Sun, 03 Feb 2013

Complaining about the police and the IPCC

The Home Affairs Committee published a damning report on the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). (I contributed some written evidence based on my experience.) The introduction is explicit:

4. Police officers are warranted with powers that can strip people of their liberty, their money and even their lives and it is vital that the public have confidence that those powers are not abused. In this report, we conclude that the Independent Police Complaints Commission is not yet capable of delivering the kind of powerful, objective scrutiny that is needed to inspire that confidence.

Nearly a quarter of officers were subject to a complaint last year. When appeals were made against the way police forces handled a complaint, the IPCC found that the police had been wrong in 31% of all cases. It decided against the police in almost two thirds of appeals where police had decided not to record someone’s complaint.

The report includes a useful practical annex on the complaints & appeals process:

1.  If you think a police officer has behaved incorrectly then you have a right to complain. You should give details of when, where, what happened, what was said, the police officers and witnesses involved, and whether any proof exists of any damage or injury.

There is no time limit on making a complaint, but if a year goes by the incident may not be investigated.

2.  If your complaint is about a chief constable you should contact your Police and Crime Commissioner. (For London, read the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime.)

3.  If your complaint is not about a chief constable, contact the police force involved, by e-mail, telephone or in person. A solicitor or your local MP can also make a complaint on your behalf.

4.  All valid complaints against the police must be recorded, which means that it has formal status under the Police Reform Act 2002. Each police force in England and Wales has a duty to either record your complaint or tell you why it has decided not to record your complaint.

5.  The IPCC does not have the power to record complaints. This must be done by the chief officer or the Police and Crime Commissioner responsible. You can send a complaint to the IPCC but it will be forwarded to the relevant police force and the IPCC will not read or see your complaint.

A table elsewhere in the report explains the different modes of investigation of complaints:

When the Commission receives a complaint or a referral, it decides how it should be dealt with. This is referred to as a "mode of investigation" decision.

a)  Local Resolution, carried out entirely by the police with the complainant's consent. There is a right of appeal to the Commission.

b)  Supervised investigations, where the IPCC sets out terms of reference for the police. There is a right of appeal to the Commission.

c)  Managed investigations, carried out by police forces under the direction and control of the Commission.

d)  Independent investigations, carried out by the Commission's own investigators and overseen by a Commissioner.

My complaint ended up being a supervised investigation run by the Metropolitan Police Service's Directorate of Professional Standards (DPS). When I went to meet the officers from the DPS for them to take my witness statement to start their investigation, I had prepared a written witness statement. I recommend you do the same. Here's some other useful advice I included in my statement to the Home Affairs Committee:

10. My written statement of witness used by the DPS to start its IPCC-supervised enquiry concluded with a list of desired outcomes. These were ignored by the IPCC, which focused on the terms of reference drawn by the DPS.

11. With hindsight I would have ensured that all my desired outcomes were included in the terms of reference. The DPS attempted to pressure me to go for local resolution instead of a full investigation and to shorten my written statement of witness. I resisted this pressure. The definition of the terms of reference to be narrower than my statement of witness achieved a similar outcome for the police without being as obvious.

12. If the current system continues, it must be made clear to the complainants that the terms of reference are the only scope for any outcome they may be expecting in approaching the IPCC.

Back to the process:

Complaints are usually resolved by local resolution or local investigation by the police force involved. There is no limit on an investigation or local resolution, but you should be updated every 28 days. Complaints can lead to an agreed resolution (such as apology), internal misconduct proceedings, or criminal proceedings. The IPCC only investigates the most serious complaints referred to it by the police.

6.  You may be able to appeal if you are not happy with the outcome. Appeals may be directed to the IPCC, the chief constable, or the police and crime commissioner. You cannot appeal if the investigation into your complaint has been managed or carried out independently by the IPCC.

7.  You can appeal against a recording decision. The IPCC will look at your case to see whether or not recording your complaint was justified.

8.  You can appeal against a local resolution. In most circumstances, appeals against the outcome of the local resolution process will be handled by the chief officer of the police force.

9.  You can appeal against a decision to disapply a complaint, or the action taken after a decision to disapply, either to a chief officer or to the IPCC, which must receive your appeal within 29 days of the date of the letter telling you about the outcome of the complaint.

10.  You can appeal against a decision to discontinue a complaint.

11.  You can appeal against the police force's decision about your complaint, either to a chief officer or to the IPCC. Again, you will need to write within 29 days.

Your appeal will either be "upheld" or "not upheld". If your appeal is upheld, the appeal body will tell you any instructions it has given to the police force involved. If your appeal is not upheld, it will write to you and explain why it did not uphold your appeal.

This last paragraph is misleading in that 'instructions' are really only recommendations. The Home Affairs Committee's report specifically addressed this point:

68.  In one case, the Commission "requested" that the Metropolitan Police Service reconsider a request for personal data to be expunged and "informed" the service that a copy of a compulsory form "should" be provided.[Ev w44, David Mery, para 14] This kind of light-touch recommendation is a long way from the kind of clear instructions for improvements that Dame Anne Owers said: "there should be a requirement formally to respond with an action plan".[Q 89, Dame Anne Owers] She suggested that Police and Crime Commissioners could contribute by ensuring that the Commission's work led to improvement across the service:

we need to work on [...] mechanisms to check whether what we have done has made a difference [...] Police and Crime Commissioners do form a place where I would envisage discussions going on between Commissioners, heads of casework and themselves about what is happening and if it is not happening why isn't it happening?[Q 74, Dame Anne Owers]

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