duty. If absent through sickness or injury, they should avoid activities likely to retard their return to duty.

(6)   Lawful orders. The police service is a disciplined body. Unless there is good and sufficient cause to do otherwise, officers must obey all lawful orders and abide by the provisions of police regulations. Officers should support their colleagues in the execution of their lawful duties, and oppose any improper behaviour, reporting it where appropriate.

(7)   Confidentiality. Information which comes into the possession of the police should be treated as confidential. It should not be used for personal benefit and nor should it be divulged to other parties except in the proper course of police duty. Similarly, officers should respect, as confidential, information about force policy and operations unless authorised to disclose it in the course of their duties.

(8)   Criminal offences. Officers must report any proceedings for a criminal offence taken against them. Conviction of a criminal offence may of itself result in further action being taken.

(9)   Property. Officers must exercise reasonable care to prevent loss or damage to property (excluding their own personal property but including police property).

(10)   Sobriety. Whilst on duty officers must be sober. Officers should not consume alcohol when on duty unless specifically authorised to do so or it becomes necessary for the proper discharge of police duty.

(11)   Appearance. Unless on duties which dictate otherwise, officers should always be well turned out, clean and tidy whilst on duty in uniform or in plain clothes.

(12)   General conduct. Whether on or off duty, police officers should not behave in a way which is likely to bring discredit upon the police service.

Source: The Police (Conduct) Regulations 1999, SI 1999/730, reg 4(1), Sch 1