Independent Police Complaints Commission
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Police handling of complaints remains inconsistent

Police forces across England and Wales remain inconsistent in their approach to handling complaints made by the public.

Figures released by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) today (19 September 2017) show that 34,103 complaints were recorded across the country in 2016/17, an almost identical figure to last year, when 34,247 complaints were recorded.

However, there is a great deal of variation between forces, both in the number of complaints and the way they are handled.

There are three main areas of inconsistency in the approach to handling complaints:

  • the number of recorded complaints may not reflect the whole picture, because some forces try to address issues before they are recorded as a formal complaint, whereas others record complaints as soon as an issue is raised
  • when complaints are recorded, some forces choose to formally investigate most of them, while others use the less formal ‘local resolution’ process in the majority of cases
  • a dissatisfied complainant can appeal the outcome of a local investigation and this is dealt with by either the force, or the IPCC. The IPCC upholds four out of ten appeals but the police uphold fewer than two out of ten; this figure varies considerably dependent on the force.

There will be significant changes to the police complaints system in 2018, including a greater role for police and crime commissioners, who will decide on appeals that do not go to the IPCC.

The IPCC has repeated its call for the system to be simplified, and for a consistent approach to complaints and complainants across forces.

IPCC Chair Dame Anne Owers said:

“The public need to have a high level of confidence in the police complaints system. If they complain about their local police force they should be assured that it will be dealt with robustly and fairly.

“The current system is extremely complex and bureaucratic and this has led to some of the inconsistencies we have recorded year on year. It is also not sufficiently independent, since some dissatisfied complainants can only appeal to the force that rejected their complaint in the first place.

“While some local variation is unavoidable, it is clear that some forces need to look closely at their own performance and approach, where it is clearly at odds with the norm. It is welcome that some forces have done this during last year, sometimes with the assistance of our own oversight team.

“The new system will be simpler and more flexible, and will also provide an independent appeal right for everyone, either to the IPCC or to a Police and Crime Commissioner. This is welcome, but we will still need to ensure that complainants throughout the country can be assured that their complaints will be handled appropriately and thoroughly.

“We look forward to working with police and crime commissioners as they take on greater responsibility for complaints in their areas, to share knowledge and ensure effective and consistent oversight of the police complaints system.”

For a full breakdown of the complaints statistics for 2016/17 please click here for the full report:


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