The work of the Independent Police Complaints Commission - Home Affairs Committee Contents

2  The Performance of the IPCC

4. In order to achieve its statutory aim of increasing public confidence in the police complaints system, the IPCC is responsible for handling two types of case. Its work is split into the handling of "Complaints" against police conduct, and "Appeals" against the police's handling of a complaint. Both areas of the Commission's work have come under criticism.

Complaints and Investigations

5. Complaints against police conduct can be made either to the Professional Standards Department (PSD) of the force concerned or directly to the IPCC. In the period 2008-09, some 31,259 complaints were made against the police. According to Nick Hardwick, half of these were about "incivility or other neglect of duty—in plain language, rude, late and poor service" and the biggest category of complainants are white men, over 35, in non-manual occupations, who "generally have a good opinion of the police".[2] Of these 31,000 complaints against police behaviour, 2,445 were serious enough to be referred to the IPCC for investigation, an increase of 11% on the previous year, and of around two-thirds since the IPCC came into operation in 2004-05. [3]

6. Depending on the seriousness of the complaint, the IPCC has the option of one of four processes, so-called "Modes of Investigation":

  • Independent Investigations, which are carried out by the IPCC's own investigators and overseen by an IPCC Commissioner. The use of Independent Investigations is reserved for the most high-profile cases such as those involving a death after police contact. In 2008-09, 106 Independent Investigations were started and on average they took 195 working days to complete;
  • Managed Investigations are carried out by the PSD of the force against which the complaint was made, "under the direction and control" of an IPCC Investigator. In 2008-09, 117 Managed Investigations were started and on average they took 269 working days to complete;
  • In Supervised Investigations the IPCC sets the terms of reference for an inquiry conducted by the PSD of the force concerned. The results of such investigations can be appealed to the IPCC; and
  • Local Investigations are reserved for the most low profile of cases and are carried out entirely by police PSDs. These investigations also carry a right of appeal.

Local Investigations also allow the use of the "Local Resolution" (LR) procedure—with the consent of the complainant, the case can be resolved at a local level with the involvement of a police inspector and does not involve the disciplinary process. In 2008/09 41% of all complaint allegations were resolved by this method.

7. In 2008-09 only 59% of the complaints made against the police were deemed serious enough to allow the possibility of any disciplinary action. Of these 18,000 cases only 14% were then considered serious enough to be referred to the IPCC and of these, the IPCC themselves felt that only a further 223 cases justified a more labour and resource intensive Independent or Managed Investigation. In 2008-09, less than 1% of all complaints made against the Police were directly investigated by IPCC staff and just 10% of "serious" cases referred to the IPCC were subsequently managed by the IPCC's own staff. It is true to say that, 99 times out of 100 and despite the existence of the IPCC, the complaints procedure remains the "police investigating the police".

8. Nick Hardwick has cited the steady increase in the number of people making complaints against police conduct to the Commission as proof of public confidence in the complaints system.[4] Mr John Crawley disagreed that this was an adequate measure of the IPCC's success. He suggested that this may have been a valid argument in the early years after the IPCC's formation as it would be a sign of the public placing trust in a new, reformed complaints system, but he contrasted a definition of success as measured by inputs which seems to be the IPCC's preferred method, with success measured by outcomes:

Six years into the system, to continue to say the increasing number of complaints and formal investigations of complaints against a background of a very, very low percentage of such complaints being substantiated ... [is] a little bit of an 'Alice in Wonderland' argument.[5]

Mr Crawley maintained that a better measure of the IPCC's success in increasing public confidence would be through measuring the number of complaints against police conduct which were upheld, not merely made. He contrasted the increase in the number of complaints made to the IPCC with the steady proportion of claims which were subsequently upheld. He told us that "in 2008-09 just 1 in 10 complaints formally investigated [i.e. not resolved through LR Procedure] were substantiated ... a pattern that exists year after year, unaltered by the arrival of the IPCC".[6] The Police Action Lawyers Group went further and told us that while "a greater number of complaints are now made against the police ... fewer of these complaints are upheld in real terms".[7]

9. We have been provided with statistical information on the proportion of complaints which were ultimately substantiated by the IPCC or the force's PSD. The 10% "substantiation rate" was maintained despite large regional variations: for example in Northamptonshire 23% of complaints were upheld,[8] while of the 3,807 investigated complaints made against the Metropolitan Police, only 152 were substantiated. Mr Crawley did not believe these figures to be credible as it suggested that "virtually all of those complainants' complaints had no merit".[9] Both John Crawley and the Police Action Lawyers Group (PALG) suggested that these figures highlighted inconsistencies in the standard of police investigation and that the IPCC should be remedying this as part of its statutory remit. John Crawley argued that this proved the need for a "much more robust intervention at police force level to ensure that complaints are thoroughly investigated" while the PALG called for "urgent research and investigation to ascertain why ... a post-code lottery" seems to exist.[10]

