Home News Home Secretary announces reforms to Independent Police Complaints Commission

Home Secretary announces reforms to Independent Police Complaints Commission

by Brian Sims
Home Secretary Theresa May

Home Secretary Theresa May

The Home Secretary has announced that the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) will be reformed and renamed to improve efficiencies, drive more effective governance and make it more responsive to the public.

Theresa May has concluded that the IPCC’s existing governance model is no longer suitable for the expanding organisation and in light of its enhanced role in the reformed police disciplinary and complaints systems, which will be overhauled as a result of measures put forward in the Policing and Crime Bill.

The Home Secretary has announced her intention to bring forward amendments to that Bill in order to create a new governance model for the police complaints body.

The reformed organisation will be headed by a director general instead of a large number of commissioners. The director general will be appointed by Her Majesty The Queen and ultimately be accountable for individual casework decisions, including in respect of the investigation of the most serious and sensitive allegations involving the police.

Corporate governance will be provided by a Board comprising a majority of non-executive directors appointed by the Home Secretary to challenge and have oversight of the overall running of the organisation.

Capable and resilient

These changes will deliver a more capable and resilient IPCC with clear lines of accountability and decision-making, which is of particular importance as the organisation takes on all serious and sensitive cases.

The IPCC will also be renamed the Office for Police Conduct to reflect its expanded role investigating serious and sensitive matters and the fact there will be no commissioners under the new governance model.

Home Secretary Theresa May said: “The majority of police officers and police staff discharge their duties with integrity and professionalism, upholding the best traditions of policing in this country. However, where the actions of a minority fall short of the high standards the public is entitled to expect, there need to be arrangements in place such that the conduct in question can be properly looked into and the matter resolved in a timely and proportionate manner.”

May continued: “The Policing and Crime Bill will build on reforms we’ve already introduced and make the police complaints and discipline systems simpler, more transparent and more robust. It also includes provisions to increase the powers and independence of the IPCC.”

In conclusion, the Home Secretary commented: “At a time when the IPCC is growing as an organisation to take on all serious and sensitive cases, it needs to be more streamlined, more responsive to the public and better able to cope with the cases it’s taking on. The IPCC is supportive of the need for reform, and I’m grateful for the input and co-operation of the current chairman and chief executive during the development of these proposals.”

Increased powers

The reforms in the Policing and Crime Bill increase the IPCC’s powers, including the ability to initiate its own investigations and recommending remedies.

The Home Secretary’s announcement follows an independent review conducted by Sheila Drew Smith and the Home Office’s recent consultation on changes to the governance of the IPCC.

The Government’s response to the consultation is now published. It sets out the plans to reform the governance arrangements of the IPCC to ensure they’re fit for purpose both now and in the future.

Police use of force

A comprehensive system to record incidents when police in England and Wales have used force is urgently needed in order to identify concerns and improve public confidence, the Independent Police Complaints Commission has stated.

The IPCC’s Police Use of Force study brings together evidence from complaints and investigations as well as examining public perceptions. The research looked at the use of firearms, Taser and restraint techniques among other types of force.

The report finds the public believe the police now use force more readily than a decade ago, and also believe that police use firearms much more often than they actually do.

The average figure for people who trust the police to use reasonable force was 83%. However, the levels of trust in police use of force were lower among younger people (71%) and in black and minority ethnic communities (76%).

IPCC chair Dame Anne Owers said: “People understand and expect that our police officers should have the power to use force when it’s necessary to protect the public. However, officers must be accountable for their use of force, and particularly so when it leads to death or serious injury.”

Owers added: “Partly, this is done through investigations of serious incidents, but a significant part of accountability is ensuring that the police consistently collect, analyse and publish data about how and when force is used. This allows areas of concern to be identified. It can also improve public confidence by providing factual information to local communities.”

The report examined complaints recorded by the police. It found forces are less likely to uphold complaints about the use of force than other types of complaint. Yet when those complainants appeal to the IPCC, their appeal is more likely to succeed than other types of appeal, particularly if the complainant comes from a black or minority ethnic community.

The research also looked at a five-year sample of IPCC investigations into the most serious incidents of use of force. Findings from these incidents included:

• a high rate of fatalities when restraint equipment was used, or when police used force in a hospital
• the disproportionate number of people with mental health concerns who died or experienced multiple uses of force
• young people experiencing use of force were disproportionately likely to be of a BME background
• there were concerns about half of the incidents that took place in police custody
• half the incidents investigated took place between 9.00 pm and 3.00 am when other services are less likely to be available

Mental health concerns

“The report raises particular concerns about the use of force on those with mental health concerns who are particularly vulnerable, but who may also present challenges and risks to themselves and others,” explained Owers.

“Not only do police need training in recognising and communicating with people in mental health crisis, but there’s also an urgent need to invest in appropriate mental health services in order to prevent such crises or manage people through them.”

The IPCC report makes 20 recommendations to police and policing stakeholder groups, including the need to consistently record and publish data for public scrutiny and for forces to seek feedback from people who have had force used against them.

Response from the NPCC

National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Conflict Management, Chief Constable David Shaw, has responded to publication of the IPCC’s report.

“This report adds to the body of knowledge into this very important aspect of policing,” suggested Shaw. “How, when and where police use force lies rights at the heart of legitimacy, public trust and policing by consent.”

Shaw went on to state: “There are some very positive findings in the report. However, I recognise there’s important work to do to collect and analyse data on use of force such that policing can learn from the results and information is publicly available. The review of the use of force that I’m conducting is aimed at addressing these issues.”

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