(LONDON) -- The head of the Metropolitan police yesterday defended a decision to allow convicted criminals to join the force in an attempt to boost recruitment.
Sir John Stevens, the commissioner of the Metropolitan police, confirmed that applications from potential officers convicted of "minor" offences would be considered for the first time.
The move, which was implemented in September by chief superintendent Alan Given, head of the Met's new recruitment task force, was condemned as "a dire lowering of standards" by Glen Smyth, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, which represents 25,000 officers; by the National Police Federation, which represents officers in England and Wales; and by Ann Widdecombe, the shadow home secretary.
However, Sir John insisted that those guilty of serious offences would not be recruited. "We are not taking criminals on in the Metropolitan police," he said on BBC1's Breakfast With Frost.
"We are looking to see if people have convictions for speeding or for not having a TV licence, for instance, and that type of offence or any offence that might take place 15 years ago.
"I think people like that are entitled to join the police, provided, of course they have got the right references when they want to join."
The Met needs 25,600 officers to police London and is 500 officers short this year, according to Sir John.
In addition retirement, death, and officers leaving the force has left the capital with a 3,000 shortfall.
Police applicants have to declare previous convictions on their initial form and until now, a criminal record disqualified them. "The whole idea of the policy is to try to rule people in rather than to automatically rule them out," said a Scotland Yard spokeswoman. "We will be more flexible in considering applications. Non-payment of a TV licence or traffic offences will not exclude potential officers.
"Those individuals will still have to justify their recruitment by passing the interview stages, the medical and the physical tests.
"We're not wanting to lose someone who may turn out to be a talented officer just because they once committed a minor offence," she said.
The spokeswoman was not able to say whether anyone with past convictions had passed the selection process under the new rules.
Mr. Smyth described the move as "incredible". He argued that it would place officers in the uncomfortable position of patrolling with colleagues they had once arrested.
"You can envisage a situation where officers who have a service record as long as mine have to deal with those they have encountered as juveniles," he said.
He added that serving officers could face dismissal for offences that potential recruits had committed and it could lead to officers being forced to admit previous convictions to defence lawyers in court.
Scotland Yard said the review of recruitment carried out by chief supt Given made several recommendations including lifting the ban on applicants with tattoos. The Met is also considering relaxing the rules on the stipulation that hair must be "short and tidy" to encourage more black recruits, who may have dreadlocks, to apply.
(iSyndicate; The Guardian; Nov. 13, 2000). Terms and Conditions: Copyright(c) 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.