Employing ex Police officers in a Trading Standards or regulatory service

In my work I regularly work with the Police – we pass each other information and we regularly do joint working. I’ve met hundreds of Police officers from multiple forces over the years.

This post isn’t about bashing Police officers. I have met some very dedicated officers who will go the extra mile and we are lucky to have them. I have also met some absolute idiots and you worry about the fact they can arrest people and take away their liberty.

This post is more specifically about Trading Standards (and other regulatory bodies) hiring ex-Police officers – often, but not always, retired officers.

The purpose of this post is really just to give hiring managers some points for consideration.

The primary skills a Trading Standards officer needs is the ability to interpret and apply legislation and skills/experience in conducting inspections/investigations. The Police often have both of these skills – particularly the latter. So, when we need to recruit and there are no other Trading Standards experienced people around we think an ex- Police officer will slot in quickly and not need as much training.

I’ve worked with many ex-Police Trading Standards Officers within my own department but also at other Trading Standards departments. Our experience has generally been pretty negative. To the extent that the hiring managers in my department tend to want to avoid ex-Police candidates. The preferred view tends to be to hire someone with no experience and train them. But the problem is we don’t tend to have the luxury of time/resources to train new people.

One thing I would say is don’t assume the higher someone up someone was in the Police that they are any better at doing Trading Standards work! If anything, my experience has been to the contrary. I’ve met people that must have been on fairly large salaries in their Police job and can probably afford to retire bot chose to carry on working in Trading Standards. There may be a tendency to think they were brilliant in their role as they were so high up – but that can be misguided.

I understand that it is down to the individual as to whether they are any good or not, but we have noticed some trends.

Unwillingness to learn – the Police tend to enforce British laws. Trading Standards generally enforce laws made in Europe which often tend to be more complex and, in my view, harder to interpret and apply. In my experience, ex-Police generally don’t want to learn more than the bare minimum than they need to (and often don’t). I doubt many I know would be able to define the ‘average consumer’ or identify any case law.

Although the Police are supposed to enforce fraud legislation and are almost always recruited into Trading Standards to enforce legislation relating to misleading practices – it is surprising how many don’t really understand the concept or fraud or fraudulent trading.

Poor standard of written communication – when writing legal reports, not being able to articulate what the offence is, explain why and back up the argument with case law etc.

Not being able to write detailed letters of advice to businesses explaining why and how legislation applies to them.

You would think Police would be great at taking statements. But applying that to the laws we enforce – not always. For example, not properly exploring in detail the reasons a consumer took a decision that they did – which can often be important in determining whether there has been a breach of the law.

Criminal v civil law – a classic – not understanding the difference between criminal and civil law and how it applies to consumers.

Non-compliance with laws – often a ‘can do’ attitude is a good thing but we have had officers interviewing people without cautioning them. Carrying out surveillance without proper authorisation. Obtaining communications data without following the correct process.

Culture – difficult to explain but the Police certainly have a certain type of culture which tends to be different to how a local authority operates. The Police culture is of course generally about prosecuting bad guys and whilst we do that in Trading Standards – our approach if often on achieving compliance.

Often officers who have done 10-30 years in the Police are stuck in their culture – which is only human. But it doesn’t always translate very well into an organisation that may operate very differently.

With all of the above, and other things combined, I would generally veer towards hiring someone with Trading Standards experience or with no experience. Someone that can be moulded to fit.

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