Officers confront police watchdog

16 May 2017

Dame Anne Owers, Chair of the IPCC

Dame Anne Owers, Chair of the IPCC

The Independent Police Complaints Commission was accused of being secretive, untrustworthy and obsessed with the blame culture at the Federation conference today.

Officer after officer stood up to recount tales of suspensions and lengthy investigations at the hands of the watchdog as the organisation’s chair, Dame Anne Owers, took part in a session on discipline.

PFEW conduct lead Phill Matthews told her: “It’s the continual frustration of the lack of information, both from professional standards directorates and the IPCC. We cannot get any information about how your investigations are continuing – this goes on for six months or a year and we hear absolutely nothing.

“Please answer our questions – if there’s a reason why things are not moving along, then tell us and we can try and reassure the officers. It’s almost like you don’t want to tell us what you are doing – and that can’t be right.

“In the meantime these investigations have a massive corrosive effect on entire teams, officers are made ill. We had a custody case which meant the entire custody team shut down for two years because none of them wanted to put their neck on the line while this was hanging over them.“

Delegate, Mark Petrovic, a Nottinghamshire detective, likened being investigated to having ‘the sword of Damocles hanging over your head’, adding: “I was subject to an investigation for four and a half years, suspended for three years and came back to work to be exonerated", blaming "the poor quality of investigation by PSD and the IPCC" for his ordeal.

Dame Anne said their probes were often hampered by a lack of cooperation from witnesses and the volume of investigations - 600 a year. She said: “We have cut the length of our investigations by an average of three months, and there are four forces who taken longer than we do to complete their investigations. But we have all got to improve our game.”

The IPCC chair said the reform and restructure of the IPCC "due to take place towards the end of this year" would improve the situation and streamline their processes, with the appointment of a new Director General and regional directors.

But delegate Mike Harrison from Gloucestershire cited a case where two officers were interviewed initially as witnesses only to be served with misconduct notices. “The investigators are saying one thing and doing something else. There is no trust there.”

Vic Marshall OBE, from the Police Superintendents’ Association, who also acts as a PFEW advisor, said only a "tiny proportion of officers let down the service". The vast majority of misconduct cases stemmed from "stupid behaviour, frailty such as ill health or making a simple mistake."

The session also higlighted that police discipline needed to move from blame and punishment to a performance and learning culture. Mr Matthews added: “Believe it or not, police officers don’t go out with the intention of behaving badly but we do sometimes get it wrong. We need to get to the starting point of saying sorry for those mistakes and learning the lessons. The irony is that when police officers become subject to an inquiry, they get treated less well than if they had been arrested.”

Chief Constable Craig Guildford, the NPCC lead on conduct and performance, agreed: “As professionals, we absolutely need to learn more going forward and be less punitive.”

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