‘Serious concerns’ over handling abuse victims’ complaints

Professional standards officers should ask specialists for help when dealing with complaints by survivors of abuse, an investigation has concluded.

Sep 26, 2017

Professional standards officers should ask specialists for help when dealing with complaints by survivors of abuse, an investigation has concluded. Despite having officers trained to engage with vulnerable people, many forces’ professional standards departments (PSDs) lack the skills to handle their complaints, according to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). The IPCC claims PSDs need to be more sensitive to victim’s specific needs, and should seek out other officers’ expertise to build engagement strategies where appropriate. It also suggests forces develop or adopt existing guidance for other crimes to help PSD officers and staff decide on appropriate engagement methods. The national recommendations follow an investigation into Gloucestershire Constabulary’s handling of a complaint relating to historical child sex abuse. IPCC Associate Commissioner Guido Liguori said there are “serious concerns” over how some PSDs engage with vulnerable people. “Each individual will have a unique set of circumstances, characteristics and vulnerabilities,” he said. “Police forces need to ensure that officers and staff in PSDs have the right skills and experience, or have access to appropriately trained staff, to meet the needs of all complainants. “Where guidance does not already exist, police forces should develop or adopt existing guidance that is already in use for victims of crime, such as domestic violence, to help decide upon the best way to engage with complainants.” In 2013, Gloucestershire Constabulary received a complaint from a woman who claimed her reports of historical child sex abuse had not been properly handled by one of its officers in the 1990s. An IPCC investigation into the force’s response found the officer – who was related to the complainant – acted insensitively and did not consider her personal circumstances. The officer also failed to tell the woman her complaint had been discontinued. He was later served with a misconduct notice. Another officer, tasked with investigating the first, was found to have a case to answer for gross misconduct for dishonesty, but has since retired. A Gloucestershire Constabulary spokesperson said: “We fully accept the findings of the IPCC report and have ensured the national recommendations are taken into consideration as part of our future development. “We realise that (by) not recognising Mrs A as a vulnerable victim of crime, we did not provide the support she required or take the appropriate measures. “The management team within our Professional Standards Department is now comprised of four senior officers who all have a background in public protection, two of whom have worked specifically with the child abuse investigation team.”

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