As the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) releases its annual complaint statistics, the Police Federation hails them as a step in the right direction but cautions it will continue to closely monitor investigation times.
Today (15 October) the IOPC has published figures on recorded complaints made by members of the public about the forces in England and Wales in 2018/19 – covering complaints about conduct of individual officers and how the force is run.
They revealed the number of complaint cases recorded has fallen from 31,671 in 2017/18 to 31,097 in 2018/19 – with more than half of forces also reducing the number of complaints they recorded.
Eight forces recorded over 20% fewer complaints than the previous year. However, four forces increased the number of complaints they recorded by more than 20%.
Subsequently allegations have also fallen from 61,238 to 58,478 - a 5% drop. The most commonly recorded allegation fell under the ‘other neglect or failure in duty’ category.
It is also the first time in a decade that more allegations were locally resolved than were investigated; underpinning the change of the police complaints system in 2010/12.
The proportion of locally resolved allegations is 48% - up from 42% the previous year, whilst those investigated have fallen from 44% to 40%.
Responding to the findings, Police Federation of England and Wales Conduct and Performance Lead Phill Matthews, said: “On the whole this is a positive report; complaints and allegations against our members have fallen whilst there has been a shift over the past decade towards local resolutions and away from investigations depending on the seriousness of the allegation.
“Through local resolutions the matter can be cleared up quickly and directly with the complainant. Many complaints do not justify formal disciplinary or criminal proceedings, so this is an efficient way on ensuring officers aren’t dragged through lengthy and incredibly stressful investigations. But if an investigation is proportionate and necessary, it is reassuring to see forces are improving their investigation times”, he said.
The report cites a reduction in investigation times by forces with them now taking an average of 158 working days- down from 173 days. However, it fails to highlight IOPC investigation times.
Mr Matthews added: “On too many occasions officers have been dragged through IOPC investigations which have gone on for unacceptable amounts of time. All that effort and money are wasted pursuing cases in a disproportionate and untimely fashion.
“This needlessly puts the officers concerned, and their families, through a protracted hell. In extreme cases officers have been prevented from retiring or left unable to move on with their lives or career. The impact on officers cannot be underestimated; it has a profound effect: mentally, physically and often financially, not just for themselves but also for the families they need to lean on.
“This does not happen in any other profession, which is why we are calling for an overhaul of the system to bring in a time limit of a year. If a case is worth progressing, then it should be done swiftly, for all involved. This is something we have been lobbying it about for many years.”
Out of the 21,764 allegations finalised by investigation – 10% were subject to special requirements -meaning during the investigation the investigator believed the officer had committed a criminal offence or behaved in a manner which justified the bringing of disciplinary proceedings. This is down from 13% the previous year.
And of the remaining investigated allegations not subject to special requirements (19,502), only 12% were upheld by forces once finalised.
He concluded: “All in all the report is a positive step in the right direction and although the IOPC fails to include its own investigation times - we believe the IOPC is trying to address this and we have seen some evidence of progress and I’m pleased it is now publicly acknowledging that its timeliness needs to improve.”