11 September 2018
Miranda Biddle, North East Regional Director of the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), told 120 delegates at the Police Federation’s National Custody Seminar: “Timeliness is still our biggest single criticism but we are working hard to address this.
“In 2017/18, 77% of our investigations were completed within 12 months; in the same period the previous year, that figure was 60%.”
She also revealed that:
• In 2017/18, 33% of investigations were completed within six months
• The previous year that figure was just 17%
And a new pilot, streamlining lower risk cases, had reduced the average length of investigation by more than 50 days, from 218 days to 150 days.
She added: “We should never underestimate the impact an investigation has on officers so we recognise we need to work with you to speed things up.”
Ms Biddle said the organisation, which replaced the former Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) in January, also recognised that the consistency and quality of their investigators was key, as well as the importance of proper and relevant training for their staff.
"We should be inquisitorial, not adversarial,” she said. “We have also changed who our decision-makers are and they are being encouraged to consider less severe outcomes before automatically considering a more severe one.
“We recognise that the Case to Answer test carries a very low threshold so that following any hearing, officers may be ultimately found not culpable, so we are considering potential alternatives. We think the Case to Answer test is set at about the right level but we are looking at a number of new measures.”
One of these was ‘focussing on learning’. She said the IOPC felt the definition of ‘misconduct’ should be more tightly defined, and they could perhaps rule that many cases were more suited to UPP (Unsatisfactory Performance Procedures) instead of misconduct.
She also detailed the efforts the IOPC had made in trying to get better at communicating with all involved in the investigation process, including police officers at the centre of probes, providing regular updates at Federation level but also acknowledging where the IOPC themselves had made mistakes.
It wasn’t all plain sailing for the IOPC at the conference, however. The Federation’s National Custody Forum Chair Chris Bentley raised the spectre of police officers being interviewed by the IOPC as witnesses and then discovering later down the line that they were being treated as suspects.
Ms Biddle said: “There is a fear, a certain lack of trust – we recognise that and are working with investigators to ensure they are aware this is an issue. It’s really not about trying to trip people up but I am aware people may think that.”
Ms Biddle also touched on yesterday’s National Audit Office report on the Financial Sustainability of the police forces of England and Wales was also asked whether she thought cuts in policing were linked to higher numbers of custody deaths.
Ms Biddle said: “It is not our role at the IOPC to identify what resources are needed; however there have been a couple of occasions recently where restricted resources in individual cases have had an impact. You will have seen in the North West some incidents related to call out times and response times. Well, officers can only respond if there are officers actually there to respond to the call. At times that will impact on the service that people receive.”
Andy Ward, PFEW’s Deputy General Secretary and Custody Lead, added: “It’s also worth noting that HMICFRS (Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services) have also recently started to comment on staffing levels in custody suites.”