â€˜IOPC must improve to build confidence in complaints system’

The secretary of Dyfed Powys Police Federation has welcomed recommendations in a new Parliamentary report which aims to improve confidence in the complaints system.

Roger Webb called on the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) to take on board the conclusions and recommendations in the Home Affairs Select Committee report on how disciplinary procedures can be improved.

In particular, Roger said the time it took for inquiries to be concluded needed to be speeded up and the process simplifying for both officers and the public.

“This committee of MPs has conducted an 18-month inquiry into the handling of police complaints and we support its recommendations to improve confidence in the system,” he said.

“The report highlights the need for investigations to be speeded up, which we’ve long been calling for in our Time Limits campaign.

“Neither our members nor the public want drawn out investigations. They place intolerable pressure on our members and their families and aren’t value for money.

“And we need to make it more open and accessible to ensure trust and confidence in the complaints system.”

The vice-chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW), Ché Donald, said he would welcome “further positive dialogue” with the Commons committee.

“PFEW supports many of the conclusions made in the report, particularly criticisms over timeliness and Professional Standards Departments (PSD) not being properly funded, and their lack of transparency and diversity among staff,” he said.

Ché said the Federation took issue with a conclusion in the report that 91 per cent of IOPC “core investigations” were completed within 12 months.

“We know the length of delays to many investigations are still totally unacceptable,” he said, “We often find there is no rationale for these delays, or they are caused by issues such as lack of disclosure or other proceedings.

“The claim that ‘officers treat complaints against them as challenges to their authority or matters to be sidestepped’ simply does not ring true in our experience. It’s nonsense to say members don’t cooperate with the IOPC, as they are only too aware of the sanctions and possibility of dismissal.

“Delays in officers responding are usually caused by lack of clarity over the officer’s status as a witness or suspect.”

He added: “We’d ideally like to see the IOPC better explain their decisions to members of the public in non-technical language, and to ensure complainants are given more facts about the process, so they have realistic expectations about their complaint. Report findings are often hundreds of pages, and too legally complex.

“The majority of police officers are dedicated professionals. Those who cannot be trusted deserve to be dismissed, but the reality is most IOPC cases find officers have done nothing wrong or are simply making mistakes or make rushed decisions under pressure.

“It’s more essential than ever the disciplinary process is quicker and more learning-based rather than returning to a sanction-based culture.”

Dame Diana Johnson MP, chair of the Home Affairs Committee, said: “The IOPC does deserve credit for the progress it has made in the four years since it was created. The vast majority of investigations are completed within a year. There are also clear strands of work to build relationships and improve public perception. 

“However, the fact remains that more work remains to be done.

“The succession of scandals in recent years has left public confidence in policing at a perilous point. The IOPC will need to ensure that it drives change to create a complaints system people can have full confidence in. There must be no repeat of past mistakes.” 

Other abbreviated conclusions from the report:

  • Urge the Government to consider police complaints as part of the review of the PCC model currently underway and to make an early assessment of PCC involvement in the police complaints system
  • Urge the Government to fund PCCs adequately…this will provide PCCs the opportunity to work more closely with their forces, for example, to record and systematically monitor the root causes of complaints and recurrent issues that affect their communities disproportionately and how their forces resolve those issues
  • The police discipline system needs to be simpler and more transparent. We welcome IOPC statutory guidance which encourages forces to use accessible language and formats to explain the system, but it is not evident that all forces are yet doing this
  • Culture needs to be created within police forces — established by and led from the top — that requires rapid, open and non-defensive response to complaints about conduct, both to deal with misconduct where it arises, and to clear the names and reputations of officers who have not transgressed
  • The IOPC must use its powers effectively to minimise delays to investigations at an early stage of the process
  • Recommend that the Government monitor and review bi-annually how effectively local policing bodies are holding their chief constables accountable for implementing IOPC recommendations to their forces
  • Urge the Government to review how IOPC, HMICFRS, and coroners’ learning recommendations are reported to the public in a more joined-up and meaningful way.

Download the report.