Police complaints could be investigated by 'crime commissioners'.

Thu 11th December 2014

Police forces in England and Wales could be stripped of the powers to deal with public complaints against their officers under new reforms. 

Home Secretary Theresa May has begun consulting on plans to allow directly-elected police and crime commissioners to take charge and Paul Clark, CEO of complaints specialist Charter UK, believes the reforms are a step in the right direction. 

"Public trust in our security services is vital, and so complaints relating to the police are arguably the most important kind of complaints to handle correctly," he said. "The Home Office's spotlight on ensuring that happens is therefore a very sensible move. 

"Complaints against large public sector organisations can feel like a David and Goliath battle in which an individual voice is easily overshadowed, and the police force is no exception. In 2012-13 89% of those dissatisfied with the police did not complain, showing that public faith in the current system needs to be improved. 

"The important factors in restoring public faith in any complaints handling process are autonomy, independence and transparency, all three of which will be partly satisfied by the government's proposals to move all complaints to a separate body and conduct hearings in public.'' 

"However, there are also dangers in this approach, key among which is the ability of police forces to utilise their complaints to implement positive change in their organisations. By and large the police do a great job of keeping us safe, and any barrier between the forces and the information that will help them constantly evolve and improve is something that should be very carefully considered.'' 

"Any change must retain the ability of senior officers to conduct thorough and efficient root cause analysis through which they can highlight, understand and fix any problems that are causing complaints or public dissatisfaction." 

Mr Clark believes that the financial services industry offers a best practice model for effective complaints handling and ensuring that problems are acted upon and root cause analysis. "This system, composed of strong regulatory checks and balances, public reporting and an independent ombudsman to back up customer grievances, allows the financial sector to quickly gain a very firm handle on customer grievances," he pointed out. "As the home office looks to shake up police complaints, this is a model it would do well to consider."