Final written warning for Surrey Police officer following gross misconduct hearing

29 Jul 2021 01:49 PM

A Surrey Police Officer who failed to maintain an appropriate professional boundary with a vulnerable woman has been given a final written warning following an investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).

An independently chaired disciplinary panel found misconduct proven against Police Constable Jason Cooling at a hearing organised by the force on Monday 19 July. He was found to have breached the Standards of Professional Behaviour for authority, respect and courtesy, duties and responsibilities and discreditable conduct.  

We started our independent investigation in June 2020 after receiving a mandatory conduct referral from the force. Evidence we gathered indicated that in May 2020, PC Cooling and another officer were deployed to an incident where a woman was experiencing mental health issues. Officers detained the woman and she was taken to a local hospital, where she was initially monitored by PC Cooling and his colleague. Her supervision was handed over to two other officers and the woman told them that she and PC Cooling had gone out for a long chat in the night and that she had learned information about his private life.

The officers returned to the police station and raised their concerns around this. Checks revealed that the woman and PC Cooling were following one another on Instagram.

Our investigation ended in September 2020 and while there was no indication that PC Cooling and the woman formed a physical relationship, we found that PC Cooling may have acted inappropriately by disclosing personal information about himself and contacting the woman on Instagram. College of Policing guidelines clearly state that officers must not engage in, or pursue, a sexual or improper emotional relationship, on or off duty, with any member of the public that they come into contact with during the course of their current work or duties.

A gross misconduct hearing was held and the disciplinary panel found PC Cooling’s communications with the woman at the hospital were appropriate, but the messages exchanged with her over social media were inappropriate and not in the course of his policing duties. The panel also found PC Cooling later deleted these messages in an attempt to conceal his wrongdoing and failed to notify Surrey Police of the private communications he had with the woman.

IOPC Regional Director, Graham Beesley, yesterday said:

“Police officers abusing their position to form inappropriate relationships for sexual purposes erodes the trust and confidence the public has in policing.

“There are policies and guidance in place to ensure police officers maintain professional boundaries whenever they interact with members of the public.

“PC Cooling crossed those boundaries and then tried to conceal his behaviour. Receiving a final written warning reflects the seriousness of this matter and serves as a reminder to other police officers of their obligation to know the line around abusing their position in this way and that it is never acceptable.”

During our investigation, we obtained witness accounts from police officers. We also considered College of Policing guidance on maintaining a professional boundary between police and members of the public, and Surrey Police policies on abuse of position of trust for a sexual purpose or improper emotional relationship.