90 days from today is Thu, 05 November 2020
31 October 2019
A Police Federation campaign calling for statutory time limits on officer conduct investigations is being supported by the West Midlands branch.
Phill Matthews, national Federation conduct and performance lead, announced last week that the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) will be lobbying Parliament for a change in the law to apply a 12-month time limit for prosecuting police officers with appropriate safeguards.
“We are still seeing far too many investigations dragging on for months and sometimes years, putting officers – and their families - under untold stress and causing immense mental anguish,” says Steve Grange, secretary of West Midlands Police Federation.
“A time limit of a year gives ample time for enquiries to be carried out and ensures that we don’t have officers being stuck in limbo.”
Phill announced the ‘Time Limits’ campaign when he addressed the Police Federation Post Incident Procedures (PIP) seminar held in Leamington Spa last Wednesday and Thursday (23 and 24 October).
He explained: “There’s absolutely no time limit on when a complaint can be made or to say how long the appropriate authority can take to investigate.”
Using the analogy of an officer stopping a motorist for speeding, he explained: “That officer has six months to prosecute – but if the motorist complained about the officer there’s no limit to how long it can take for that complaint to work its way through the system and that’s got to be wrong.”
Phill added: “We are talking about things that can potentially lose officers their jobs – that’s the top end but usually matters are less serious – and they take years and years to resolve.”
And he concluded: “We think a 12-month time limit on prosecutions is reasonable and we want to get that into statute and, to back that up, we want to give Police and Crime Commissioners and even legally qualified chairs powers to demand progress or put a stop to prosecutions if they drag on longer than that. Part of that is to enable the speeding and simplification of the appeals process which is often what causes some of the timeliness in a lot of these cases."
He argued investigating authorities such as the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) and professional standards departments ‘hold all the cards’ and are reluctant to see those powers curbed.
Seminar delegates also heard from Andy Birks, a former Metropolitan Police officer, who was investigated for a decade and prevented from retiring, before being exonerated.
Freedom of Information requests by the BBC found the IOPC and some forces were taking more than a year to investigate officers. Two thirds of IOPC cases are never proven and the cost to the taxpayer for officer wages while suspended was £13 million from 29 forces.
During the seminar, the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s firearms lead, Simon Chesterman, told delegates Britain had the ‘best trained, most restrained and most professional armed police in the world’.
Advising officers to stick to the Authorised Professional Practice (APP), he said PIPs are about accountability, achieving best evidence and seeking the truth, adding: “The APP is there to make sure we have a thorough and independent investigation and that the welfare of the officers and the members of staff involved is taken care of.”
Steve Grange, who represented West Midlands Police Federation at the seminar along with interim chair John Williams, full-time conduct representative George McDonnell and personnel lead Cliff Tomkinson, says he would welcome the introduction of the Authorised Professional Practice for the use of PIP following DSI incidents rather than relying on the firearms one. Steve also wants senior officers to have a clear direction as to when to call a PIP rather than just basing a decision on their own personal point of view.
“The use of the Authorised Professional Practice in these circumstances would impose a requirement on senior officers when implementing Post Incident Management (PIM) processes. I would like to see the Force start adhering to the Authorised Professional Practice now thus ensuring more PIMs are instigated for serious and not just life-threatening injuries. This would ensure officers are afforded the correct level of support and that best evidence is obtained to assist the investigation,” Steve explains.
Steve Hartshorn, the national Federation’s firearms and Taser lead, built on the seminar’s title, ‘Back to Basics’, by walking delegates through the best practice he had learned over many years representing officers in PIP situations. Delegates also heard from the College of Policing’s Kev Nicholson and Mark Wardley of Straw & Pearce Solicitors, around the separation of police witnesses in a PIP and when it should be done - only when ‘safe, necessary and practical’.
Mark Williams, chief executive of the Police Firearms Officers’ Association (PFOA), also spoke at the seminar reporting that five officers have been pulled back from the brink of suicide by the Welfare Support Programme, a counselling service funded by the PFOA and the Federation.
Hayley Aley, the Federation’s national wellbeing lead, gave a presentation on work to raise awareness of officer wellbeing. Officers, she said, should be given the wellbeing support and tools they need to do their jobs with different levels of support needed at the various stages in their lives and careers.
In another such session, Dr Meng Aw-yong, medical director to the Metropolitan Police, delved into case studies of officers who have experienced major trauma. He revealed that a police officer dies by suicide every two weeks and there are no official statistics regarding the deaths of police staff, veterans, or attempts to die by suicide. One case, an officer who had attended a number of fatal incidents and had delivered ‘far too many death messages’, had ‘never once’ been asked how he was. Following these incidents, he was expected to get on with the job.