For the first time in a decade police forces in England and Wales are handling more complaints through local resolution rather than using lengthy and complex investigations, data released by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) today shows.
The most common type of allegation made in a complaint remains ‘other neglect or failure in duty’ category, such as how officers responded to or investigated incidents. These allegations accounted for 41% of all the allegations recorded in 2018/19; continuing a rise seen in the two previous reports. This year the number of allegations per 1,000 employees fell from 274 to 264.
Director General Michael Lockwood said the IOPC provides independent oversight of the police complaints system so the public can be confident complaints will be addressed in a timely, reasonable and proportionate manner.
“The police hold significant powers that enable them to enforce the law. A fair, transparent and timely complaints process is important for ensuring the public can have faith in how police officers exercise these powers.
“This increased use of local resolution appears to accord with the refocusing of the complaints system on resolving and addressing systemic issues – forces are using a more timely, reasonable and proportionate way to address complaints that do not require a full investigative process.
“The system is not perfect though, and there are differences in how well forces handle complaints. This data is an important resource for the public and for helping police forces consider how they can improve their complaints handling. When viewed in isolation, each indicator gives only limited insight, but together they provide a picture of how the police complaints system as a whole is performing.
“To help forces use the complaints system to identify which areas of policing are generating complaints, we’ve overhauled how complaints are categorised and recorded. These changes will make it easier to identify learning and trends from 2020/21.”
The statistics show:
- Recorded complaints have gone down by 2% nationally since 2017/18, from 31,671 to 31,097. The overall number of complaints being recorded nationally has reduced by 16% since 2014/15
- Local resolution is now the most frequent way forces handle allegations. Local resolution is used in 48% of allegations, compared to 42% in 2017/18 and 2016/17
- The time taken by forces when using this method is 72 days, compared to 158 days to complete a local investigation
- The proportion of local resolution appeals handled by police forces that are upheld has stayed stable at 16%. Although the IOPC is upholding more local resolution appeals, these only account for 70 of the 2,486 local resolution appeals completed in 2018/19
- The total number of appeals concerning the non-recording of a complaint has reduced by 9%, while the percentage of upheld non-recording appeals has stayed constant at 36%
- The proportion of complaint investigations where an officer is formally investigated for alleged misconduct or criminal activity has reduced from 13% to 10%
- The number of appeals received by the IOPC following a local investigation dropped by 22%, while the proportion of those upheld has remained constant at 38%.
The report also highlights initiatives by forces to deliver a good service in the initial handling of a complaint. For example:
- At Cheshire Constabulary, dedicated complaints managers make recording decisions within ten working days in 97% of complaint cases. In 2018/19, we upheld only two appeals against complaints not being recorded by this force.
- Having missed a target of 80% in four of the previous five years to record complaints within 10 working days, the Metropolitan Police Service reviewed its processes and introduced a new database, resulting in 90% of complaints being recorded within 10 days. The force has also seen a decrease year on year in the number of non-recording appeals received – from 424 in 2013/14 to 208 in 2018/19, while the proportion of these appeals upheld by us reduced from 40% (168) in 2013/14 to 28% (58) in 2018/19.
- In October 2018 Greater Manchester Police set up a new Assessment Team to record complaints and decide on initial actions. Their timeliness for recording complaints within ten days increased from 55% in 2017/18 to 98% in the final quarter of 2018/19.
For a full breakdown of the national and force complaints statistics please see the full report here
Police forces deal with the majority of complaints themselves, with the IOPC handling only the most serious and sensitive cases. The first stage of complaint handling is for the relevant police force to decide whether to record the complaint. When a complaint is recorded, it must be dealt with according to certain rules and guidance. If the force does not record a complaint, the complainant can appeal against this decision to the IOPC.
People can also appeal at the end of their complaint if they are not happy with how the police have handled it. In some instances, this appeal right is to the IOPC. Other appeals are handled by police forces.