Police forces in England and Wales are facing severe criticism as a report, released today, revealed that they are failing the public when it comes to recording complaints against them. One of the forces named in the report is Lancashire Constabulary, one of the main forces that we deal with in terms of police complaints. It was revealed that in the last year 44 people had to complain directly to the IPCC as a result of their complaints not being registered.
As a solicitor for police complaints, I have encountered many issues when we are acting on behalf of clients in police complaint matters, and as such, this report does not come as a huge surprise. A few years ago, it was the normal practice to send the complaint letters on behalf of our clients to the police station that the officer we were complaining about was based at. When a series of client letters were “lost’, “misplaced’ or ‘never received’, it became evident that our process for reporting complaints had to change. Our practice now is to either fax or email the letters directly to the Professional Standards Department, who are usually very good at recording the complaint that same day.
Further problems we have experienced with the police complaints process is the forces’ inability to stick to the time limits referred to in the Independent Police Complaints Commission’s guidance. We often have to chase police forces for many months before we even get their initial response. Within the last few months alone we have had to refer two complaints directly to the Independent Police Complaints Commission as a result of failures to address the original letter of complaint, and thereafter the vast number of follow up letters.
Considering the majority of police complaints are as a result of officer’s incivility and behaviour, the delays in recording and dealing with their complaints often intensify the complainant’s sense of grievance against the force, perpetuating their ‘anti police’ attitude. If the complaints are dealt with swiftly and efficiently, perhaps the police forces in the UK will be able to change the negative views that many of our clients have about them.