The long awaited reforms to police complaints and discipline regulations came into force from the 1st February. These reforms form part of a process of overhaul of the complaints and discipline system that were outlined in the 2017 Policing and Crime Act.
Changes include a simplification of what constitutes a complaint. Whereas previously police forces needed to assess whether a ‘complaint’ received met the definition of the Police Reform Act 2002, the new definition is as follows: Any expression of dissatisfaction with a police force which is expressed (whether in writing or otherwise) by or on behalf of a member of the public. It is hoped that this new, simplified definition will help demystify the process for the public and will allow police forces to work to resolve areas of concern raised by the public.
Once a force receives a complaint they will be expected to establish contact with the complainant to find out how they want the matter dealt with. This could be through either formal or informal channels and will be handled by either the force itself, the Police and Crime Commissioner if the complaint relates to the Chief Constable, or in certain circumstances, by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).
One significant change brought by the reforms is the role that the PCC will have in handling appeals against the outcome of a complaint investigation. Whereas previously the appeal was usually heard by Chief Constable of a force, often delegated to one of the other senior officer team, the new system will see the right to request a review being directed to the PCC with a hope that this will add a level of independence to the process.
The legislation also allows for the PCC to take on responsibilities in the handling of complaints, though the investigation would remain with the police force concerned. In the East Midlands all bar one of the PCC have opted to handle only the review part of the process, with Northamptonshire taking on a responsibility for the initial handling of complaints.
When undertaking a review of a forces handling of a complaint, the PCC will have two considerations to make. Firstly were the force’s actions ‘reasonable’, and secondly were they proportionate? The PCC will not be able to reinvestigate the complaint or pass comment on the outcome. If the PCC believes that the force’s actions were either unreasonable or disproportionate they will make a recommendation to the Chief Constable and will require a formal response from the Chief to their findings.
When asked about the reforms Hardyal Dhindsa, Police and Crime Commissioner for Derbyshire. said: “It has often been said that the current system of handling complaints contains elements of the police marking their own homework. I welcome the opportunity to be able to provide an independent review function and I hope that this will encourage people to have the confidence to complain if they don’t feel they have had the service they expected. It is through this kind of feedback I would expect the Force to reflect on performance and how it deals with the public.”
For more information about the reforms, and about the process of making a complaint, please visit the IOPC’s website at www.policeconduct.gov.uk