Code of Ethics

The Code of Ethics has been produced by the College of Policing in its role as the professional body for policing. It sets and defines the exemplary standards of behaviour for everyone who works in policing.

​​​​​​We are committed to ensuring that the Code of Ethics is not simply another piece of paper, poster or laminate, but is at the heart of every policy, procedure, decision and action in policing.

Evidence tells us that simply having a Code of Ethics is not enough to reduce unprofessional behaviour - it needs to be talked about as an everyday business consideration. If the public don't have the confidence to trust the police to be fair, acting ethically and in their best interests, they are less likely to assist the police in upholding the law.

The Code of Ethics is about self-awareness, ensuring that everyone in policing feels able to always do the right thing and is confident to challenge colleagues irrespective of their rank, role or position.

Download the Code of Ethics
A code of practice for the principles and standards of professional behaviour for the policing profession of England and Wales. Also available in Welsh.

Watch a video about the Code of Ethics

Police officers and staff talk about what the Code of Ethics means to them.

Embedding the Code of Ethics
Supporting documents for police forces to use the Code of Ethics in promoting, reinforcing and supporting the highest personal standards in policing.
How we developed the Code of Ethics

From initial engagement through public consultation to laying in Parliament, milestones in the development of the Code of Ethics.

 

A number of common questions about the Code of Ethics are set out below. If your question isn't among them, please email Integrity.Team@College.pnn.police.uk.​

What is the Code of Ethics?

​The Code of Ethics is the ​​written guide to the principles that every member of the policing profession of England and Wales is expected to uphold and the standards of behaviour they are expected to meet.

It is the first time these p​rinciples and standards of behaviour have been set out in a single document.

The Code o​​f Ethics is intended to be used on a day-to-day basis to guide behaviour and decision-making.

The Code of E​​thics has been written "by" policing "for" policing.​


Who exactly does the Code of Ethics apply to?

The Code of Ethics ​​applies directly to the police forces maintained for the police areas of England and Wales defined in section 1 of the Police Act 1996, and to the College of Policing.

The Code of Et​​hics for policing specifically applies to:

  • police officers
  • ​police staff
  • Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) and those with designated police powers
  • members of t​he Special Constabulary and other police volunteers
  • members of the College of Policing (the professional body for policing)
  • police officers and staff seconded to another force or policing agency, or on overseas deployment
  • police officers and staff seconded from another force or agency, or from an international policing jurisdiction
  • police health professionals
  • individuals and organisations that provide policing services on a temporary basis (eg, academics, consultants, trainers, private sector companies)
  • police officers and staff on career breaks
  • those who are considering joining the police service
  • those who have entered into a collaboration agreement with the police service (e.g. under police collaboration provisions in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011).

Other ​police forces or agencies in the UK may also wish to adopt the Code of Ethics. For example, British Transport Police has indicated its willingness to adopt the Code.


What about Police and Crime Commissioners?

​Police and Crime Commissioners may decide to adopt the Code of Ethics. Many have already indicated that they plan to do so.

Does the Code of Ethics apply to officers and staff in Northern Ireland or in Scotland?


The Code of ​Ethics will play a practical role in guiding the behaviour of everyone in policing, rather than being something that is only turned to later when unprofessional behaviour crosses the threshold into misconduct.

The emphasis​​ is on what good policing looks like and how ethical police officers and staff behave, rather than on managing misconduct.


Why do police need a Code of Ethics?


The Code ​​of Ethics will play a practical role in guiding the behaviour of everyone in policing, rather than being something that is only turned to later when unprofessional behaviour crosses the threshold into misconduct.

The emphasis is on what good policing looks like and how ethical police officers and staff behave, rather than on managing miscondu​​ct.


What do officers and police staff get out of the Code of Ethics?


The Code of ​​Ethics is based on nine policing principles and 10 standards of professional behaviour that will help everyone in policing to do the right thing in the right way.

It spells out wh​​​at the profession expects of all officers, staff and others working in policing, and has practical examples for everyone to use daily.

It reminds people that unprofessional behaviour damages the reputation of the police. The Code of Ethics makes it clear that unprofessional b​​ehaviour must not be condoned, tolerated or ignored. And that officers and staff have a duty to challenge those whose behaviour falls short of the Code of Ethics.

The Code of Ethics w​ill be used by forces and the College to underpin and enhance existing integrity and accountability arrangements.


What do members of the public get out of the Code of Ethics?

​​The public must be able to trust the police to be competent and to act ethically. The Code of Ethics allows them to assess what they should expect from the police - not just warranted officers but every single person in the profession.

The Co​​de of Ethics is about professionalising the service, giving those within it a clear guide on ethical decision-making and behaviour.

In dealing with millions of incidents every year (that add up to tens of millions of "contacts" with the public), officers and police staff already demonstr​​ate many of the principles and standards set out in the Code of Ethics.

The public recognise the good work that the vast majority do, but sometimes the behaviour of those in the service is not what is expected.​​

The Code of Ethics ​​will encourage the public to demand the highest standards from the police.


