New watchdog unveils reform

22 May 2018

IOPC panel

The boss of the new police watchdog the Independent Office for Police Complaints (IOPC) was keen to lay out its new ‘performance not blame’ culture at conference today.

But new Director General Michael Lockwood then faced a storm of criticism from delegates over the organisation’s recent decision over a Met Firearms officer known as W80.

The IOPC last week directed that the officer should face a Gross Misconduct hearing over the shooting of Jermaine Baker in 2015 – even though the Crown Prosecution Service has twice decided that he will face no criminal charges.

Dave Keen, the chair of Nottinghamshire Police Federation, raised what was called a “double jeopardy scenario” to cheers from the audience. Phill Matthews, the Federation’s conduct and performance lead, said that ‘case to answer’ was ‘broken’ and that decisions like that  “ don’t improve public confidence; they let families down and really undermine morale – not just that of the officer, but their entire team. It’s a waste of public money and public time.”

Mr Lockwood defended the IOPC and its predecessor the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC)  and said that since 2010 there had been 29 investigations for firearms incidents and that officers had been treated as witnesses [and not suspects] in all but three investigations.

He said: “We are not judge and jury but we are obliged to look at these cases through legislation where there is a ‘case to answer.’  He said misconduct hearings were independent and had a different threshold of proof.

But he also faced criticism over moves to introduce new misconduct measures for officers who declined to be interviewed on the advice of their lawyer post-incident for fear of being treated as a suspect further down the line of any investigation.

The so-called ‘Duty of Candour’ is a key sticking point for the Police Federation who are opposing the move in Phase Three of the Home Office’s new Misconduct  Regulations.

Federation Board member Barry Fletcher asked :”Why, if you are so keen on using the word ‘trust’ are the IOPC supporting the Home Office on this?” Fellow Board member Simon Kempton also challenged Mr Lockwood on the issue: “ When the spotlight is on you, do you take the advice of your solicitor, or give a full witness statement – that may then end up with your liberty being taken away from you?”

Ollie Cochran from the Metropolitan Police Federation also complained about the IOPC/ IPCC compelling officers to give witness statements on ‘six-year-old cases.’

Mr Lockwood admitted timeliness was an issue and said it was one of the organisation’s top priorities, although they had inherited multiple ‘legacy’ cases from the former IPCC. But he insisted they needed to quiz witnesses to understand the facts of investigations.

He said: “We need to get better as an organisation. We are on a journey, but we are not at the end of the journey. But we cannot do it on our own.”

Alongside timelessness, better communication throughout investigations, disclosure and relationship building with stakeholders – including the Federation, were other priorities.

Key issues the IOPC would be focussing on would be :

• Abuse of authority for sexual or financial gain
• Discrimination
• Mental health issues
• Domestic abuse
• Near misses in custody and
• Road traffic incidents

He said: “Mental health issues are all too often a factor in deaths in custody and a range of other cases. In 2016/17 eight of 14 deaths in or following police contact had known mental health problems. This is an area of concern for all our major stakeholders; all agree there are big opportunities for learning and improvement.”

He added: “ Road traffic incidents are the subject of much debate. The number of people killed in 2016/17 in police pursuits was the highest in more than a decade and two thirds were passengers, bystanders or other road users.”

But he said: “ We will not sort out all these issues in one year. Accountability is just part of the picture. Sharing insight; making learning recommendations and bringing about change is where we can really impact on public confidence in the Criminal Justice System.”