A loophole which allows police officers to resign and keep their pensions while facing disciplinary action has been used more than 1,800 times in the last 10 years, The Telegraph can disclose.
The figure will intensify mounting concern over how police can avoid the consequences of incompetence and misconduct, after Sir Norman Bettison, the former West Yorkshire chief constable, was criticised for stepping down while he was facing a disciplinary investigation.
Last week the police watchdog said Sir Norman, 57, would have faced gross misconduct charges and possible dismissal had he not resigned last year, entitled to a pension worth an estimated £87,000 annually.
Chief constables and their deputies will come under the closest scrutiny in the light of the new figures because a record number of senior officers have been sacked or suspended for misconduct in the last two years.
Last week the deputy chief constable of Cleveland police was sacked for gross misconduct.
Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show 1,813 police officers in England and Wales retired or resigned while under investigation for disciplinary offences in the 10 years to 2011, the most recent data available.
The figure is equivalent to the entire manpower of a medium-size police force like Derbyshire, and the true total nationwide will be far higher because some forces failed to provide information or could only produce partial figures.
The largest number of officers, 635, came from the Metropolitan Police and 104 from Greater Manchester Police.
Other cases include Simon Harwood, the officer cleared of killing a newspaper vendor during the G20 riots. He had previously served with the Metropolitan Police but was allowed to retire on medical grounds in 2001 despite an unresolved disciplinary proceeding.
Just three days later Mr Harwood rejoined as a civilian before eventually transferring back to the Met, who sacked him last September for gross misconduct over the death of Ian Tomlinson.
Last month it emerged that James Horton, the head of West Midlands Police’s specials branch, resigned before disciplinary proceedings could get underway after it was revealed he had used an official police Twitter account to send messages to gay men.
Last night MPs said it showed the case for more openness in the police.
Mark Reckless, a leading Conservative MP, said “unaccountable power” of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) contributed to a lack of transparency.
He also called on Theresa May, the Home Secretary, to bring about a major shift in police culture by allowing chief constables to be appointed from outside the service for the first time.
“There does seem to have been a significant increase in the number of these disciplinaries, particularly of senior officers,” said Mr Reckless, a member of the all-party Home Affairs Select Committee.
“Chief officers come from such a narrow group of people and there is little scope for them to be challenged over their behaviour from below or otherwise.
“That reflects the unaccountable power that Acpo has developed for itself over years.
“It doesn’t really have a formal public role but has taken power unto itself over the decades and I and several MPs have been quite concerned about how that works.
“If people were able to come into the police force form other areas of life such as the armed forces or business they would be more able to challenge existing behaviour.”
The number of senior police officers who have been sacked or suspended for misconduct is at unprecedented levels, with at least 13 facing investigation over the last two years.
Cleveland police’s most senior officer, Sean Price, became the first chief constable to be sacked for 35 years in November last year.
It was found he tried to bully a junior colleague into helping him cover up his lies to an independent inquiry.
Earlier this week the deputy chief constable of Cleveland Police, Derek Bonnard, was sacked after the force found him guilty of six counts of gross misconduct, including obstructing the inquiry and misusing a corporate credit card. He denied wrongdoing and said he plans to appeal.
Also last week (THU) the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said Sir Norman Bettison, interfered with the West Yorkshire Police Authority’s process of referring him to the commission in the wake of the Hillsborough Independent Report – a finding which would justify his dismissal if he had not resigned.
Deborah Glass, IPCC deputy chairwoman, said: “I do find it unacceptable that officers take that option rather than facing up to the case against them.”
Other senior officers who have been sacked or faced investigation, include Craig Denholm, Deputy Chief Constable of Surrey, under IPCC investigation for allegedly failing to reveal that Milly Dowler’s voicemail had been hacked; and Stuart Hyde, Acting Chief Constable of Cumbria, who was suspended for alleged misbehaviour Grahame Maxwell, Chief Constable of North Yorkshire, was forced to retire but collected a £250,000 payout, after being found guilty of gross misconduct by trying to help a relation get a job with the force.
His deputy Adam Briggs was disciplined over the same issue and has left the force.
The IPCC is also investigating four senior officers over allegations of misconduct and possible criminal offences during a major investigation. They are Adrian Lee, the Chief Constable of Northamptonshire, and his deputy Suzette Davenport; Marcus Beale, Assistant Chief Constable of West Midlands Police and Jane Sawyers, Assistant Chief Constable of Staffordshire.
In another development, last Thursday Lincolnshire Police’s Acting Chief Constable Neil Rhodes won a legal challenge over the way he was suspended by the county’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Alan Hardwick, in February.
An Acpo spokeswoman said: “Policing is a complex and high profile public service where leaders deal with serious issues that can attract complaint.
“With rank comes greater expectation and accountability, and those who lead must do so by example.
“As part of the transparent nature of policing it is right that leaders are open to challenge and scrutiny, but what must be minded is that an investigation into professional conduct does not infer automatic guilt involving those parties involved.”