Conclusions and recommendations |
1. Police officers are warranted with powers that can strip people of their liberty, their money and even their lives and it is vital that the public have confidence that those powers are not abused. In this report, we conclude that the Independent Police Complaints Commission is not yet capable of delivering the kind of powerful, objective scrutiny that is needed to inspire that confidence.
2. Compared with the might of the 43 police forces in England and Wales, the IPCC is woefully underequipped and hamstrung in achieving its original objectives. It has neither the powers nor the resources that it needs to get to the truth when the integrity of the police is in doubt. Smaller even than the Professional Standards Department of the Metropolitan Police, the Commission is not even first among equals, yet it is meant to be the backstop of the system. It lacks the investigative resources necessary to get to the truth; police forces are too often left to investigate themselves; and the voice of the IPCC does not have binding authority. The Commission must bring the police complaints system up to scratch and the Government must give it the powers that it needs to do so.
The basis of mistrust
3. The public do not fully trust the IPCC and without faith in the Commission, the damaged public opinion of the police cannot be restored. Unfortunately, too often the work of the Commission seems to exacerbate public mistrust, rather than mend it.
4. The independence and oversight offered by Commissioners is at the heart of the role of the IPCC. It is wrong that their day-to-day work is frequently far removed from the cases being investigated. Commissioners should be given a more active role in overseeing major cases and take personal responsibility for ensuring that a clear process and timetable is laid out for anyone involved in a complaint or an appeal.
The independence and oversight offered by Commissioners is at the heart of the role of the IPCC. It is wrong that their day-to-day work is frequently far removed from the cases being investigated. Commissioners should be given a more active role in overseeing major cases and take personal responsibility for ensuring that a clear process and timetable is laid out for anyone involved in a complaint or an appeal.
The IPCC's ability to get to the truth
5. More cases should be investigated independently by the Commission, instead of referred back to the original force on a complaints roundabout. "Supervised investigations" do not offer rigorous oversight of a police investigation, nor do they necessarily give the public a convincing assurance that the investigation will be conducted objectively. This kind of "oversight-lite" is no better than a placebo.
6. The IPCC owes it to the families of those who die in cases involving the police to get to the truth of the mattera botched job is an offence to all concerned. When the IPCC does investigate it often comes too late and takes too long. The trail is left to go cold. IPCC investigators should be able to take immediate control of a potential crime scene during the crucial "golden hours" and early days of an investigation into deaths and serious injury involving police officers.
The IPCC can't afford to do more
7. It is deeply worrying that the Commission now feels that its level of resourcing has dropped below a level at which it can properly discharge its statutory functions and meet public expectations, to the extent that a backlog of appeals is now building up. We recognise that it will not be easy to find significant additional resources. We recommend that the Home Office work with the Commission to identify innovative ways in which the backlog might be cleared, for example by using temporary secondments of staff from other public authorities with relevant expertise, such as the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration or HM Inspectorate of Constabulary. More robust procedures should be put in place at the permission stage of appeals in order to filter out more minor cases in order to allow the IPCC to focus on the most serious.
8. Important cases are under-investigated because of a lack of access to independent specialists. The Home Office should provide the IPCC with a specific budget for a serious cases response team. The resources within individual forces for investigating complaints dwarf the resources of the Commission. It is notable that the IPCC is smaller than the complaints department of the Metropolitan Police alone. In the most serious cases, therefore, there should be a system for transfer of funds from individual forces to the IPCC to cover an investigation. This model is already in place for the IPCC's investigations into HMRC and UKBA.
9. Applying non-discriminatory practices is crucial as a disproportionate number of the cases that cause the most serious public concern involve the black and minority ethnic (BME) communities. All Commissioners, investigators and caseworkers should be trained in discrimination awareness and relevant law, including all the protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010. Again, leadership in this respect should come from Commissioners themselves, of whom three of thirteen will be from BME communities when the new Commissioners take up office.
Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP
10. Public confidence in the police has been shaken: Operation Yewtree, Operation Alice, the Hillsborough Inquiry, Operation Elveden and Operation Pallial all cast doubt on police integrity and competence. It is in these circumstances that the public ought to be able to turn to the IPCC to investigate and we believe that the Commission ought to have a more prominent role in each of these operations.
11. Some kinds of complaint are simply not appropriate for Police Complaints Departments to investigate themselves. Cases involving serious corruption, such as tampering with evidence, should be automatically referred to the IPCC for independent investigation. The Government has committed itself to provide more resources for the IPCC to investigate the Hillsborough disaster. Once that investigation is complete, that funding should be maintained and dedicated to anti-corruption cases.
12. Allegations following the altercation between Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP and police officers raise fundamental questions about police honesty and integrity. The alleged unauthorised disclosure of information to the press on the night of 19 September 2012 and the alleged fabrication of an eye-witness account on Thursday 20 September 2012 are extremely serious; if officers could do this in a case involving the protection of the Prime Minister's own home, it raises the question how often might this be happening outside the gaze of the national media. As Mr Mitchell said, "if this can happen to a senior government minister, then what chance would a youth in Brixton or Handsworth have?".
13. We support the Commissioner's "relentless pursuit of the truth" in this matter and believe that the West Midlands Police Federation were wrong in calling for the resignation of a cabinet minister. However, it was clearly hasty of the Commissioner to tell the media that he was 100% behind his officers and to say to Rt Hon David Davis MP that the investigation had been closed when it had not been investigated with any rigour.