10. Mr Crawley further suggested that not only was the Commission having no meaningful effect on the number of complaints against officers which were ultimately substantiated by the IPCC, or the PSD of the force concerned, it had made no attempt to discover why this was the case:

The IPPC has not (to the best of my knowledge) undertaken any significant analytic or other research or investigate [sic] work to ascertain why the patterns and problems continue ... Despite having an Intelligence Unit the IPCC appears to undertake no useful analytical work on the ... wider complaints system, being content to simply publish the annual statistics which show the same dismal pattern and trends year in, year out.[11]

Furthermore, the Commission had not tried to "engage with and change the culture of police complaints management and its reluctance to embrace an objective and rigorous approach to the fair resolution of complaints".[12] The implication was that the IPCC either did not see its role as driving up the standards of police standards departments or had singularly failed in this task.

11. Nick Hardwick suggested that the continually low number of complaints against police officers which were upheld by the IPCC could be traced back to the Commission's role, which did not place the complainant at the heart of the process:

Unlike any other complaint system the question that Parliament asks us to answer is not, "Has this member of the public received a proper service and, if not, how can we put things right?" The question you ask me to answer is, "Has this officer committed misconduct and, if so, how should they be punished?" The system is all about the officer, it is not about the complainant.[13]

As such there is a distinction between what the public view as worthy of complaint and the behaviour against which the IPCC can act; while the public complain about matters of service—for example incivility and neglect of duty—the IPCC is empowered to act only against misconduct. As Nick Hardwick told us:

for the lower level complaints what people want is an apology, an explanation or a reassurance the same thing will not happen again; only a minority are looking for an officer to be sanctioned. The problem is that the only legislative tool in the box is a decision about whether an officer should be sanctioned.[14]

12. A relatively simple means of mitigating this situation would be to remove the "opt-out" clause that exists in the resolution of cases by the Local Resolution procedure. According to John Crawley: "where there is a local resolution of a complaint, the current system does not require the individual officer to get involved or to apologise if they have done something inappropriate".[15] The most that can be achieved is for the Force to apologise on his behalf.[16]

13. There is currently a disconnect between what the public complain about, and the strictly limited task given to the IPCC in statute. That gap should be filled by a force's Professional Standards Department. Ultimately, Nick Hardwick is correct; most complainants, whose concerns arise from poor service, would just like an apology. The IPCC should act to ensure this is forthcoming more often by impressing upon police PSDs the need to investigate all complaints in a clear, open manner and from the position of remedying poor public service. We are surprised that the IPCC has apparently not taken a greater interest in this area and call on them to do so. While we do not believe that legislation should be introduced to remove the so-called "opt-out clause" which does not require individual officers to proffer an apology for their behaviour, the IPCC should also play a stronger role in ensuring this good practice is adopted by forces.


14. Of the approximately 2,500 cases which are serious enough to be referred to the IPCC each year, only around 10% are defined by the IPCC as appropriate for an investigation handled directly by the IPCC's own staff. Often these cases are related to an individual's right to life and are started after a death following police contact. John Crawley questioned the value of some of these investigations, which he said dominated the workload of the IPCC but provided no great insight into the complaints system:

Some cases, such as deaths in custody or a failure to prevent homicidal violence against women, rightly, attract great public concern. But others involve no significant issues about police handling or conduct. The problem is that the IPCC has become absorbed by too many such investigations ... this was not what it was created to do, and does not improve public confidence in the police or the complaints system.[17]

15. As well as stating that the IPCC is too focused on the investigation process and does not attempt to link the investigation to wider issues in police behaviour, John Crawley also raised concerns over the extent to which the investigation process fails to impress upon the complainant the "independence" of the Commission:

The IPCC relies upon the police description and assessment of the incident leading to a complaint in the referral form, ... it relies entirely upon and makes contact with the police; complainants are never invited to meet the IPCC to give their side of an incident. The IPCC thus often presents an impression to the public of being an arms length police investigation unit rather than a public complaints/ombudsman service.[18]

Mr Crawley's statement that families and complainants are somewhat marginalised in the investigation process was substantiated by Deborah Coles of INQUEST who told us that:

