By JR on Thursday, September 15, 2011
Some police officers are ‘barely literate’ because the educational standards required to join the service are so low, it was claimed last night. Tom Winsor, the lawyer reviewing police conditions, said reading, writing and mathematical skills have fallen ‘significantly’ since the 1930s. He suggested that the public could be at risk if poor academic skills damage the effectiveness of potentially vital evidence.
Mr Winsor said criminal barristers sometimes ‘speak in contemptuous terms’ of the ‘barely literate’ quality of police evidence. While checking and rewriting poor quality paperwork was increasing the cost and bureaucracy of policing.
And in an extraordinary aside, he added that two senior officers told him standards were lowered to help black and ethnic minority recruits. He said the claim was ‘astonishing’ and an ‘insult’ to anyone from such a background who wanted a career in policing.
Speaking to an audience of superintendents in Warwickshire, Mr Winsor said it was unfair to expect overworked prosecutors to correct documents.
Mr Winsor said: ‘Why is the entrance test for a police constable now so low? The educational requirements, why are they so low? ‘We looked at the basic questions, one of which is, 'You find a purse in the street, it contains a £5 note, four 20p pieces and five two pence pieces, how much is in the purse?' ‘That's the standard.
‘We've looked at the educational standards for the police from 1930 and 1946 and I can tell you they are very very significantly harder.
‘It seems to me that public safety is critical and we want the most all-round effective police officers. So I ask again, should it be higher, the entrance standard?’
Mr Winsor has already inflamed tensions between himself and the police in his review of their conditions, recruitment and training.
Home Secretary Theresa May has asked him to look at entry requirements for the police in order to widen the pool of talent for top officers. This could include allowing leaders from other areas of the public sector or industry to directly enter the top ranks.
Police training could also be opened up to universities, colleges and specialist companies in the private sector.
Mr Winsor admitted that many people who are ‘entirely unsuitable to be police officers’ could pass academic test. He said: ‘It takes more than a clever person to be a cop, I get that. It takes maturity, judgment, bravery, the ability to deal with people.
‘Now those are things that need to be tested in other ways. But you also need to be bright - bright enough, because you are part of a criminal justice system.’
Mr Winsor said he was told by a former Met Commissioner and serving national Police Federation officer that standards were lowered to get more diverse applicants. He said: ‘I find that astonishing because if I was of that background I'd be insulted. Is it true, this assumption? It can't be so.’
Asked if police officers have poor standards of literacy, Mrs May replied: ‘That is not what I have found. I have found officers committed and dedicated to getting on with their job. ‘But it is still right for Tom Winsor to look at entry requirements and the possibility of senior entry at higher ranks.’