Independent Police Complaints Commission fails to inspire trust, say MPs

07 April 2010

In a report published today, the Home Affairs Committee criticises the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) for failing to inspire trust and confidence in those it has dealt with and handling cases in a distant and non-empathetic manner

Despite an ever-increasing workload the IPCC does little to prevent complaints against police behaviour in the first instance by improving forces' complaints procedures, and despite a budget of £35 million per annum the organisation lacks clear measures of success.

While the Commission has achieved some tangible and high-profile successes since its formation, the IPCC fails to inspire confidence in the independence of the process. Investigations are handled in an unsatisfactory and non-transparent manner and the length of IPCC-managed investigations – up to 269 working days in some cases – does little to increase trust in the system.

The Committee calls upon the Commission to place those involved in complaints – both complainants and individual police officers – much more at the heart of the process.

Despite the IPCC possessing staff of around 400 people, the vast majority of complaints against police behaviour are investigated by the force concerned. Of the 30,000-plus complaints against police behaviour last year less than 250 were directly managed by the IPCC; 250 only represents less than 10 per cent of "serious" complaints. In 99 cases out of 100, and despite the existence of an independent, statutory body, complaints made against police behaviour will be investigated by the police.

The Committee also raised concerns at the use of ex-police officers within the IPCC, these officers can often end up investigating possible ex-colleagues in their former force. The Committee considers that such action will not increase the necessary perception of impartiality.

The Committee is concerned that the IPCC has not done more to improve police forces' complaints services and to impress upon all forces the need to the need to investigate all complaints in a clear, open manner and from the position of remedying poor public service; a "postcode lottery" currently exists in the police's handling of complaints.

The Home Affairs Committee is convinced that the police should be placing a much greater onus on resolving complaints in an open, transparent and satisfactory manner themselves and calls upon the IPCC to produce a detailed plan of how the Commission, working with bodies such as HMIC and NPIA, will improve police performance in this area.

Keith Vaz MP, chair of the Committee said:

"It is clear to us that the IPCC requires reform of some kind. The IPPC’s statutory duty is to increase public confidence in the police complaints system in England and Wales.

"We do not see how by failing to put complainants at the heart of the investigation process, using ex-police officers to investigate their former force, and by passively allowing a "postcode lottery" in the handling of complaints by local police forces to exist, the Commission achieves this task.

"We hope that a successor Committee will look at these issues in the detail they deserve and urge the reforms that the IPCC sorely needs."

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