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IPCC reform: will it go far enough?

21 March 2016

The Home Secretary has announced that the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is to be reformed and renamed.

Theresa May believes this will 'improve efficiency, drive more effective governance and make it more responsive to the public' having concluded its existing governance model is no longer suitable for the expanding organisation due to its enhanced role in the reformed police disciplinary and complaints systems, according to a Home Office statement.

I have no real problem with this; any move to improve the IPCC, and particularly make it more responsive to the public, has to be welcomed. But, from what I have gleaned so far, there appears to be no plan in place to make the new Office for Police Conduct improve the way it treats police officers.

Admittedly, the Home Secretary did explain in the statement that the vast majority of police officers and police staff discharge their duties with integrity and professionalism, upholding the best traditions of policing in this country.

We would agree with Mrs May on that point and, equally, we understand the need for officers - and staff - who fall short of the standards rightly demanded of them should expect their conduct to be looked into.

However, there is a sticking point. Mrs May explains that these matters should be resolved in a timely and proportionate manner and that is where the IPCC is found to be woefully lacking.

Time and time again, we see officers facing unnecessarily prolonged investigations, during which they - and their families - find themselves in limbo. This can have a huge impact on the mental wellbeing of the officers themselves and cannot benefit the organisation in managing their staff. There appears to be no clear and consistent procedure for keeping those officers updated. While there is a requirement for the IPCC to update officers every 28 days, that is not always happening and seems to depend on the whim of the IPCC's investigating officer.

There also seems to be a game of 'ping pong' between the IPCC and forces, as they grapple over responsibilities. Once the IPCC takes on an investigation, it should not allow this to happen, it should take ownership, there should be clear role definitions, investigators should remember the officers involved are professional people, they should be treated as such.

The Policing and Crime Bill aims to make the police complaints and discipline systems simpler, more transparent and more robust, according to the Home Office. It also includes provisions to increase the powers and independence of the IPCC.

Let's hope that this is the case. And let's also hope this is not just a re-naming or re-branding exercise. Police officers deserve better than that, and so do the communities they serve.

Tiff Lynch