New legislation that will change how complaints made against the police are handled come into force from February 1.
The new rules mean that while complaints about the conducts of officers and staff of Warwickshire Police will continue to be dealt with by the force’s Professional Standards Department or in some cases the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), responsibility for the final review process when a member of the public is not content with the outcome of their complaint will now be dealt with external to the police force. This will either be conducted by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner or by the IOPC. At the moment such appeals are dealt with internally within the force.
A key part of the wider complaints system reforms is the introduction of a new process of ‘reflective practice’ to encourage organisational learning and change when things go wrong. This process will bring the police in line with other services where minor mistakes are not punished but rather used as an opportunity to learn.
While there will continue to be robust action taken against those found guilty of serious misconduct, the threshold for misconduct overall has been raised, to try and foster a culture within the disciplinary system where there is a greater focus on learning and improvement when behaviour falls short of the expectations of both the public and the police service.
By dealing with minor misconduct through ‘reflective practice’, it is intended that less time is spent on unnecessary investigations, allowing forces to focus on resolving significant complaints more quickly.
Warwickshire Police and Crime Commissioner Philip Seccombe said: “The public rightly expects the police service and those who serve in it to demonstrate the highest standards of integrity at all times and it is vital that the system that deals with complaints when things go wrong is robust but fair, offering timely resolutions which ensure that the service overall learns and improves from its mistakes.
“These reforms have been a long time in development and will mean that serious misconduct continues to be robustly tackled as now, while also helping to resolve more minor issues in a more timely fashion and, hopefully, to the greater satisfaction of all.
“The vast majority of officers in Warwickshire strive to serve the public to the highest standards but they are only human, so when minor mistakes are made it is only right that they can have an opportunity to learn from it, improve and develop, rather than being overly-penalised.
“Quite often a complainant is not looking for an officer or staff member to be punished for a minor wrongdoing but instead wants assurances that the mistake is understood and that action is being taken to lessen the likelihood of it happening again. This new system should help this process to be less onerous and free up more time for Professional Standards Departments to concentrate on the reports of serious wrongdoing.
“Of course, in the unfortunate cases where members of the public feel they have not had their complaint dealt with appropriately first time, a proper independent process of review is essential. I think it will provide greater reassurance to the public that in these cases, the process for new complaint reviews from February will now be independent of the force.”
From February 1, the public will also be able to complain about the way a police force acts – not just an individual member of staff.
The reforms will also give the IOPC increased powers to investigate incidents, without a referral from the force, re-investigate closed cases and investigate allegations against Chief Officers.
Police forces and the IOPC will also need to write to the PCC when any investigation has taken more than 12 months to explain the reason and set out how they plan to conclude the investigation. This will then be reviewed every six months.
You can find out more about the reforms to police complaints and the discipline process on the Home Office website.