Have you ever come across an aggressive or abusive police officer and wondered whether they’ve ever been on the wrong side of the law?
Or even thought about becoming a police officer yourself?
Since police are supposed to uphold and enforce the law, it makes sense that applicants and serving officers should be of good character and live up to a high standard of integrity.
According to the NSW Recruitment eligibility criteria, some convictions will mean that aspiring officers will never be allowed to join the police force, while others may have to wait some time.
The criteria require applicants to have a clean traffic record for the previous twelve months before applying, and they must not have had an Apprehended Violence Order in the previous ten years.
A criminal conviction or association with gangs or other suspicious behaviour is supposed to put applicants out of the running permanently, no matter how long ago it was.
And even unproven and withdrawn charges can be taken into account when deciding whether an applicant is of good character.
What about officers who are already serving?
The above criteria will not normally result in a current officer’s employment being terminated.
As outlined in our previous blogs, data collected in 2014 showed that 1 in 40 serving police officers in NSW have been convicted of at least one criminal offence.
This equals 437 police officers out of a total 16,255.
While many convictions were for drink driving and other major traffic offences, some were for serious assaults, illegal use of guns, fraud, stealing and break and enter.
The data also showed that the number of police officers with convictions has increased dramatically since 2008, when there were just 133 serving officers with convictions.
When can serving police officers be terminated?
The NSW Police Commissioner has the power to terminate officers that he believes are no longer suitable to the position due to a lack of competence or integrity, or performance or conduct issues.
The Commissioner can certainly take into account the existence of criminal convictions when making that determination.
However, the current Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione has been criticised for playing-down the convictions of serving officers, and is currently under investigation for misleading the public in that regard.
Before the 2014 data became publicly available, Scipione publicly asserted that only a small number of serving officers had criminal convictions and that those convictions were for minor offences such as low range drink driving.
Scipione has terminated a total of around 90 police officers since he became Commissioner in 2007, but those terminations have overwhelmingly been for conduct that brought the force into disrepute or other significant misconduct.
For example, a police sergeant was terminated in 2010 when reports emerged that his party trick was to use his penis to pierce open beer bottles in public.
That officer was never charged with any criminal offence, and was reinstated after he won an Industrial Relations Commission appeal.
All of this means that while a criminal record is meant to be fatal to the prospects of an applicant, it isn’t likely to affect a serving member of the force.