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IOPC ‘needs to widen its pool’ of investigators says committee of MPs

Three quarters of IOPC staff have no background in policing

The IOPC should widen its pool of staff to include those with an investigatory background in non-policing bodies such as the military, the Home Affairs Committee has recommended.

In a major review of the police discipline and complaints system published today the committee said it had heard arguments that the IOPC should only employ investigators who are not former police officers, notably from Lady Brittan whose late husband was part of the Operation Midland inquiry which was investigated by the IOPC with no disciplinary outcomes for the officers involved.

More than three quarters of the IOPC’s general workforce of over 1,000 staff and two thirds of its operational personnel currently have no background in policing.  

Concerns had been raised during the committee inquiry that employing investigators with former direct links to police forces would appear as though officers were "marking their own home work."

The IOPC told the committee that no serving police officer was involved in its Operation Kentia investigation into Midland or present when statements were taken. It said the skills and experience that former police staff bring to the IOPC are valued: “ensuring appropriate checks and balances are in place to ensure any conflicts are managed”.

But it admitted the proportion of non-specialist investigatory staff it employs was much higher than other oversight bodies in the UK.

The committee report concluded: “Ex-police officers bring the skills learned on the job and an understanding of police culture. It seems that an appropriate balance of former serving officers and investigators with other backgrounds is the right one to strike, but it may be that the IOPC should seek to widen its pool of potential candidates to include those with investigative experience from other spheres, including, for example, former military personnel.”

The review also heard evidence that some forces’ Professional Standards Departments were under resourced.   

Sir Tom Winsor, HM Chief Inspector of HMICFRS said this had highlighted other problems with vetting during the Uplift recruitment programme and forces needed to be “much more assiduous in recognising” and “getting rid of” unsuitable officers during their probationary periods.

Phill Matthews from the Police Federation told the committee that PSDs did a “very good job at rooting out those who do not deserve to be in the police”. He argued that the “vast majority of dismissals” resulted from conduct investigations instigated by and investigated by PSDs and that a “tiny percentage" (less than 0.1%) of public complaints made against its members resulted in a dismissal.

However the report noted that 63% of forces' PSDs (25) had no BAME police officers or staff.

The National Black Police Association said this reflected the experiences of its members that complaint and conduct issues were “more likely to be considered serious by those who handle them”. It said that 33.1% of complaint matters and 92.6% of conduct matters involving BAME officers were initially assessed as gross misconduct by those handling them; the figures for white officers were 12.4% and 84.6%.

Nottinghamshire Chief Constable Craig Guildford, NPCC complaints and misconduct lead, told the review that the proportionality of officers in PSDs was not necessarily the cause of the problem and that reforms to the complaints system had addressed this by placing “a positive obligation on a supervisor to deal with issues in front of them” allowing the PSD to reject cases where appropriate.

In contrast, the Committee’s report found that confidence in the IOPC and the complaints process among officers and staff associations was low.

The Police Superintendents’ Association said the assessment of misconduct for officers under investigation was “often disproportionate”, and some officers perceived that an assessment of criminality was often made to ensure they engaged with the process.

The PSA also felt some officers perceived investigation a pointless information-gathering exercise or “fishing expedition” rather than an accountability mechanism for any potential wrongdoing.

This suspicion and lack of confidence resulted in staff associations and the IOPC blaming each other for lengthy delays in the time taken to investigate complaints with the later stating that delays were often caused by officers’ no-comment interviews and lack of co-operation.

The Federation said that officers generally provide a written statement within 10 days.

The report said it was “unsatisfactory and unedifying to hear policing organisations blame the IOPC for delay while the IOPC suggests officers may drag their heels in cooperating with investigations.”

CC Guildford had told the inquiry that the IOPC could tackle the issue by using its powers more vigorously but the report says that “police officers should not need to be forced” to cooperate with conduct investigations.

It added that a “culture needs to be created within police forces—established by and led from the top— that requires rapid, open and non-defensive response to complaints about conduct, both to deal with misconduct where it arises and to clear the names and reputations of officers who have not transgressed.”

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