Pending improvements to the British police complaints system

In February 2022, the UK Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee published a report on complaints handling and the police behaviour review, in which it identifies significant gaps. The investigation to evaluate the performance of the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) began in the summer of 2020 and lasted 18 months. The IOPC, which has the primary role of overseeing the most serious cases of complaints against police officers and police forces in England and Wales, and which may therefore carry disciplinary liability, became operational in January 2018. However, it is not a completely new body, as it replaced the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPPC), which was created in 2003 and replaced the Police Complaints Authority (PCA). These previous changes were made in an attempt to improve the handling of the complaints.

MPs recall that police performance in England and Wales is based on consent: officers have the power to investigate crime and maintain public safety, but have a duty to comply with the highest standards of police behaviour. Therefore, to ensure that the public trusts the police, there must be a good system in place to manage and monitor the behaviour of the officers and the force, and the complaints that are filed.

The research concludes that some of the dissatisfaction with this system is unjustified or unfair, and that the IOPC has made significant progress and has established a more open, transparent and responsive system than previous bodies. However, there is still room for improvement in six areas:

  • Duration of investigations: Although the majority are resolved in less than a year (and this duration has been reduced with respect to previous bodies), there are still procedures that drag on for years, without it being clear whether this is the police forces’ or the IOPC’s responsibility. Therefore, a change in police culture is needed to streamline these procedures and for all parties to assume their responsibilities.
  • Citizen confidence: Some reviews of specific areas (such as domestic violence, mental health, or racial discrimination) provide insights into how the police interact with the communities they serve. However, in these major investigations there needs to be greater collaboration between organisations and police forces, and the procedures need to be made accessible to the public.
  • Accessibility: Promoting citizens’ awareness of these procedures is not just a matter of being able to access documents. The use of technical language or complex constructions also hinders or discourages public access. Therefore, IOPC should make efforts to make documentation available in simple vocabulary and in different formats and languages.
  • Ensure best practices: Some of the procedures are managed by police forces, but it is not clear whether all of them follow IOPC guidelines. Therefore, this should be monitored and the recommendations should be followed.
  • Governance of the IOPC: The tasks of those responsible for the IOPC still carry over some dysfunctions from previous bodies and, although the new structure has brought about positive changes, there are still shortcomings, such as in internal supervision. Therefore, it urges the government to review the structure of the organisation and to incorporate an independent head to the governing board.
  • Police and Crime Commissioners: They are elected officials whose function is to supervise the police forces of the territorial districts where they are elected. The parliamentary inquiry has found that, despite the fact that part of their functions are related to the supervision of disciplinary complaints and sanctions, only a minimal part of these positions have high compliance with these functions. Therefore, they need to have more resources in order to be able to cope with these tasks as well.

Press release on the publication of the report in the UK Parliament:


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