Why is there such an emphasis on challenging and taking action against unprofessional behaviour?

To maintain public trust and confidence in the police, every person in policing must take responsibility for ensuring that the principles and sta​ndards in the Code of Ethics are not being betrayed.

The Code ​of Ethics sets a positive obligation for everyone to challenge or report behaviour that does not meet the expectations set out in the Code of Ethics.

When a force ​​or policing organisation makes it okay for people to report unprofessional behaviour, they are empowering people to stand up for what they believe in and demonstrate their personal integrity.

Challengin​g and taking action against unprofessional behaviour also has an effect on organisational integrity, because it helps ensure consistent behaviour across the whole policing profession.


Will every member of the police service have to adhere to the Code of Ethics?


Now that the Code of Ethics is a code of practice, every chief constable must have regard to it in the discharge of his or her functions. However,​ the scope of the Code extends well beyond its relatively limited statutory basis as a code of practice. Every single person working in policing is expected to adopt and adhere to the principles and standards set out in the Code.

The main​​ purpose of the Code of Ethics is to be a guide to "good" policing, not something to punish "poor" policing.


Will every member of the police service have to sign up to the Code of Ethics?

​The College of Policing and forces will be doing everything they can to ensure that everyone working for them has access to a copy of the Code of Ethics, so they can read and understand it. There is no requirement, at this time, for individuals to physically sign the document, but some forces may choose t​​​o take this approach. In other jurisdictions, such as the Police Service of Northern Ireland, officers and staff have been required to physically sign the code.


Who is responsible for embedding the Code of Ethics?

​​Everyone in policing is expected to take ownership of the Code of Ethics. Individual chief constables will decide how they will embed the Code of Ethics in their forces.

The Colleg​​e of Policing has developed a number of resources to help. These include an Assessment Guide to help forces:

  • benchmark their current ethics-related activity
  • identify their areas of strength as well as areas for improvement
  • consider essential ethics-related roles and processes
  • identify which areas should be amended or developed further.

All forces and the​ College will review their current training, policies and procedures to ensure they reflect the Code of Ethics.


Will the Code of Ethics be just a standalone document?

​The experience of other professional bodies is that codes do need to be reviewed and updated. Generally revisions may come about because of new legislation or changes in regulatory frameworks.

Will the Code of Ethics have to be kept up to date?

​The experience of other professional bodies is that codes do need to be reviewed and updated. Generally revisions may come about because o​​f new legislation or changes in regulatory frameworks.


How difficult will it be for chief constables to enhance and improve integrity in their forces with big cuts to police budgets that they have to implement?

​Embedding t​he Code of Ethics is about enhancing many of the good arrangements that already exist.

For example, t​he Code of Ethics will act as a reminder of what the expected standards are, and these will be reinforced in training courses, all other learning and development products, all policies and procedures, human resources processes (such as recruitment and vetting), and an array of resources available to users online.


What consultation took place for the Code of Ethics?

​From April 2013 onwards, the College consulted as widely as possible in order to gain a good idea of what people wanted to see in a Code of Ethic​s for policing.​

The consult​​ation took in every police force, all the main staff associations and trade unions, as well as a wide range of external stakeholders such as the Independent Police Complaints Commission, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, British Transport Police and other non-Home Office forces, academia and, most importantly, the public.

The public consultation between October and December 2013 resulted in over 300 emails and more than 2,200 responses to an online survey. In addition​​, the College held 38 focus groups around the country.

The majority​​ of respondents were in favour of a single Code of Ethics for policing in England and Wales. Many strongly welcomed and supported it, seeing it as necessary, timely and of benefit to both the public and those working within policing.

The College will publis​​h a summary of the responses to the consultation on this website soon.


What happens if a member of the public thinks there has been a breach of the Code of Ethics?


Anyone who wishes to make a complaint about unprofessional behaviour by someone in policing should contact the relevant police force or p​​olicing organisation. This can be done online using appropriate websites and forms, in writing or in person.

They c​​an also make their complaint to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

All forces p​​rovide information on making a complaint about unprofessional behaviour by a member of the policing profession on their websites.


What is the existing evidence on police integrity and public confidence?


A lot of research has been carried out on this subject, e.g. national surveys of public satisfaction with policing, British Crime Surveys, and HMIC and IPCC r​​eports on police integrity 2011 and 2012.

A few of the m​​ajor findings are:


  • The public do not view police corruption as one of the major problems in society. However, they view integrity as an issue the police service should tackle and also view it as necessary to maintain trust and confidence in the authority of the police.
  • The way the police interact with the public day in, day out is central to public trust and confidence. Seeing police action as legitimate encourages the public to comply with the law and cooperate with the police.
  • It is important for victims of crime that they feel they have been treated with fairness and respect by police, regardless of the outcome of the crime being investigated.

We have ​​produced a rapid evidence assessment which sets out the academic evidence on the impact of codes of ethics on behaviour.

You can also ​​​download a data pack which provides an overview of the published national survey evidence on public trust and confidence in the police.


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