Misconduct is under-reported in Police Scotland and there is a failure to challenge unacceptable behaviour, a watchdog has warned.
A report by HM Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) said there is concern among officers about a lack of reporting regarding misconduct.
It warned of “an unwillingness to challenge unacceptable behaviour”, along with a “blame culture”, but found that overall the culture in the force is improving and is “dramatically different” from the early days of the single force, created in 2013.
The report, HMICS Inspection of Organisational Culture within Police Scotland, also said trainee officers feel “ill-equipped” to deal with the realities of the job.
However it praised work to “improve engagement and address key workforce issues”, and a focus on ethics and human rights.
Craig Naylor, HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland, said: “We consider there to be under-reporting of misconduct concerns.”
Probationers go into their jobs full of enthusiasm but unprepared to cope with dealing with mental health calls and the reality of frontline policing, the report added.
Morale was found to be especially low since former chief constable Sir Iain Livingstone made a statement on institutional discrimination and racism which “left many feeling disempowered and disenchanted”.
But Sir Iain was praised for “stability, operational focus and a consistent emphasis on public consent and legitimacy”.
The report found a “general lack of trust in the misconduct and grievance processes which are viewed as lacking openness, transparency, fairness and pace of resolution”.
Mr Naylor added: “It was only in the past few years that the style and tone has stabilised.
“Resourcing and budget pressures remain, with a resultant lack of investment in improvements.
“Reform of this scale in Scotland has not been attempted beyond police and fire and while the funding and workforce in most public sectors has grown, in policing it has shrunk.”
It described a two-tier culture where civilian workers feel less valued than police officers.
The aim of the inspection was to make an assessment as to whether Police Scotland has a healthy organisational culture.
HMICS found the service is not yet able to demonstrate culture change, but said it had succeeded in saving £1 billion over 10 years, and “improve access to specialist capabilities across Scotland”.
It said the last six years had focused on “community-based policing supported by a foundation of ethics and human rights”.
It identified “a reluctance to challenge unacceptable behaviour, lack of trust and confidence in the misconduct, grievance and promotion processes, a blame culture, a sense of disconnect with the leadership but praise for middle management”.
Frontline officers struggled with a lack of routine and civilian workers “feel particularly undervalued and less respected than their officer colleagues, with their professional expertise often disregarded”, the report said.
Promotion processes also failed to build trust with staff due to a failure to “demonstrate fairness and transparency”.
It added: “Probationers have a strong sense of belonging while undergoing training but once on the front line feel ill-equipped for the challenges of their role, a disconnect between their training, the actual job and disillusionment with the reality of supporting the vulnerable and those with mental health issues rather than fighting crime.”
Mr Naylor wrote: “Many of the aspirations for Police Scotland have been achieved with specialist service access to all postcodes, improved investigative capabilities and significant cost savings of in excess of £1 billion, to name a few.
“These are evidence of the value and benefit of the creation of the single service.”
Mr Naylor’s report made 11 recommendations for the force, including having mandatory initial steps for its grievance process, and renaming this “resolution/mediation”.
Further recommendations include improving leadership behaviours and updating probationer training to enable new starts to feel equipped to deal with frontline policing.
Deputy Chief Constable Alan Speirs said: “I’m encouraged by this clear picture of significant cultural improvement in recent years, built on investment in leadership and a focus on our values driven through our Policing Together programme.
“Policing is demanding and we are held to high standards. It is for us as a Police Scotland executive team to support our officers and staff, give them a voice and set clear expectations so they can deliver for the people of Scotland.
“We’re already making progress by bringing more transparency through the publication of conduct proceedings, working to improve our grievance procedures, and delivery of leadership training across the organisation.
“The chief constable has also been clear about the impact that financial pressures are placing on our hard-working officers and staff, and she has set out what additional funding we need from the Scottish Government to enable us to restart officer recruitment for the year ahead.
“In the meantime, we will carefully consider how this report can further inform our commitment to a culture of continuous improvement across everything we do.”
The force has warned that without an additional £128 million in the upcoming budget, officer numbers could drop by almost 1,500 and it may move to a “reduced attendance model” nationwide.