Independent Police Complaints Commission - Home Affairs Committee Contents

3  Police complaints procedures

17.  In 2011-12, 31,771 police officers were subject to a complaint, out of a total of 134,101 officers in England and Wales. The table below shows the ranks of these officers:
Police Officer Ranks Number
Senior Officer Ranks (all ranks above Chief Superintendent) 31
Chief Superintendent 41
Chief Inspector152
Other police officer ranks 3,291
Rank unknown1,625

Source: IPCC, Police complaints: statistics for England and Wales 2011/12

18.  The Commission only investigates a small proportion of ordinary police complaints (usually when a decision made by a police force is appealed) and deals with automatic referrals of the most serious cases. The vast majority of complaints are investigated by the police force involved or by a neighbouring force: in 2011-12 the Commission completed 130 independent investigations.[19]

19.  Of course, the IPCC could not be called upon to investigate all police complaints. However, many of our witnesses believed that the Commission ought to take on a greater proportion of the more serious cases. One witness said that her complaint had been "recycled by the IPCC back to the original people who abused the system in the first place".[20] Frustration that the police were left to investigate themselves even in relatively serious cases was widespread.
Modes of investigation

When the Commission receives a complaint or a referral, it decides how it should be dealt with. This is referred to as a "mode of investigation" decision.

a)  Local Resolution, carried out entirely by the police with the complainant's consent. There is a right of appeal to the Commission.

b)  Supervised investigations, where the IPCC sets out terms of reference for the police. There is a right of appeal to the Commission.

c)  Managed investigations, carried out by police forces under the direction and control of the Commission.

d)  Independent investigations, carried out by the Commission's own investigators and overseen by a Commissioner.

The IPCC's ability to get to the truth

20.  It is crucial that the IPCC is able to get to the truth in serious cases involving police corruption or deaths in custody. Many witnesses were concerned that the IPCC's involvement in death and serious injury cases involving police officers was far too remote. Serious questions were raised about the capacity of the Commission to conduct a proper investigation into the circumstances surrounding the cases referred to it. Without a proper investigation, those involved cannot be confident that the truth has been told.

21.  A major obstacle was the IPCC's access to specialists who could analyse a possible crime scene. Inquest suggested that the Commission should have a panel of independent experts, rather than rely on police investigators and that investigators should be cautious about including untested police versions of events in their instructions and take note of new developments.[21] The Police Action Lawyers Group and Inquest believed that there should be an IPCC team to attend scenes of death very quickly following police contact in order to take control of the scene and begin the process of gathering evidence.[22] Securing evidence quickly and independently is vital in these cases to provide the public with assurance that justice is done.

22.  The impact of the IPCC's lack of investigative resources is illustrated in some of the stories we heard from families like the Riggs. Marcia Rigg told us that her family had "basically been conducting the investigation ourselves because we have absolutely had no faith in the IPCC's investigation at all from the very outset" and suggested that "the evidence quite clearly showed quite the opposite of what the IPCC's conclusion was in their report".[23] Deborah Coles, Director of Inquest, believed that this demonstrated the Commission's lack of capacity, skills and expertise to run an effective investigation.[24] The IPCC's announcement of a review of its own investigation in this case is a welcome sign that the Commission is aware of the magnitude of the effects of this kind of investigation for the families of those involved and for improving police practices where fault is found.

23.  More cases should be investigated independently by the Commission, instead of referred back to the original force on a complaints roundabout. "Supervised investigations" do not offer rigorous oversight of a police investigation, nor do they necessarily give the public a convincing assurance that the investigation will be conducted objectively. This kind of "oversight-lite" is no better than a placebo.

24.  The IPCC owes it to the families of those who die in cases involving the police to get to the truth of the matter—a botched job is an offence to all concerned. When the IPCC does investigate it often comes too late and takes too long. The trail is left to go cold. IPCC investigators should be able to take immediate control of a potential crime scene during the crucial "golden hours" and early days of an investigation into deaths and serious injury involving police officers.

