The Federation has been given the opportunity to help improve investigations carried out by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) as the watchdog launches a revamp project.
As part of its plan to redesign how it operates, the IOPC sat down with PFEW conduct and performance leads at a virtual meeting on July 29 to listen to concerns and constructive criticism.
They told its Director of Strategy and Impact Kathie Cashell and her team investigators need stronger knowledge around Post Incident Procedures. The group recalled at times there seems to be a “lack of empowerment” with IOPC investigators being slow in making decisions on whether an officer is a witness, a suspect or if the case will be referred to the force or IOPC.
Better disclosure training was also high up on the list with Fed reps flagging they often struggle to obtain certain materials which will be used in the officer’s defence.
Federation Conduct and Performance Lead Phill Matthews said: “We will quite often ask for materials as we further our defence, and we get answers either through gritted teeth or literally at the very last minute when our lawyers have to get involved. This is a waste of time, effort and energy when we are trying to prepare for a hearing or meeting.”
In response, the IOPC reassured it has already started work around improving disclosure whilst acknowledging the importance of getting it right and the seriousness of the issue.
The Federation also pressed the need for better communication from both investigators and its media office. Details given to reps and officers on the status of their case are usually “woefully unhelpful” and it was agreed any additional information, such as timescales, would go some way to help to keep officers out of the dark during what is a stressful period.
IOPC Director Michael Lockwood made a commitment to notifying officers of their status as witness or suspect, within three months, during a meeting with the Federation in May after concerns were spotlighted over “radio silence”.
Inflammatory language and factual inaccuracies in its press releases was also a raised issue along with not being sighted on appeal decisions before they reach the media – meaning on multiple occasions officers and their families have discovered the position of their case only after watching the news. The Federation suggested these could be avoided if reps were able to have a conversation with an investigator before any media reports are written.
Mr Matthews continued: “We are really encouraged the IOPC is working to improve the way it functions, and we appreciate the opportunity to feed into this process. It is demonstrating a willingness to work with us rather than against us to improve the complaints system that will benefit everyone – which hasn’t been the case for a number of years.
“We have complained consistently for quite some time about the level of training and understanding from staff on incredibly important aspects such as disclosure, so its commitment to iron out some of these issues is promising. Going forward, we would really like to see and assist with the training and knowledge of its investigators.
“We will continue to hold the IOPC to account where an investigation could have been handled better and push for outcomes for members that are just and proportionate.”