29 January 2021
There have been improvements at the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) since it replaced the IPCC in 2018 but the pace of change is not fast enough, according to Derbyshire Police Federation chair Tony Wetton.
Tony’s comments comes after the Federation’s national conduct and performance lead, Phill Matthews, this week gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee which is looking into the role and remit of the IOPC.
Phill, in highlighting the devastating impact of lengthy inquiries on officers and their families, said the police watchdog was shrouded in secrecy, with a staggering lack of knowledge among some staff and little understanding of disclosure.
The Federation is lobbying MPs for a 12-month time limit on police disciplinary investigations and sanctions when they go over this time. It is recommending that a Legally Qualified Chair should then be appointed and have the power to terminate a case or conduct robust case management to bring them to swift conclusions, safeguarding the position of complainants and officers.
That would complement new regulations relating to police and crime commissioners being given explanations when cases take longer than 12 months.
Phill said: “There must be some form of teeth because at the moment there is absolutely no incentive for the IOPC, or appropriate authority, to deal with things promptly and properly because they don’t need to. If there was an incentive, like there is for police when you must get a case in front of a hearing within a set period, you would invest the time and money to do that.”
He praised officers: “They are dealing with some of the most chaotic and dangerous individuals in society - and they are put in confrontational situations with those individuals. It is inevitable that there will be complaints made against officers, but just because there is complaint doesn’t mean an officer has done something wrong.”
“A delay doesn’t serve complainants or our members at all,” Phill said.
Victor Marshall OBE, professional standards co-ordinator, giving evidence on behalf of the Police Superintendents’ Association supported the Federation’s argument, saying: “The ‘justice delayed, justice denied’ exists across the whole system because we feel for everybody when these things drag on. Obviously, it has an impact on officers, their families, and careers – but absolutely it has an impact on complainants and answers need to be given. The longer these things go on the worse the situation becomes.”
The IOPC has failed on numerous occasions to provide explanations about why a case was over-running, according to Phill, who argued poor disclosure is one of the contributing factors.
A case dragged on for seven years because the watchdog failed to disclose an expert statement at the beginning of the case which they had obtained, corroborating the officer’s account, he said.
“We don’t think they have the right depth and breadth of knowledge; we don’t think they have the right training and they are absolutely unaccountable,” he explained, “You cannot get disclosure from the IOPC and I don’t think they understand it properly.”
He said retired officers work well in PSDs and admitted he would have more confidence in them to deliver at the IOPC.
“There are some very good people who work for the IOPC, but there are others where we see a staggering lack of knowledge. We just want the best possible investigators with the best possible training and knowledge to investigate members because that is best for members and the police service,” Phill added.
He also highlighted the need for greater transparency and feels the organisation is “shrouded in secrecy”, suggesting it should be audited in the way that forces are.
Tony said the IOPC needs to speed up the pace of its internal reform programme.
“We have seen improvements in the way it operates but the change does not go far enough and it certainly hasn’t been improved fast enough,” says Tony, “While some of its practices lead to inquiries going on and on, we have officers left in limbo, unable to get on with their careers or their lives.
“We understand the need for officers’ conduct to be scrutinised but we do not understand why these investigations are allowed to go on seemingly indefinitely.”