There have been concerns about disclosure of information to families during the course of the investigation and not taking onboard families' concerns about questions that they quite rightly have ...[19]

16. According to its Annual Report, the IPCC possesses the capacity for 70 Independent Investigations per year, yet for the past two years the Commission has been operating at around 50% over capacity and the number of Investigations started in 2008/09 is double that of 2005/06. We asked Mr Hardwick what impact this had on the quality of investigations. While he was adamant that the quality of investigations would not be affected, as the Commission was more efficient than previously, he did state that the main effect of this increase of workload was that the work would take longer to do.[20]

17. The increased workload of the IPCC may explain why the Investigation process can take around 269 working days to complete. Mr Hardwick suggested that the delay was often caused by a shortage of expert advice rather than a too-lengthy process by the IPCC:

An investigation will normally begin when the matter is referred to us by the force concerned, so they have to do that immediately and that will normally take place within hours of the incident occurring ... Normally what we will then do—we will send a small number of investigators to assess the situation, decide whether it is something we need to take, what resources we need and bring those in, and control the initial police handling of the scene and those sorts of issues. Then normally if we decide to investigate it the investigation process will take place. Often for us with critical issues, one of the reasons for delay is that you are waiting for critical expert advice on cause of death, medical issues or expert forensic analysis where we have to wait on other people to provide information to us before we can come to a conclusion.[21]

Deborah Coles was more willing to attribute blame for the somewhat lengthy process to the IPCC's mindset at the outset of a case hindering the investigation:

... one of the ongoing concerns of families in these kinds of cases is the failure to treat deaths in custody or following police contact as potential crimes and do important evidence-gathering at the beginning of the investigation.[22]

And in turn, this lengthy process reduces families' confidence in the results:

You want to have confidence that the death is being treated seriously ... the delay in getting the reports finished needs to be looked at ... I do think we have examples of investigations which have taken place in a timely, prompt fashion that have inspired confidence in those families concerned.[23]

Ms Rigg's experience corroborated this statement. She professed disbelief at the length of time the investigation into her brother's death had taken, and could not understand why, since the case was relatively simple, it had taken seven months to interview the officers involved in the incident, nine months to interview call handlers and 18 months to complete the investigation.[24] Ms Rigg pointed out that if the roles were reversed, and a police officer had died after contact with her brother, then Sean would have been interviewed that night.[25]

18. We put this specific example to Mr Hardwick. Mr Hardwick stated that the IPCC decides:

when to interview someone on whether we are going to treat them as a witness or a suspect, and sometimes we need to interview someone very quickly to get urgent information from them but on other occasions, we will want to do that at the end of the process when we have gathered in all the other evidence and information from everybody that we then want to put to the officer at the end of the process, as happened here[26] ... there will be occasions when the best way of getting the officers' explanation of what they have done and why is to put the evidence that we have collected in its entirety to them at the end of the process.[27]

19. The Police Federation have criticised this process, stating that the legal status of officers under investigation is not clear, and suggesting that deciding to deem an officer a suspect late in an investigation is unhelpful, often leaving the officer in question in limbo:

If they [the officer] are deemed to be a subject then they have a right to legal advice. But all too often there is a delay in that decision being taken by the IPCC. It is not unheard of for officers who have been told that they are not under investigation to later have that decision reversed which can adversely affect the officer as a result of something that may have been stated as a witness.[28]

The Federation also believed that the investigation itself takes much too long, certainly when compared with an "internal" investigation by a force's PSD,[29] suggesting that they also did not approve of the standard process adopted by the IPCC and described to us by Mr Hardwick.

20. The specifics of exactly why investigations take so long is largely beyond our remit. We will therefore restrict our comments to stating that a process lasting up to 269 working days is unsatisfactory to all concerned and does nothing to increase anybody's confidence in it. All of the evidence we have received suggests that an investigation taking this long reduces trust in the process. While we are unable to comment on exactly how to reduce the length of investigations and so prevent this problem occurring, we can recommend that the IPCC should do more to mitigate its effects. While the investigation itself may be a complex process, this does not prevent the disclosure of information to interested parties. We strongly feel that a more open process involving, for example, the sharing of proposed timetables of work and completion dates, a greater explanation of how the investigation is developing and where possible, the sharing of initial evidence such as CCTV recordings, would increase the confidence of those using the system and remove the doubt and uncertainty which has been reported to us far too often.


