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Complaints Handling – Specified Information Order

1. Introduction

As the Police and Crime Commissioner for Warwickshire, I know that our police officers and staff work incredibly hard to serve our communities. Whilst they endeavour to deliver an outstanding service to all the county’s residents and communities, I know that on occasions this unfortunately does not always happen and sometimes mistakes are made and public expectations are not met.

In such instances, I am determined to ensure that any errors are quickly rectified and lessons are swiftly learnt. This will serve to increase public confidence in the conduct of the force’s officers and staff and also improve the service that Warwickshire Police provides to meet the needs of the county’s diverse communities.

I hope that the following information and narrative will illuminate the important subject of police complaints, and in doing so provide reassurance as to the guidance processes, scrutiny and assurance that is applied to both the force’s and my own performance in this critical area of police legitimacy and accountability.

Philip Seccombe

Police and Crime Commissioner for Warwickshire

2. Specified Information Order

The Elected Local Policing Bodies (Specified Information) (Amendment) Order 2021 requires the Police and Crime Commissioner to publish on their websites the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) annual statistics report, and also the most recent quarterly complaints data for their particular force. The data and reports are to be published within one month of publication by the IOPC.

At the time of publishing by the Commissioner, a narrative must also be provided   setting out how the Commissioner is ‘holding to account’ the Chief Constable for the complaint handling performance of the police force, together with an assessment of the Commissioner’s own performance in carrying out certain statutory complaint handling functions.

3. Complaints Data

The IOPC annual ‘Police Complaints Statistics for England and Wales 2020/21’ was published on the 17 November 2021 and consequently the requirements of the Specified Information Order are actively applicable. The IOPC report can be viewed at: – https://www.policeconduct.gov.uk/sites/default/files/Documents/statistics/Complaints_Stats_2021.pdf

4. Responsibilities

The Chief Constable investigates the majority of public complaints made against Warwickshire Police through the force’s Professional Standards Department (PSD). The IOPC has a statutory responsibility for investigating a small number of more ‘serious’, and certain categories, of complaints. The Warwickshire Police and Crime Commissioner has a responsibility to ‘hold to account’ the Chief Constable for the strategic performance of Warwickshire Police and also for conducting the ‘complaint reviews’ of certain types of complaint made against the force.

5. Holding to Account

The principal mechanism for the Commissioner to ‘hold to account’ the Chief Constable for Warwickshire Police’s performance is through the monthly Performance Accountability Meeting (PAM), which is also attended by senior officers from Warwickshire Police and members of staff from the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC).

At the PAM, the corporate Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for PSD are provided for discussion by the force’s Assurance and Service Improvement department, under the ‘Effective and Efficient’ strand of the force’s ‘Fit for the Future’ strategy. These KPIs include metrics on the number of complaints recorded, any reoccurring themes identified from complaints, the timeliness of response to the complainant; together with the proportion of complaints that  are subject to ‘service recovery’ outside of  Schedule 3 of the Police Reform Act 2002 and those requiring investigation under Schedule 3 of the Police Reform Act 2002.

The IOPC annual statistics report was raised by the Commissioner with the Chief Constable at the PAM held on the 30 November 2021, where it was acknowledged the Warwickshire Police’s performance was generally good, although there were particular areas of performance that required improvement. The minutes of this meeting are publically available on the OPCC website.

In addition to this strategic performance meeting, the OPCC Assurance and Scrutiny Officer holds regular meetings with the Head of PSD to discuss more tactical issues, to ensure that the OPCC and PSD teams work together to ensure that continuous improvement is made to the way in which complaints are handled.

To complement these meetings and provide additional scrutiny and assurance, a system of dip-sampling of complaints is undertaken by the OPCC in conjunction with an independent member of the Joint Audit and Standards Committee (JASC).

To provide further independent scrutiny and assurance, a ‘Standards’ report is submitted by the OPCC as an agenda item to meetings of the JASC. This report provides an overview of the force’s complaints handling performance and also that of the OPCC complaint reviews; together with information on the action taken following the outcome of the complaint reviews in terms of recommendations made, or learning identified.

6. Complaint Handling

Some of the key performance metrics from the IOPC ‘Police Complaints Statistics for England and Wales 2020/21’ are: –

6.1  Complaints Made

A complaint is defined in IOPC statutory guidance as any expression of dissatisfaction with a police force that is expressed by or on behalf of a member of the public.

In 2020/21, Warwickshire Police recorded a total of 680 complaints, representing 337 complaints per 1,000 employees. Amongst the 43 police forces of England and Wales, the range varied between 126 and 805 complaints per 1,000 employees.

6.2 Timeliness

The time taken to finalise a complaint varies according to whether it is dealt with outside of Schedule 3 of the Police Reform Act 2002 as a ‘service recovery’ matter, or is subject to an appropriate and proportionate investigation under Schedule 3 of the Act.

In 2020/21, the average time to log a complaint by Warwickshire Police was 2 days and as such was one of the best performing forces in England and Wales.

The force also finalised ‘service recovery’ complaints in 21 days on average, whilst those investigated under Schedule 3 were finalised in 80 days on average. This level of performance is consistent with that achieved by most other police forces.

