Little consistency in way police forces handle complaints, according to watchdog

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Police forces show little consistency in the way they handle complaints, according to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

The police watchdog has published the 2015-16 national police complaints statistics.

They show that in the Northumbria force area, there were 716 complaints in total - a 30% decrease on the year before. The total number of appeals made by dissatisfied complainants was 251 – a 16% increase.

In the Durham area, meanwhile, there were 399 complaints in total - a 27% increase on the year before. The total number of appeals made by dissatisfied complainants was 82 – a 49% increase.

The statistics showed:

• The overall number of complaints has fallen by 8%, but this disguises significant falls in some forces, and considerable increases in others

• Some forces choose to handle over 70% of complaints through the informal local resolution process, whereas others choose to use formal investigation in over 70% of cases. In Northumbria, 55% of cases were investigated and 30% were dealt with through the local resolution process, while in Durham those figures were 38% and 48% respectively.

• Overall, forces uphold only 19% of appeals against their own local investigations, whereas when such appeals come to the IPCC, 41% are upheld. Again, there are significant variations within those figures, with some forces never upholding an appeal and some upholding over a third. Northumbria upheld 16% of its investigation appeals (9 out of 58) and Durham upheld 0% (0 out of 31). The IPCC upheld 53% of appeals made about Northumbria complaint investigations (40 out of 75), and 27% about Durham investigations (4 out of 15).

IPCC Chair Dame Anne Owers said: “We know that the police complaints system is over-complex and over-bureaucratic, and that is part of the reason for the inconsistencies between forces.

"Forces can deal with complaints informally through local resolution, but if complaints are so serious that they could result in disciplinary action, they have to formally investigate them.

"Some forces choose local resolution in over 70% of cases; others investigate over 70%.

"It is very unlikely that the profile of cases among forces varies so widely; so this appears to be a postcode lottery.

“When complainants are dissatisfied with a local police investigation, they can appeal.

"Some of these appeals are dealt with by the force itself; others come to the IPCC.

"We have previously expressed concerns about forces marking their own homework.

"Overall, the IPCC is twice as likely to uphold an appeal as local forces. Ten forces never upheld an investigation appeal.

“We welcome the fact that the Policing and Crime Bill currently before parliament responds to many of our concerns.

"It seeks to simplify the system and make it more accessible, and crucially provides independent review of all local police complaint investigations, through either Police and Crime Commissioners or the IPCC.”