22 May 2019
The head of police watchdog the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has spent the past year ‘walking in officers’ shoes’ to learn about the pressures on the frontline.
Director General Michael Lockwood, who joined the reformed organisation in 2018, has spent time with custody officers, response teams, firearms officers and in contact centres in order to understand the strains of the job.
Addressing reps at the second day of the Police Federation of England and Wales’ conduct seminar he delivered a pithy snapshot of life in a police service which has lost nearly 22,000 officers since 2010.
Mr Lockwood said: “I do not want ‘independence’ to mean an organisation which is cold and detached. I want both myself and my staff to have a better understanding of what it feels like to be a beat officer, custody sergeant or firearms officer. That doesn’t mean we can’t develop relationships with Federation reps or talk to bereaved families.
“But we need to understand the impact of demand on police officers. I really want us to have a mutual respect for each other. I appreciate that will take time and there will bumps in the road, but we need to have that understanding.”
Mr Lockwood has spent months travelling the length and breadth of England and Wales, working alongside different disciplines.
“I know that issues of mental health and domestic abuse are becoming bigger. On one shift, six out of the eight hours were spent dealing with mental health issues. Policing is the first resort and the last resort.
“I’ve also spoken to response drivers – clearly the levels of stress there are huge; they seem to go from one job straight to the other and barely have enough time to do the paperwork.
“I also spent time with a firearms officer who took an hour and a half to get to the job, then an hour and a half to get back – I was concerned about tiredness.”
And he called the pace of 999 call centres ‘relentless’.
Mr Lockwood said he inherited 544 ‘legacy’ investigations from the IOPC’s predecessor the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), of which 80% had been dealt with.
In a nod to the 11-year length of the probe into the five Met officers involved in the 2008 death in custody of musician Sean Rigg, who were finally exonerated in March this year, he said he was happy to publicly apologise to them at a meeting next week.
And he stated the IOPC were improving in the timeliness and quality of their investigations with 80% now complete within 12 months, a rise of 20% over the previous year, a third of which were finished within six months. The closure rate was also up 60% on the previous year.
He felt relationships with Federations were improving but said there was still work required. “It’s like getting a nice new car but under the bonnet there is stuff to do,” he commented.
He wanted to focus investigations on ‘genuine misconduct, not areas where there was performance requiring improvement (PRI) or cases where officers had made a genuine mistake.’ However, PRI should follow a proper procedure not ‘just getting called in for a chat’, he said.
And he named six key areas which he wanted the IOPC to focus on in the future: abuse of authority for sexual gain; discrimination; mental health (for example deaths or serious incidents in custody); road traffic collisions; domestic abuse; and near misses in custody.
“A key area of focus should be about saving lives,” said Mr Lockwood. “If we can find ways of sharing the learning and save one, two or three lives a year then that will be worth it,” he concluded.