Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC - formerly IPCC)
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New research reveals major barriers for people with mental health concerns making a complaint about policing

Fear of harassment, concerns about bias and not understanding how to make a complaint are some of the issues preventing people with mental health conditions using the police complaints system research has revealed.

The research, commissioned by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) and published yesterday, was conducted by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) through a targeted survey of people with mental health concerns in England and Wales and focus groups drawn from different geographical regions.

Results reveal participants considered there to be a number of barriers to using the police complaints system with many unaware of how to complain or that they had a right to do so. Of those questioned in the survey, 42 per cent had not heard of the IOPC or IPCC, the body that pre-existed the IOPC.

Those aware of the complaints system listed a number of reasons why they would not make a complaint, including fear of harassment, a belief they would be treated unfairly or their condition handled insensitively and concern that the process would be so stressful it would make their condition worse.

Michael Lockwood, Director General of the IOPC, yesterday said:

“People with mental health concerns find it particularly challenging to make a complaint against the police. This is due to a number of complex and interacting reasons.

“Policing and mental health is a huge challenge that will require cooperation and collaboration across the policing community, Government and the health service as evidenced in a report issued by HMICFRS yesterday.

“The IOPC is keen to explore opportunities to improve how we work and utilise specialist knowledge and experience from within policing, the charitable sector, health service and academia.

 “This research was commissioned to listen to those who are seldom heard and consider how we can do things differently to ensure our service meets the needs of a vulnerable group with low confidence in the police complaints system.”

“We continue to work on making the system more accessible and available to everyone in the community and this research will help to inform how we go about making changes to how we operate and how we improve the police complaints system.”

Professor Eddie Kane and Doctor Louise Thomson from IMH yesterday said:

“Our work with the IOPC on this report has independently reviewed the experiences of people living with mental health concerns when coming into contact with the police complaints system.

“We are pleased that the research will form part of the IOPC’s plan to continuously improve their systems, reduce complexity and create a complaints system that can sensitively handle the needs of someone living with mental health concerns.” 

Other concerns from participants include;

  • A perception that the process is complex and can take too long
  • A lack of advocacy or support during the complaints process
  • A perceived lack of neutrality by the police and the IOPC in handling complaints
  • That the police are not adequately trained to deal with people with mental health concerns

Questions on how the complaints system could be improved produced varied results but indicated participants would appreciate help in making a complaint, either through a specific advocate (43%), a step-by-step guide (51%) or from a mental health support service.

Participants also revealed that the outcomes they would prefer was a change in attitude (57%) or that officers would learn and improve (53%) rather than suffer punishment (11%).

Key statistics from the targeted survey;

  • 60% were not confident of how to make a complaint. 32% said they would make their complaint to the police force they were unhappy with while 18% said they would approach the IPCC/IOPC
  • 46% said they would be unlikely to make a complaint even if they were unhappy with an experience with the police
  • 49% feared harassment or other consequences, with that figure rising to 58% for those who had been in contact with police in the last 12 months
  • 60% believed they would be treated unfairly
  • 62% believed the complaint would be ignored
  • 54% were not confident the IOPC works in an impartial way, and this rose to 71% when participants had been in contact with police in the last 12 months
  • 67% were not confident the police handled complaints neutrally

Read the full report here.


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