Complaint Reforms

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Following extensive consultation, a package of reforms to the police complaints and misconduct system has been developed by the Home Office and the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC)

As part of this work, from the 1st February 2020, Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) have a new stronger role in the complaints system. The reforms include a move towards a more reflective practice, focusing on learning outcomes for both individual police officers and staff, and the Force.

The Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC) for Thames Valley will be adopting ‘Model 1’, which means we will take on responsibility for reviews of police complaints (previously known as appeals) where the previous appeal body would have been the Force itself. The reviews will now be signed off by the OPCC Head of Governance and Compliance, instead of the Force’s Head of Professional Standards Department (PSD), to ensure that the OPCC can check that due process has been followed. As part of the OPCC conducting reviews of complaints, we can make recommendations to the Head of PSD.

This new way of working will help tackle some of the issues faced from the old process, ensuring clarity, less bureaucracy and more flexibility to deal with complaints to the public’s satisfaction. In the old system, appeals were often considered by the same Force which undertook the original complaint investigation and the IOPC lacked powers to investigate unless matters were referred directly to them. The old system also had too great a focus on sanctions against the individual and not the overall organisation.

Another criticism of the old system was that the threshold for misconduct was too low, including any breach of the standards of professional behaviour, creating a system where significant amounts of time were spent investigating officers for low level breaches. Some investigations previously took several months, sometimes years, to complete. This could lead to stress for both the complainants and the officers concerned, adverse impact on the operational effectiveness of Forces, reduced the confidence of members of the public, as well as increased expenditure to the public purse.

The new system hopes to address all of these flaws.

Improvements with the new system include:

  • Forces must be reasonable and proportionate when dealing with complaints, reducing the need for unnecessary investigations and encouraging faster resolution.
  • The IOPC and PCCs are being given increased powers – the PCC now takes on the review function of complaints, allowing for independence and greater scrutiny of the police. The IOPC has increased powers to be able to investigate without referral, and to investigate all misconduct allegations against Chief Officers.
  • PCCs will be able to make recommendations to the Force following the outcome of the review.
  • The threshold for misconduct is increased to promote reflective practice in policing. Dealing with minor misconduct through reflective practice reduces the time Forces spend on unnecessary investigations and allows Forces to focus on resolving complaints to the satisfaction of the public.
  • More control will be passed back to line managers in order to manage their staff and deal with everyday learning for less serious complaints.
  • The public can now complain about the way the organisation works and not just the individual. This will drive Forces to consider and act on opportunities for organisational learning.
  • Improvements to timeliness for investigations.
  • Misconduct hearings will be managed more effectively by Legally Qualified Chairs (LQCs) and there will be an obligation to explain lengthy investigation delays to PCCs and to the IOPC. They will be given greater flexibility to hold pre-hearing conferences to avoid issues arising at hearings which can currently lead to lengthy delays.
  • The PCC will now be appointing LQCs and Independent Panel Members to sit on misconduct hearings in order to ensure a fair and transparent process.

The reforms will help end the perception of the police “marking their own homework” by the PCC taking on responsibility for complaint appeals (reviews) that are currently dealt with by Forces.

Reflective Practice

Reflective practice, which is central to the reforms, brings policing in line with other services, where minor mistakes are not simply punished – they are used as opportunities to learn. This gives a better service to members of the public – resolution of complaints will be quicker and more structured than current remedies, and means that lessons will be learnt. It is a structured, non-disciplinary process which encourages officers to identify mistakes, consider the impact of their actions and reflect on how they can learn and improve. Outcomes can involve training courses, formal monitoring or mentoring, an apology to the complainant or even a process of continued reflection.

For more information on the reforms, please see the IOPC website.