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3 February 2021
Lengthy conduct investigations impact police officers’ welfare and are a drain on the public purse, says the Hertfordshire Police Federation branch secretary.
Al Wollaston said the process needs speeding up to lift the uncertainty hanging over officers – for years in some cases – and to give taxpayers value for money.
Al’s comments come as new research by the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) estimated the costs of officers being investigated by forces and the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) run to millions of pounds.
“We’ve known for a long time about the human impact that protracted investigations can have on officers,” he said, “The uncertainty hanging over them, often for months and sometimes for a number of years, can really have a devastating impact on officers’ wellbeing and this also has a knock-on effect on their families and their colleagues.
“Now we see from this Federation survey that there is a huge cost to the taxpayer as well, at a time when we’re all conscious of our spending and the impact the pandemic is having on the economy and the public purse.
“This is an important issue for our members and we’ll continue to call, through the Federation’s Time Limits campaign for a 12-month cap on investigations. There’s no reason they should take as long as they do.”
By taking into account the average cost of running investigators’ offices, legal aid and officers performing normal duties, on restricted duties or suspended, the Federation has estimated an investigation lasting up to six months costs £15,101 per officer. This increases to £302,012 when it drags on for five years or more, which is 20 times higher.*
When narrowed down to suspended officers only, the costs are considerably higher. A six to 12-month investigation costs approximately £67,968 but increases to £453,115 per officer after five years. This is due to the force having to fully replace them until proceedings conclude with other officers backfilling and working extra hours to plug the gaps.
In addition, the BBC found £13 million was paid by 29 forces to officers who had been suspended between 2013 and 2018.
The findings have been shared with MPs in a dossier of evidence submitted to the Home Affairs Select Committee as part of its inquiry into the remit of the IOPC, the police complaints system and the time taken to resolve complaints.
The Federation’s national conduct and performance chair, Phill Matthews, said: “Protracted misconduct investigations have not only ruined the careers of so many officers, but have severely impacted their mental health, their families and their colleagues – and now we can evidence they’re a huge drain on the public purse.
“This is a staggering sum of money and shows every day that an investigation goes on is a significant cost to the taxpayer. Just because an investigation goes on for longer it doesn’t mean it’s more efficient – in fact, they are often worse.
“Officers are rightly held accountable for their actions, and I absolutely condemn dishonest or inappropriate behaviour, but the IOPC often inexplicably pursues cases in which our members have acted properly.
“In many instances investigations which have gone on for five years or more have just ended in management advice or a written warning. We’re hoping better training for IOPC investigators will result in more time being freed up to uncover those that don’t deserve to be in the job. Public trust in the system will also erode if people don’t think their complaints will be dealt with quickly.
“We’re encouraged the IOPC is keen to work with us on this matter. However, we must ask can these costs be considered good value for money for the taxpayer? We must make the system more efficient and conclude investigations in less than one year.”
*The analysed data covers the Metropolitan Police Service misconduct or gross misconduct investigations that were still outstanding, that is unresolved, as of 1 December 2018. The Federation has assumed this is reasonably representative of the data it would have obtained had it been able to get data from all forces.