Police failing to deal with discrimination complaints

Published on Thursday, 05 June 2014 12:21
Written by Govtoday staff

An IPCC review has found significant failings in the way three large metropolitan police forces handle complaints of discrimination.

The IPCC examined 202 completed cases to determine how West Midlands, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire police forces deal with allegations in relation to any kind of discrimination including race, disability and age. Three-quarters were race allegations.

Of 170 complaints from the public alleging discrimination only 94 were investigated and of those no discrimination allegations were upheld - yet overall the three forces uphold between 11 and 13% of complaint allegations from the public. By contrast, over half of the 32 investigations into discrimination allegations raised by the police themselves were upheld.

The report found that there was insufficient training in diversity, and that this both results in complaints and means that they are not well handled.

IPCC chair Dame Anne Owers said: "Our findings are stark - generally complaints of discrimination made by members of the public are poorly handled from beginning to end - in relation to the way the complaint is investigated, the conclusions drawn and, importantly, the contact with the complainant.

"It is vital that police forces deal effectively with allegations of discrimination. For particular sections of the community, likely to be more distrustful of the police, or more vulnerable - or both, they are litmus test of confidence in policing as a whole and of the police's understanding of the communities they serve.

"While we welcome the fact that officers are prepared to report and challenge their colleagues when it comes to discriminatory behaviour, allegations made by members of the public need to be handled equally seriously and dealt with effectively.

"Increasingly, complaints are dealt with by local officers, not specialist professional standards departments, and the quality of complaint handling at local level is clearly worse. It is clear that much more training and support is needed and we will continue to work with forces and other bodies to provide information, influence training and standards, and monitor outcomes."

Other findings from the report include:

  • Eight out of 10 cases were not properly assessed, failing to take into account the gravity of the complaint and/or the officer's previous disciplinary record.
  • In 42% of cases, local resolution was being inappropriately used in cases that needed to be investigated because if substantiated they might have led to misconduct or criminal proceedings.
  • 60% of local resolutions and 44% of investigations did not meet basic standards, and this rose to two-thirds and a half in cases that were handled at local level, rather than by professional standards departments.
  • In nearly a fifth of cases, complainants were not directly contacted, and around two-thirds of eventual decisions were poorly communicated to complainants.
  • In a quarter of investigations, findings were not based on evidence and in general the balance of probabilities was not properly applied.

The report makes a series of recommendations for improving the quality of investigations into discrimination allegations, on training for both frontline and complaint-handling police personnel, and on ensuring meaningful contact with complainants.

As well as reviewing case files, the IPCC invited community representatives from the three force areas to take part in focus groups led by IPCC commissioners. The IPCC commended their important input, and also the three police forces for their cooperation and willingness to learn. The IPCC will use the study to inform a review of its own guidance to all police forces in England and Wales on dealing with allegations of discriminatory behaviour later this year.

Dame Anne continued: "Crucially, both we and the police service need to establish and learn from engagement with the communities directly affected. We consulted focus groups in all three force areas, made up of individuals with a professional interest in the investigation of discrimination or who act as representatives of communities with protected characteristics.

"The feedback we received was that there is insufficient diversity training in forces. This results in complaints which in turn are not handled well. The focus groups also highlighted the complexity of the complaints system, which makes it difficult to access, particularly for some of those most likely to need to complain about discrimination."

The IPCC report makes 15 recommendations including:

  • Police forces should use the IPCC guidance on dealing with allegations of discriminatory behaviour in all cases, with clear evidence that the officer's account has been taken, probed, their history considered, and appropriate evidence gathered.
  • Forces should create a standard induction package for all complaint-handling staff or officers both at the professional standards department and division level; handling allegations of discrimination should be an explicit part of that package, working with local communities.
  • Decision letters should contain comprehensive rationale for decisions made, explaining how the balance of probabilities has been applied and how evidence has been weighed.

The IPCC's study follows its report into the Metropolitan Police Service's handling of race discrimination complaints published last year, which revealed some significant weaknesses in complaints handling in general.

The Police handling of allegations of discrimination report is available here, as well as a summary document headlining the report's findings.

Source: IPCC

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