Police corruption report calls for tighter controls
Tighter controls are needed in the relationships of police forces with outside bodies such as suppliers and the media, according to a report into corruption.
Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary also says rules about accepting free gifts should be clearer.
It says more robust systems are needed to avoid undermining public trust.
But inspectors add that corruption is not endemic in the police service in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Inspector Roger Baker, who led the review, said: "While we found no evidence of endemic corruption in police service relationships, we did find significant variations between forces and authorities in how they defined what is acceptable and what is not.
"This inconsistency made little sense to us and nor do we believe would it to the general public.
"There are no geographic boundaries when it comes to integrity and there should not be local differences in standards."
'Wake up call'
The review - which was ordered by the home secretary in July in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal - does not give forces a "clean bill of health".
The HMIC report Without Fear or Favour looks at relations with the media, disclosure of information, hospitality, gratuities, procurement, contracts and business interests.
Inspectors found a "hugely inconsistent approach" to accepting free gifts in different forces.
Only 20 of the 43 forces in England and Wales gave staff clear written guidance to help them decide whether to accept or decline a gift, with 15 placing an acceptable value on gratuities of between £5 and £75.
The inspectors found many examples of departments not recording gifts or officers recording it in their pocket books rather than in the formal registers.
Mr Baker said there was "an urgent need for a wake-up call for the police service and its leaders".
'Seen to act fairly'
The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) said that while the review showed there was no "systemic corruption", individual officers were letting their colleagues and the public down.
Staffordshire Chief Constable Mike Cunningham, who speaks for Acpo on professional standards, said it may be that officers should be told they should not accept gifts at all.
He said: "I think the public do have, quite understandably, some difficulty with some of the gifts that police officers have taken. And what the service now needs to do is look very carefully at the guidance it gives".
Paul McKeever, chairman of the Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers in England and Wales, said the development of clear national standards was "hugely important for the future integrity of the police service".
The report says forces should explore options for identifying and monitoring inappropriate relationships with, and leaks to, the media.
It also calls for police forces and authorities to record "all interactions between police employees and media representatives".
Inspectors point to 314 investigations over five years where there have been allegations of inappropriate relations or unauthorised disclosure of information between police and media.
Of the 314, only 12 related to inappropriate relations and of these only one member of staff resigned.
The President of the Police Superintendents' Association of England and Wales, Chief Superintendent Derek Barnett, said inconsistencies in the guidance given to officers should be addressed as a "matter of urgency".
He said strong leadership was essential: "The message from the public is that they expect the police service to be fair and impartial and therefore it is a matter of critical importance that the police should not only act fairly, they must also be seen to act fairly".
'Problem with corruption'
HMIC inspectors visited the 43 police forces in England and Wales, as well as the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the British Transport Police, and asked the public about their perceptions of levels of police integrity.
The review found that the majority of people questioned do not think corruption is common, and trust the police to tell the truth.
However around a third of the public think there is some "problem with corruption".
Inspectors found that forces were "outsourcing much of their back-office activity as well as procuring goods and services annually worth hundreds of millions of pounds".
They called for a "cooling off" period in contracts to prevent contractors from employing anyone, directly or indirectly, who had served with the force for the duration of the contract.
Sir Denis O'Connor, HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary said: "The British model of policing is grounded in legitimacy.
"Any real or perceived conflict of interest is problematic for the police service as it undermines public trust and erodes police legitimacy.
"It is therefore fundamentally important that the service tackles the issues identified, that it is done swiftly and in a way that is long lasting."
The chairman of the Association of Police Authorities, Mark Burns-Williamson, agreed that the bodies that oversee police forces "cannot afford to be complacent".
He said: "Across a range of issues which could cause concern, the public will expect common sense to prevail and clear standards to be enforced with consistency.
"We will work hard to implement the inspectorate's recommendations as quickly as possible and share best practice so that the public's overwhelming confidence in the police will deepen, not diminish, in the future".