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Forces criticised for failing to adopt new misconduct system

Forces are still investigating conduct cases that don’t meet the legal threshold because they are risk averse, the Police Federation has claimed.

Delegates at the Police Federation’s annual conference heard forces have yet to adapt to the new complaints system a year on which includes a high threshold for disciplinary cases.

That claim was backed by the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC).

Phill Matthews, the Fed’s Conduct and Performance Lead, said there was a “need to reset” how some forces were dealing with standards issues.

Too many officers were being referred for disciplinary hearings because decision-makers were either legally cautious or risk averse.

Instead they should be referred back for training, he added.

“This needs challenging and changing,” Mr Matthews said.

Chief Constable Craig Guildford of Nottinghamshire Constabulary - and National Police Chiefs' Council lead for conduct  – said the Fed was right to be concerned.

“Collectively we have to nudge the culture. Obviously, you can’t take your eye off the ball. But the main thing is where we find something that is going the wrong way then we can have a conversation. It would be fair to say some forces are applying this better than others,” he said.

The Fed is calling for a legal time limit of 12 months on investigations by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).

Mr Matthews said: “If one of our members is investigating a member of the public, they have a time limit.

“What we want is something that is fair to both our officers and the complainants. We want those complaints dealt with properly. We’re not asking for something to be dropped. These are cases that cause ill-repute to members.”

Cases likely to reach 12 months should be subject to a review and ended if there was no realistic chance of achieving an outcome to avoid a bland statement years later that corrodes faith in policing, the Fed argues.

The Home Office and IOPC signalled they aren’t prepared to accept it.

Ian Balbi, Head of Police Discipline Policy at the Home Office, said: “It’s in nobody’s interest for these cases to drag on. There are risks and negative impacts in putting time limits on these investigations. It’s speed putting at risk the quality of outcome.”

The IOPC has undergone a transformation programme – and has the backing of Home Office ministers. Investigation times have dropped as a result, it says.

But Director General, Michael Lockwood, warned there were limits on what the watchdog could achieve.

“My plea is: we’re not the whole system. We do rely on other players,” he said. “We absolutely accept we do not want an officer or a family under a cloud for longer than they need to be. What worries us there will be some investigations, because of the complexity, because of the victims, that will go over 12 months,” he said.

Every panel member made clear that the IOPC's progress relied on more than just the time it takes to investigate cases.

Mr Lockwood revealed he has visited half of all forces including Fed chairs and met up to 40 officers on each occasion.

He also revealed the next phase of IOPC reforms that will “future-proof progress”. This Included getting forces to focus on learning.

“We’re setting targets for nine and six months on investigations,” Mr Lockwood said.

“I’m clear if an officer does something malicious it must be investigated. There will always be bad pennies. But mistake does not equal misconduct. We were conflating performance with misconduct.”

He added: “I get no satisfaction from things that keep going on. I get more excited about stopping problems than from dealing with them afterwards. I’m open to learning, to improving. This is a partnership.”

Links between the Fed have gone from no-contact to a first-ever presentation at an IOPC training day by Mr Matthews.

Mr Lockwood said: “I think there’s more we are aligned on than we disagree on. I really respect the advice and feedback we get. I speak with John Apter very, very often. I take on their advice very seriously.”

The Fed backed the 400 learning reports issued by the IOPC that are changing the system.

Mr Matthews said: “We need forces to adopt the learning and re-write their policies and procedures. That’s really key.”

He added the progress with the watchdog was still fragile: “It’s very personality-dependent. We’ve got to lock in that progress so we don’t go back five years when no-one was talking to each other. I’ve got full confidence in Mr Lockwood at the helm.”

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