6.3 Regulation 13 Notices

Where Warwickshire Police has not completed an investigation within 12 months, the force must issue a written notice to the Commissioner and the IOPC under Regulation 13 of the Police (Complaints and Misconduct) Regulations 2020 and Regulation 19 of the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2020.

To date there have been four notices issued by Warwickshire Police to the Commissioner. In each case the circumstances have been reviewed to ensure that there are legitimate reasons for any perceived delay in the complaint investigation, the issues for the delay are often associated with matters of legal process.

7. Complainant Satisfaction

Complainant satisfaction is assessed based on the complaints outcomes. For less serious ‘expressions of dissatisfaction’, it is measured by PSD’s service recovery rate that operates outside of Schedule 3 Police Reform Act 2002. Where the complaint cannot be resolved to the complainant’s satisfaction then it is dealt with under Schedule 3 and consequently subject to a reasonable and proportionate investigation by PSD. The complainant is then afforded a right to request that the Commissioner reviews the complaint in cases where there is remaining dissatisfied following the outcome provided by PSD.

Warwickshire Police’s PSD deals with 76% of all complaints as service recovery outside of Schedule 3 of the Police reform Act 2002, thereby ensuring that such matters are addressed speedily, effectively and efficiently. This figure is one of the highest amongst the 43 police forces of England and Wales.

8.   Complaint Reviews

In February 2020 the ‘Police (Complaints and Misconduct) Regulations 2020’ came into effect. These reforms are aimed at making the police complaints system more responsive, independent and customer focused. The intention is to remove the focus of attributing blame when things occasionally go wrong, to one of learning and service improvement. The legislation permits Commissioners to select from one of three models available to implement locally: –

  1. Basic Statutory. This model provides Commissioners with improved powers of oversight to ‘hold to account’ the Chief Constable for the handling of complaints. It also requires the Commissioner to deal with complaint reviews in cases that do not meet the threshold to be dealt with by the IOPC.
  2. Triage. This model requires the Commissioner to operate the Basic Statutory model and additionally take on the on the initial handling, assessment and resolution of complaints. More serious complaints are still required to be dealt with by the force.
  3. Customer Contact. This model requires the Commissioner to be operating both the Basic statutory and Triage models, and in addition the Commissioner can take on continued contact with the complainant throughout the complaints process to improve customer focus

8.1 Complaint Review Manager

After due consideration, the Warwickshire Police and Crime Commissioner decided to adopt the Basic Statutory model, in line with the majority of other Commissioners, whilst the other models matured and good practice was identified for future consideration. As a consequence, the Commissioner is now the Relevant Review Body for all complaint reviews that would previously have been managed by Warwickshire Police.

As the numbers of such reviews were historically relatively low in Warwickshire, the Commissioner made the decision to collaborate with the West Midlands Commissioner and utilise a joint member of staff as the designated Complaint Review Manager to also conduct the Warwickshire reviews.

The Complaint Review manager considers whether or not the complaint process was reasonable and proportionate, with recommendations made to the police force if the review is ‘upheld’. Such recommendations might include, organisational learning, review of policy or procedure, or to reinvestigate the complaint.

Any recommendations arising from the review are provided to PSD, who then have 28 days to send a response to the Commissioner confirming, or otherwise, that the recommendations have been accepted. If they are agreed, then updates are sought every 28 days until completion. The only right of appeal to a complaint review is to seek judicial review.

Since the introduction of Complaint Reviews in February 2020, the Warwickshire OPCC have conducted a total of 61 reviews to date. Of these reviews, the complaint has been upheld in 23 cases and recommendations have been made.

8.2 Quality Assurance

A member of Warwickshire County Council’s Internal Audit team has been tasked with auditing the Commissioner’s complaints review process and practices, using a selection of completed review case as the evidence base. A number of draft recommendations arising out of the audit are currently being considered with a view to implementation.

8.3 Continuous Improvement

Regular meetings are held between representatives of the OPCC and the IOPC Oversight Liaison Officer to discuss review cases in Warwickshire. The meeting provides a useful ‘sounding board’ to discuss some of the cases and to consider processes for conducting reviews.

In addition, a Regional Practitioner’s Forum has been instigated by the IOPC. The focus of the forum is on complaint reviews, with the opportunity to identify themes and share best practice in the West Midlands region.

The Association of Police and Crime Commissioner Chief Executives (APACE) has restarted the National Complaints Network. The network discusses complaint reviews; the Commissioner’s holding to account responsibility, persistent complainants; and police misconduct and tribunals.

Through these meeting, forums and networks there is a real desire to work together, sharing ideas and helping each other to understand the legislation and how best to implement it.

8.4 Organisational Learning

A complaint review will consider whether the complaint process was reasonable and proportionate, with recommendations made to the Warwickshire Police if the review is upheld. Any recommendations made to the force are monitored by the Commissioner, but under the legislation the force does not have to act on the recommendations made.  Where recommendations arising can be identified as specific themes or similar issues arising the Police and Crime Commissioner will raise them through the holding to account process described in the above section on holding to account.

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