IPCC requests simpler complaints system

Forces are being asked to “look closely” at their complaints handling processes to address national inconsistencies.

Sep 19, 2017

Forces are being asked to “look closely” at their complaints handling processes to address national inconsistencies. Data released by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) shows that the number of complaints against forces fell slightly last year, by 144 to 34,103. Just over a third saw complaint numbers fall, with Nottinghamshire Police experiencing the largest decrease at 31 per cent. However, the IPCC found “a great deal of variation” in how forces respond to complaints. While some forces formally investigate the majority of complaints against them, others tend to rely on the less formal local resolution process. The IPCC also upholds 40 per cent of the appeals it receives, while on average forces uphold just a fifth. IPCC chair Dame Anne Owers suggested these discrepancies could affect public confidence. She said: “The current system is extremely complex and this has led to some of the inconsistencies we have recorded year on year. “It is also not sufficiently independent, since some dissatisfied complainants can only appeal to the force that rejected their complaint in the first place. “While some local variation is unavoidable, it is clear that some forces need to look closely at their own performance and approach, where it is clearly at odds with the norm.” The figures, published in the IPCC’s annual statistical bulletin on Tuesday (September 19), show Nottinghamshire experienced the largest proportional drop in complaints numbers, which fell from 967 to 670. Meanwhile, Warwickshire Police’s figures rose 60 per cent, and West Mercia Police, which shares a Professional Standards Department with it, saw its numbers increase by 44 per cent. The IPCC said these increases could represent positive measures being introduced to improve public access to the complaint system. It added that declines could also stem from the four per cent increase in the use of local resolutions this year. Forty-two per cent of complaints were locally resolved in 2016/17, compared with 38 per cent in 2015/16. Northamptonshire Police dealt with a much higher proportion in this way as figures rose from 37 per cent to 62 per cent. West Midlands Police locally resolved just 16 per cent of complaints. The IPCC also identified inconsistencies in the time taken to finalise allegations against officers, with nine forces needing more than 200 working days. And the number of appeals across the complaints system increased by two per cent compared with the previous year, driven by a 24 per cent rise in appeals against locally resolved cases. From next year, police and crime commissioners will take on more responsibilities for deciding on appeals that do not go to the IPCC. The IPCC welcomed the reforms but added that complainants still need to be assured their concerns are being appropriately handled. Dame Anne said: “We look forward to working with police and crime commissioners as they take on greater responsibility for complaints in their areas, to share knowledge and ensure effective and consistent oversight of the police complaints system.” Julia Mulligan, Transparency and Integrity lead for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, said: “Whilst we would concur with the IPCC’s conclusion that police handling of complaints remains inconsistent and that the current system is extremely complex and bureaucratic, changes to the complaints system, that will be implemented next year, are a welcome a first step along the route to a simpler and more flexible approach. “These changes will significantly strengthen the role which PCCs have in oversight of the complaints system. In particular, PCCs will in future hear all appeals within the complaints system that are currently heard by Chief Constables. This will inject some much needed independence into the system, to make it more responsive to the public and improve public confidence.”

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