Northern Ireland

Garnerville: Report criticises PSNI college's 'military-style boot camp' regime

PSNI parade

The training regime for new police officers in Northern Ireland is at times like a military-style boot camp, according to an internal PSNI review.

The report said there is a fear of failure within the PSNI college in east Belfast, with "an unhealthy leaning towards punitive discipline".

It describes the Garnerville regime as "pseudo-militaristic", with students marching to and from classes.

The PSNI has now ended some of the practices identified in the report.

The review, led by an officer from Police Scotland, was ordered after 54 student officers were found to have cheated in an exam and ordered to repeat the 22-week training programme.

While they said there were many examples of good practice, the review team said it was "significantly concerned by certain elements of the prevailing culture".

The report, obtained by the BBC, says the college failed to provide a safe and supported learning environment.

It reveals that a number of disciplinary investigations are now under way into allegations of "potential individual misconduct".

Press-ups in uniform

The culture within Garnerville is described as "more associated with a pseudo-militaristic training environment".

"Student officers and trainers have detailed how the first day of the residential process can involve students performing press-ups in uniform and running distances in business attire," the report adds.

It notes that military style drill training is incorporated throughout the curriculum, and that student officers routinely march when moving around the college.

The review team says students are forced to take part in military style "show parades" as a form of punishment, sometimes in response to a mistake or poor performance by an individual.

Image caption Drill practice will now focus on preparing for ceremonial occasions like the passing out parade to mark the graduation of new officers

They reveal that examples of when such punishments were applied for what it calls "infractions against unreasonably high standards" included water drips in sinks and dust on floors.

In response to the report, Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd, who recently took charge of the training college, said: "We have, I think, in an attempt to raise our standards, lost our balance.

"That which was designed to make people pay attention to detail has lost its balance and become unacceptable.

"We have acknowledged that within the report and we have a plan to deal with those things going forward and make the situation better for the future."

The PSNI has ordered an immediate end to the practice of students marching to and from classes and the use of "show parades" as a form of discipline.

Groups of students will no longer be referred to as "squads", but as "classes".

Fear of failure

Formal drill practice will continue, but the amount of such training will be reduced, and the focus will be on preparing for ceremonial occasions like the passing out parade to mark the graduation of new officers.

The review recommends a change to the way students are tested and assessed.

It says there is a "fear of failure", with students led to believe that a single mistake or individual failure could result in the loss of their job.

There is also criticism of a culture of long working hours, with students saying their working day regularly began at 7.30am and ended at 11.30pm.

However, the report says the current course content for the 22-week training course is "considered fit for purpose".

It also says a series of measures have been introduced that will ensure there can be no repeat of the cheating scandal uncovered at the college in August.

The report makes 50 recommendations for change.

The PSNI has accepted all of them, and the senior command team has discussed the findings with the Policing Board.

It has drawn up an implementation plan, which will be led by a senior PSNI officer who was a member of the review team.

All training at Garnerville has been suspended since the exam cheating scandal was uncovered on 7 August.

More than 200 new recruits have had their training delayed while this review was completed.

The PSNI now hope that their training can begin, and that a new recruitment campaign can take place in January.

A spokesperson for the Policing Board said that the findings of the report were of "serious concern".

"The board agrees that there is now the opportunity to really invest in the college, make the changes necessary to redress the issues uncovered and achieve this vision."

Mark Lindsay, the chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, said that the Policing Board and the PSNI should "stop dithering" and begin a new recruitment campaign immediately.

He added that there are 30 officers leaving the PSNI every month and it is "imperative that recruitment commences as soon as possible".