Government report criticises police watchdog

A government report published today criticises the police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, for failing to win public trust.

The report was compiled by the Home Affairs Select Committee who carried out an inquiry in to the effectiveness and powers of the IPCC. Keith Vaz MP, who chairs the committee, described how “too often the work of the commission seems to exacerbate public mistrust, rather than mend it”. Newham Monitoring Project made a submission to the inquiry based on our experience of casework at a community level and we are pleased to see a number of our comments have been cited and responded to in the report.

The report quoted NMP as one of many organisations who “raised concerns that the Commission was biased in favour of the police.” Regarding the IPCC’s track record, the report made the following observation:

“The Newham Monitoring Project described the Commission as “a system that falls woefully short in its ability to be independent, accessible or effective.” Doreen Lawrence, mother of Steven Lawrence, told the Committee she had ”no confidence in [the Commission] whatsoever.”

NMP was also noted for its criticism of the IPCC’s lack of “investigatory rigour” and “thorough investigation.” The comment relates to the report’s belief that the public is losing faith in the IPCC. The report said:

“Frustration that the police were left to investigate themselves even in relatively serious cases was widespread… The number of former officers employed by the Commission was a continuing source of concern. About 11% of all staff and 33% of investigators are former police officers. As a result, several witnesses believed that the police thought that they were “untouchable”.

In addition, NMP’s criticism of the handling of complaints by the Department of Professional Standards (DPS) was mentioned:

“The Department of Professional Standards in the force being investigated was allowed to summarise the complaint (without consulting the complainant) and then proceed directly to investigating it on these terms.”

The DPS, located within the police, handles the vast majority of police complaints (with only those deemed ‘most serious’ dealt with directly by the IPCC) and is therefore the most likely route for someone making an everyday complaint, for example about a stop and search. NMP drew attention to the inequalities felt by many of our cases. Complainants often tell us that they feel the DPS have deliberately manipulated a complaint outcome into a confusing long-winded document leaving them with the impossible task of needing to appeal using detailed analysis, which is far better suited to a trained eye. This kind of process can disadvantage large sections of the community and leaves people both frustrated and without redress. This in turn prevents patterns of unfair behaviour being identified within the police, which can be driver for meaningful long-term change.

A submission to the inquiry by Netpol (the Network for Police Monitoring), which NMP is a member of, was also quoted in the report. They spoke of the failure of the IPCC to “critically analyse competing accounts, even with inconsistencies between officers’ accounts or a compelling account from a complainant.”

The report concluded, “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.”

NMP thanks Tahmeena Bax (author of this article).