Police complaints statistics

25.  The following table shows the number of complaints received by each force, along with the percentage change from 2010-11 to 2011-12. A positive value in the fourth column shows that the number of complaints has risen, while a negative value indicates a fall in the number of complaints. Hampshire experienced the highest percentage increase in the number of complaints—26%—while the number of complaints fell in Warwickshire by 37%.
Police force Complaints in 2010-11 Complaints in 2011-12 % change
Hampshire 648 81926
Durham199 24322
Derbyshire 506 58115
Lincolnshire 430 49014
Gloucestershire 314353 12
Northumbria 608 68012
Wiltshire 408 4213
Cleveland 436 4432
Devon and Cornwall 1,0281,048 2
British Transport Police 418419 0
Dyfed-Powys 287 2870
Lancashire 807 795-1
Merseyside 761 753-1
Avon and Somerset 924905 -2
Leicestershire 471 451-4
Surrey672 648-4
Essex 880 838-5
Kent 778 742-5
Nottinghamshire 476452 -5
South Wales 675 640-5
Sussex 745 706-5
North Yorkshire 525 496-6
Norfolk 550 498-9
Thames Valley 1,147 1,045-9
City of London 120 108-10
Dorset 410 363-11
Cheshire 476 421-12
Greater Manchester 1,1551,021 -12
Metropolitan 7,493 6,610-12
West Yorkshire 940 819-13
Gwent 387 330-15
Humberside 526 449-15
Staffordshire 437 368-16
West Midlands 1,871 1,536-18
Hertfordshire 414 326-21
South Yorkshire 528 419-21
Cambridgeshire 455 354-22
North Wales 382 298-22
Suffolk 336 261-22
Cumbria 293 216-26
Northamptonshire 535376 -30
West Mercia 987 693-30
Bedfordshire 355 229-35
Warwickshire 306 193-37
Total 33,099 30,143-9

Source: IPCC, Police complaints: statistics for England and Wales 2011/12

The IPCC can't afford to do more

26.  In order to take on investigation of the most serious cases, it is necessary for the Commission to have the manpower and finance, but we found that the Commission is currently under-resourced. This was both because of a lack of funding and the severe drain on resources caused by the volume of appeals into decisions made by police forces themselves.

27.  Like all public bodies, it is expected that the IPCC should play its part in efforts to reduce public spending, but under current plans the Commission would not have sufficient resources to deal with an increased number of independent investigations.[25] The Commission's activities are primarily funded through Grant-in-Aid from the Home Office. This funding falls from £35.365 million in 2010-11 to £30.741 million in 2014-15, a cut in cash terms of 13%. The Commission calculated that this equated to a real-terms budget reduction in excess of 21% over the Comprehensive Spending Review period.

28.  Dame Anne Owers, Chair of the IPCC, and Jane Furniss, its Chief Executive, both denied that resource constraints were currently preventing the Commission from undertaking an independent investigation in cases where it was really necessary. However, they believed that the possibility was not far away, which Dame Anne thought could become a particular concern in cases of alleged corruption or racism.[26] Others believed that funding limitations were already affecting mode of investigation decisions, pointing to inconsistencies in the decision making of the Commission about which cases were suitable to be independently investigated. It appeared to the Police Superintendents' Association that these decisions were often made on the basis of available resources rather than the details of the case.[27]

29.  The IPCC provided us with an estimated cost for an independent investigation based on an average investigation. Some independent investigations may cost as little as £45,000 while more complex investigations can reach up to £300,000. The figures provided for managed and supervised investigations relate only to the IPCC cost and do not take account of the majority of costs which fall to the appropriate authority, usually the relevant police force.