14. We note the Commissioner's intention to ask another force to independently review the investigations underway in Operation Alicewhile this is a welcome safeguard, it is no substitute for independent investigation by the IPCC. The IPCC should investigate this case independently and the Government should additional provide funds, if necessary, as it has for Hillsborough.
Redirecting the Commission's work
15. Mediation and restorative justice present rich avenues for improving the handling of police complaints. The Commission should set out best practice protocols for their use in appropriate cases and the use of informal or local resolution systems should be independently monitored to ensure that it is not used inappropriately in relation to conduct that would justify criminal or disciplinary proceedings.
16. The root of the problem is that the front line of the police complaints system is not working. It is unacceptable that Police Standards Departments had made the wrong decision in 38% of appeals. The number of appeal upheld varies wildly from force to force, as does the proportion of appeals upheld by the IPCC and Police and Crime Commissioners must take decisive action where a force is shown to be failing. The Commission's robust handling of appeals is welcome, but it is costly. Far more effort should be made to ensure that correct decisions are made in the first instance at the level of individual forces. We have written to each chief constable to ask for the staff complement and budget of their Professional Standards Departments.
17. Where a threshold of 25% of appeals are upheld, the Commission must demand a written explanation from Chief Constables and Police and Crime Commissioners, which should be followed by a six month probation period. After that time, if the proportion of appeals upheld is not reduced below the threshold, a "complaints competency investigation" must be held into the reasons for the inaccuracy of decisions made at the local level. This should involve a joint report by the IPCC, HMIC and the local Police and Crime Commissioner, which would lead to proposals that would be binding on Chief Constables. If applied now, these measures would affect all but four forces.
Learning the lessons: giving the IPCC authority
18. It is a basic failing in the system that there is no requirement for forces to respond to recommendations from the IPCC, still less to implement them. We recommend that the Commission be given a statutory power to require a force to respond to its findings. In the most serious cases, the Commission should instigate a "year on review" to ensure that its recommendations have been properly carried out. Any failure to do so would result in an investigation by HMIC and the local Police and Crime Commissioner, as a professional conduct matter relating to the Chief Constable.
A second home for police officers
19. If the Commission's primary statutory purpose is to increase public confidence, then it must act to rectify the impression that the police are investigating the police. The Commission must improve its in-house investigative resources and move to a target of 20% of investigators who have moved directly from a career as a police officer, or fewer, so that the number of former officers investigating the police is significantly reduced.
20. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary must play a more prominent role in investigations of the most serious cases. In cases involving serious police corruption, for example, one of Her Majesty's Inspectors should review the IPCC's findings and be tasked with ensuring the implementation of any IPCC recommendations. HMIC's responsibility for forces' effectiveness make it a natural candidate for involvement in the "complaints competency investigation" described above and the inspectorate should ensure that any findings for a particular force are taken up by other forces where necessary.
Treating officers differently from the public
21. The issue of interviewing officers in cases involving death and serious injury is indicative of a culture of treating officers differently from members of the public. Where officers are not interviewed promptly under caution, this can lead to weaker evidence and loss of confidence in the process of investigating serious matters such as deaths in custody. The application of the threshold test for special requirements should be reviewed, so that officers are routinely interviewed under caution in the most serious cases, exactly as a member of the public would be.
22. The Government should revise the legislative definition of the threshold. One option would be that death and serious injury cases should be treated as "conduct" matters with special requirements and officers interviewed under caution except where it is "beyond reasonable doubt" that a misconduct or criminal offence has not been committed.
23. The adequacy of communications between the IPCC and the public can have serious implications. Some of the violence that raged across London in the summer riots of 2011 may have been avoided if anger had not been intensified by inaccurate statements made by the IPCC.
24. Accurate and timely information is also vital in retaining confidence in the complaints process. The Commission should be required to set out a timetable for an investigation for complainants and to write to them to explain any deviation. If the Commission orders a police complaints department to reinvestigate, it should also set a timetable for that investigation and any deviation should be explained to both the complainant and the Commission. There should be sanctions if the process and timelines are not followed.
25. The Commission should communicate positive outcomes through different channels, including social media. Prosecutions, misconduct findings and recommendations to forces must be more widely publicised in a way that openly demonstrates the scrutiny of the police.
26. We note that although the IPCC is allowed to hear complaints about the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), the position regarding the new National Crime Agency (NCA) is less clear. We recommend that the NCA be subject to IPCC procedures in the same way as police forces generally.
27. The landscape of policing is changing and the IPCC must change with it. Increasingly, companies like G4S, Capita, Mitie and Serco are involved in delivering services that would once have fallen solely to the police (we described the involvement of G4S in the Jimmy Mubenga case in our report on Rules governing enforced removals from the UK), yet the public cannot call on the IPCC to investigate their delivery of those services.
28. The Commission's jurisdiction should be extended to cover private sector contractors in their delivery of policing services and appropriate funding should be available for it to undertake all the functions which we consider it should have responsibility for.
29. The Commission should be renamed to reflect its broader remit and functions, covering appeals and complaints for police, UKBA, HMRC and the NCA. "The Independent Policing Standards Authority" is one possibility.