The intention of the proposed reform is to improve transparency and increase trust in the police complaints and disciplinary procedures, and ultimately improve public confidence in the police.
Proposed changes to the police complaints system include PCCs having responsibility for receiving and recording complaints against all police officers and considering what further action should be taken. Additionally, PCCs would have responsibility for appeals, which are currently dealt with by Chief Officers. It is interesting to note that police authorities used to have responsibility for handling complaints against senior police officers, but with the introduction of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, responsibility for all complaints including senior officers, save for Chief Officers, transferred to police forces rather than PCCs. Concern was expressed at that time about the inevitable perception of the ‘police investigating the police’. The current proposals would seek to address such issues and improve public confidence in the independence of the police complaints system but would of course substantially increase the responsibilities and work of PCCs and their teams.
The Government also proposes procedural changes to the police complaints system, with a change to the definition of a complaint, a requirement to record all complaints and an end of the practice of discontinuance and disapplication. Members of the public, and even those working in professional standards departments, understandably find it difficult to grasp these terms.
The consultation introduces the concept of ‘super-complaints’ where designated organisations would be able to raise complaints on behalf of certain groups of people. It is suggested that the IPCC could receive and triage such complaints.
In addition to changes to the police complaints system, the consultation proposes an overhaul of the police disciplinary system as a whole, including the handling of conduct and performance issues. The Chapman Review made a number of recommendations for reform of the disciplinary system including:
- Establishing a register of police officers and staff members, so that any officer who is dismissed, or resigns or retires prior to a misconduct hearing, is ‘struck off’ the register - in some ways this echoes the recommendation of the Stevens Commission that would align policing with other professions (see our post here for further details);
- Holding police disciplinary hearings regionally rather than locally to achieve more consistency in outcomes; and
- Holding disciplinary hearings and Appeal Tribunal’s in public to improve public confidence.
The Government also make proposals for clarifying and strengthening the role of the IPCC, and providing greater protection to whistleblowers.
The consultation closes on 5 February 2013.