Mode of investigation Illustrative cost (incurred by the IPCC)
Independent £120,000
Managed £14,000
Supervised £3,000

30.  The Commission told us that a backlog of appeals had begun to build since the need to make financial savings had obliged it to reduce its complement of temporary staff.[28] It concluded that "the Commission does not currently have sufficient resources to enable it to meet its statutory responsibility or the public's growing expectations of its role".[29] As the Association of Chief Police Officers noted, "any real or perceived delay in holding individuals or the Service to account can undermine confidence in the IPCC, and by association, the Service", so any delay in responding to cases is damaging to the Commission's main objective.[30] We note the statement on the IPCC website that it currently takes up to 26 weeks for an appeal to be completed and that the commission is currently processing appeals received before 30 July 2012.

31.  Individual forces have significant resources invested in their Professional Standards Departments—the IPCC has a smaller budget than the Professional Standards Department of the Metropolitan Police alone.[31] Rather than rely on forces to conduct their own investigations, or borrow teams of crime scene investigators, in the most serious cases some of those funds could be redirected to fund independent work by the IPCC.

32.  It is deeply worrying that the Commission now feels that its level of resourcing has dropped below a level at which it can properly discharge its statutory functions and meet public expectations, to the extent that a backlog of appeals is now building up. We recognise that it will not be easy to find significant additional resources. We recommend that the Home Office work with the Commission to identify innovative ways in which the backlog might be cleared, for example by using temporary secondments of staff from other public authorities with relevant expertise, such as the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration or HM Inspectorate of Constabulary. More robust procedures should be put in place at the permission stage of appeals in order to filter out more minor cases in order to allow the IPCC to focus on the most serious.

33.  Important cases are under-investigated because of a lack of access to independent specialists. The Home Office should provide the IPCC with a specific budget for a serious cases response team. The resources within individual forces for investigating complaints dwarf the resources of the Commission. It is notable that the IPCC is smaller than the complaints department of the Metropolitan Police alone. In the most serious cases, therefore, there should be a system for transfer of funds from individual forces to the IPCC to cover an investigation. This model is already in place for the IPCC's investigations into HMRC and UKBA.

34.  These issues particularly affect minorities. There is ongoing concern about racism in the police and the IPCC.[32] Black people account for 2.9% of the population, but 20% of those who die in custody. Over 33% of cases in which a black detainee had died occurred in circumstances in which police actions may have been a factor, compared with only 4% of cases where the detainee was white.[33] In 2008 black and minority ethnic communities deaths accounted for 32% of all deaths in police custody, a figure which is broadly consistent with other recent years.[34] Tackling the issue of proper oversight of a potential crime scene involving officers could therefore be an important step in increasing confidence among minority communities.

35.  Applying non-discriminatory practices is crucial as a disproportionate number of the cases that cause the most serious public concern involve the black and minority ethnic (BME) communities. All Commissioners, investigators and caseworkers should be trained in discrimination awareness and relevant law, including all the protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010. Again, leadership in this respect should come from Commissioners themselves, of whom three of thirteen will be from BME communities when the new Commissioners take up office.

18   Ev 99 [IPCC] Back

19   Ev 73 [Home Office], para19; IPCC, Police complaints: statistics for England and Wales 2011/12 Back

20   Ev w38 [Donna M Gardner], para 3; Ev w13 [Netpol], para 4 Back

21   Ev 113 [Inquest], paras 38-39 Back

22   Ev 109 [Police Action Lawyers Group], para 3 Back

23   Q 95 Back

24   Q 101 Back

25   Ev 76 [PSAEW], para 3.1; Ev 82 [IPCC], para 21 Back

26   IPCC, Annual report and statement of accounts 2011/12, HC 292, July 2012 Back

27   Ev 78 [PSAEW], para 9.2 Back

28   Ev 82 [IPCC], para 20 Back

29   Ev 82 [IPCC], para 21 Back

30   Ev 120 [ACPO], para 21 Back

31   Q 87 [Dame Owers] Back

32   Ev w68 [Natasha Sivanandan] Back

33   Ev 94 [BMH UK], para 14 Back

34   Ev 110 [Inquest], para 7  Back

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Prepared 1 February 2013