Police vetting standards will be overhauled under a Labour government, including close checks of social media and immediate suspensions of officers accused of sexual offences or domestic violence, Yvette Cooper has said.
The shadow home secretary said although the Home Office had powers to make changes immediately, Labour would legislate for a completely new standards framework to underpin the new rules.
Speaking at a the Institute for Government, where she said Labour would also overhaul police forces to put far more officers on neighbourhood patrols, Cooper said it was vital to restore trust and community links.
But she stopped short of saying that forces with significant failings like the Metropolitan police should be dismantled and re-established with a new name and remit to restore trust, saying judgment on further reform should come after Louise Casey’s report.
“The truly shocking cases of David Carrick and Wayne Couzens have shown vetting, standards and misconduct systems have badly failed,” Cooper said.
“Neither of those men should ever have been police officers or able to serve for so long. Systems to root out racism, misogyny, homophobia and toxic bullying culture are nowhere near strong enough – letting victims, communities and policing down. Confidence has fallen further in black communities too.”
Cooper said as home secretary, Labour would “most urgently … introduce new mandatory requirements on vetting, standards, training and misconduct underpinned by new legislation.”
Cooper said it was truly shocking that Carrick had not been suspended for a rape allegation that came shortly after the murder of Sarah Everard by Couzens. “That was at a time when the Met police and all police forces were saying that they were raising standards that they were taking action,” she said.
“What is clear is that the requirements on police forces gives the forces too much flexibility on some of those basic things. There’s too much ability for them to undercut or to reduce standards at the moment.”
She said Labour would make it a requirement that an officer facing investigation for rape or domestic abuse allegations should be suspended. “This is letting down victims but it’s also letting down hardworking police officers,” she said.
Cooper said the new Met commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, was working to restore confidence. “They are determined about going after other cases where standards may not have been met and where abuse may have taken place. And that means we would expect to see more of those cases coming to the light.
“Other forces need to do the same as that as well, because this is not just about the Met. We will wait to see what [the Casey review] sets out to see what further reforms might be needed.”
Citing the character Catherine Cawood from the BBC drama Happy Valley as an inspiration, Cooper also pledged a significant redistribution of police resources to put 13,000 new officers and PCSOs into community teams, which she said could be funded by more than £300m in efficiency savings by mandating forces to collaborate on procurement and technology.
Cooper said she had met inspiring neighbourhood officers who worked best when they intimately knew their beat. “The officer who was working with troubled primary schoolchildren to stop them going off the rails – he knew whose dad was in prison, who didn’t feel safe at home, and the problems those kids faced and how to help get them back on track,” she said.
“Catherine Cawood may be fiction. But the stories of police officers like Catherine – who know their communities, who pick up the things that everyone else misses to solve crimes and keep people safe – are very real. And we need more of them.”