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Avon & Somerset Police Federation

Time Limits for bringing disciplinary proceedings for Police officers

1 August 2019

Time Limits for bringing disciplinary proceedings for Police officers

At present there is no time limit for bringing disciplinary proceedings against officers. There is no statutory time limit on when a complaint against an officer can be made, or a time limit on how long an allegation or complaint can be investigated for before proceedings are eventually taken.

The only limit or exceptions are that if a complaint is made about a serving officer, more than 12 months after the alleged event, then the appropriate authority may not investigate it (at their discretion). For ex-officers, if the complaint is made 12 months after retirement / resignation then it can only be proceeded within serious and exceptional circumstances.

As such, we constantly see cases that take many years to bring to conclusion, often acrimoniously by direction of the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC). The negative impact that any misconduct investigation has on a police officer, their families and their colleagues cannot be underestimated.
BBC investigation:

• A recent BBC investigation found that only five police officers in England and Wales were dismissed in the last three years following misconduct cases ordered. In two-thirds of the 48 cases (across 19 police forces) pursued by the IOPC "gross misconduct" charges were not proven.
• The BBC has also found out that £13m was paid in wages to officers suspended by 29 police forces between 2013 and 2018.
• In 2017/18 there were 31,671 Public complaints, spanning 61,238 allegations. Just over 40% of which required investigation. This compares with approx. 4,000 internally raised conduct allegations.
• Of the over 31,671 public complaints:
801 (2.5%) required some form of remedial action
332 (1%) required proceedings of which 136 (0.4%) were at Gross misconduct level
34 (0.1%) officers required dismissal.
• This compares with internally raised conduct allegations:
1648 (41%) required some form of action
874 (22%) required proceedings of which 372 (9%) at gross misconduct.
211 (5%) officers required dismissal.
• This data is from latest home office figures on outcomes. We do not have data from the IOPC about the outcomes from investigations that they conduct, only the total from all allegations. What this does show is that Police forces are very good at keeping their own house in order, and the vast majority of public allegations are baseless or require none or minimal sanctions. We suspect that the IOPC data is worse and would not show any better value for money that the Police service itself does internally.
• Of those that do progress to be charged with any criminal offences (137) over 40% are either discontinued or are found Not Guilty, which compares to about 15% for members of the public. Which we say shows a bias in preference of charging and prosecuting our members compared to the public at large and that the Case to Answer Test needs looking at.
• The time taken to investigate the volume of allegations compared to the outcomes does not represent value for the public money it costs to pursue each and every allegation that is currently pursued.

Avon and Somerset Police Federation Chair, Andy Roebuck recently met with the Director General of the IOPC, Michael Lockwood. These concerns and the need for timely and consistent investigations was discussed. The threshold level for referral was also considered too low and there is a need for greater understanding with the necessity to refer such incidents from Avon and Somerset Constabulary. Andy Roebuck stated, "There was some common understanding and agreements. Changes from a blame to a learning culture is happening but more needs to be done. We will work with the IOPC to bring these changes for the benefits of our officers and the public".

Case study – Joe Harrington, Metropolitan Police

• Joe Harrington was a PC in the Metropolitan Police when he was accused of assault and failing to challenge racist comments made by another officer during the London riots in 2011. He was placed on restricted duties - which meant he could not go on patrol - while a criminal investigation was carried out.
• The case went to trial in 2013 and he was acquitted but the IOPC swiftly reopened the case and PC Harrington was under investigation again. Harrington remained on restricted duties until a misconduct panel was held June 2018, seven years after the original incident. His case was dismissed - with the misconduct panel finding the delays were unreasonably long and unjustified - and he remains a police officer. He was sadly diagnosed with PTSD as a result of his experience.
When an officer is under investigation for so long the toll on them, their families and their colleagues is not only personally devastating but can have long term impacts on health and well-being. Officers will often have restrictions placed on them causing their loss to the front line in supporting their colleagues, de-skilling them which then requires more training at a later date, not to mention the loss of confidence for the officer. These extractions all have a cost that policing must pick up the tab for.

The Police Federation is therefore calling for a time limit for disciplinary proceedings being brought against officers to be introduced. That time limit we suggest is best served to be 12 months from allegations being made.