21. In addition to handling complaints against police performance and misconduct, the IPCC can also be appealed to over the way a local force handled a complaint, the outcome of a supervised or local investigation or the use of the Local Resolution procedure. In 2008/09 the IPCC handled 4,634 of these cases, an increase of 12% on the previous year and a 4.5-fold increase since 2004/05. According to Nick Hardwick, 33% of these appeals were upheld[30] and referred back to the police force or a disciplinary tribunal for further action. In subsequent written evidence to us,[31] Mr Crawley disputed both the headline figure of 33% and criticised the actions of the IPCC after an appeal has been upheld. He stated that:

When a complainant's appeal is upheld because the police investigation was inadequate the IPCC has the power to intervene directly by managing any necessary re-investigation itself, or even independently investigating where desirable ... [but] for 2008/09 out of 158 appeals where re-investigation was required not once did it use this power.

He suggested that "this sends quite the wrong message to the police that the appeals system will never 'bite' so far as seriously inadequate investigations are concerned and it is not designed to increase public confidence in its appeal role."

22. More generally, John Crawley characterised the appeals function of the IPCC as a "Cinderella service", stating that the culture of the IPCC is dominated by its high profile investigations function. Despite the appeals system being the main source of IPCC contact with the public, there is no "effective championing of the appeals system within the IPCC" and no "fostering of the complainant perspective generally within the organisation".[32] In his view, the end result of this subordination of the appeals function is that:

where you are getting complaints concerning local policing... where the sort of confidence in the police really rubs, because that is what gets networked around neighbourhoods in that area—the IPCC is not accessible. I do not think it is responsive.[33]

As proof of his belief that the IPCC contains an "institutional bias against complainants" he cited the fact that determining appeals, a crucial statutory function, is left to the most junior decision-makers in the organisation, Casework Managers, some of whom will be "short-term contract-workers brought in to clear up the backlog of appeals".[34] The result of this delegation of responsibility is that relatively inexperienced and junior staff are left dealing with senior police officers in a Professional Standards Department of a force, and "the Casework Manager is likely to settle for the easier option, disappointing the complainant rather than upsetting the force".[35]

23. John Crawley made several detailed recommendations to improve the perception and the performance of the appeals function within the IPCC. In order to ensure that adequate resources and attention is given to the appeals function, he proposed making users' confidence in the quality of the appeals service a clearly-defined performance target. This would focus management attention on to that function. Mr Crawley also argued that the IPCC needed to be much more selective in when and where it operated, subjecting forces to a risk-assessment and targeting resources on "potentially worrying patterns of complaint within a force", while diverting resources away from those forces deemed to be performing adequately:

It [The IPCC] needs a much more structured regular system of knowing what the local concerns of people are about their local force. That then informs, if you like, an intelligence-based approach where they call in complaints, and say, "We need to take a closer look at this force, but over here we are pretty satisfied that that force is doing a good job".[36]

He suggested that this approach would allow the IPCC to meet much more closely the needs and expectations of the public.

24. The IPCC is not an insubstantial organisation—it has a staff of around 400 people[37] and a budget of £35 million per annum.[38] Despite this, it is lacking clear benchmarks for success. We would like to know what the Home Secretary considers an appropriate measure of the IPCC's performance. Broadly, is the success of the Commission to be measured in inputs or outcomes? We also ask him to introduce clear, statistical targets, based on, for example, complainant satisfaction, to set an easily understandable measure of the IPCC's performance.

2   Q 69 Back

3   Unless otherwise cited, statistical information on the performance of the IPCC is taken from the IPCC Annual Report and statement of accounts 2008/09. Back

4   Q 71, and, See: The Independent Police Complaints Commission, "File on 4", BBC Radio 4, 19 January 2010 Back

5   Q 31 Back

6   Ev 17 Back

7   Ev 32 Back

8   Ibid. Back

9   Q 35 Back

10   Ev 32 Back

11   Ev 17 Back

12   Ev 27 Back

13   Q 68 Back

14   Q 75 Back

15   Q 45 Back

16   Ev 17 Back

17   Ibid. Back

18   Ev 17 Back

19   Q 28 Back

20   Q 80 Back

21   Q 81 Back

22   Q 27 Back

23   Q 28 Back

24   Q 13 Back

25   Q 16 Back

26   Q 85 Back

27   Q 88 Back

28   Ev 30 Back

29   Ev 30 Back

30   Q 68 Back

31   Ev 23 Back

32   Ev 17 Back

33   Q 40 Back

34   Ev 17 Back

35   Q 34 Back

36   Q 41 Back

37   IPCC Website: Back

38   IPCC Annual Report and statement of accounts 2008/09 Back

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