One in three people in England & Wales are not confident that if they complain to the police their complaint will be handled fairly, according to a survey for the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) published today.
The finding is consistent with the IPCC’s own recently published reviews of police handling of complaints, part of our on-going work and the IPCC’s three-year plan for improving public confidence in the complaints system, also published today.
The survey of more than 4,000 people also found:
a growing proportion of people – three out of four – say they would complain if really unhappy about how a police officer behaved towards them or handled a matter they were involved in; but two out of five of those questioned were not confident they would know how to do so
people from ethnic minority communities were less likely to say they would complain, and more likely to fear harassment if they did so
people aged 15-24 are less likely to be happy with the way police treated them but less willing to complain or to have confidence in the police dealing fairly with complaints.
IPCC Chair, Dame Anne Owers, said: "The majority of the 30,000 complaints made annually about the police are handled by the police service itself. This survey shows that too many people are still either unsure of how to make a complaint about the police or don’t believe their complaint will be dealt with fairly. It is particularly worrying that young people and those from ethnic minorities have lower confidence in the complaints system.
"The survey underlines the importance of the plan we are launching today, and there is clearly more work to be done by both the police and IPCC to improve access, awareness and trust in the complaints system and those who work in it.”
The 2014 Public Confidence Survey is the sixth in a series over the last ten years. It looks at public perceptions of the police, the complaints system, and the IPCC.
This year’s survey shows the majority of people are aware of the IPCC (64%) and 77% of those people are confident that the IPCC deals with its work in an impartial way. However, awareness among ethnic minorities is less than half (32%) that of the white population (74%).
Other key findings from the survey include:
23% of people had had contact with police over the previous 12 months, a lower proportion than most earlier surveys but an increase on 2011 (20%);
the proportion of people (66%) stating they were happy with their contact with police has fallen back to 2004 levels after a high of 76% in 2011; and people from ethnic minority groups continue to be less happy (56%) than white people (68%).
Dame Anne said: "Later this year the IPCC will begin to take on more independent investigations into serious and sensitive allegations made against the police. That is an important part of our statutory responsibility to ensure public confidence in the police complaints system. But it is not enough, by itself, to achieve that aim.
"The survey findings underline the need for more work to address public confidence concerns, and how important it is we take forward our work to improve complaints handling, in partnership with forces, PCCs, and other policing bodies.”
Steps set out under the IPCC’s plans for oversight & confidence and engagement plans, which are published today, are:
developing additional guidance for police forces to handle complaints better, and formalising its work with Police and Crime Commissioners;
providing better information for the public on how their local force handles complaints, and continuing to make the case for a simplified complaints system that is easier for the public to use;
introducing a more robust system for holding forces to account and following up learning recommendations – new powers will compel forces to respond formally and publicly to IPCC recommendations;
continuing to argue for reform of the police disciplinary system to make it more timely and transparent;
undertaking a programme of engagement activity with BME communities and young people to increase awareness of the complaints system as well as understanding and tackling the barriers they face;
working towards a complete picture of case outcomes for individual officers and staff members across the complaints system including criminal and disciplinary proceedings and dealing with unsatisfactory performance.
The plan also builds on learning from the recent review of how the IPCC investigates deaths following police contact which benefited from feedback from bereaved families and other stakeholders.
In January this year, the IPCC issued a draft oversight and confidence plan for public consultation, and received more than 100 responses from a range of stakeholders, including members of the public, police forces, Police and Crime Commissioners and voluntary sector organisations. Respondents provided useful feedback and raised a variety of views including that the IPCC should do more to speed up its handling of cases and to improve the quality of its work.
The Oversight and Confidence plan launched today outlines the steps the IPCC will take, in cooperation with stakeholders including the College of Policing, HMIC and Police and Crime Commissioners, to improve complaints handling and embed good practice in policing.
The IPCC conducted a series of pilot oversight projects in 2013/14 that examined in detail how forces are handing aspects of the complaints system, most recently an investigation into how forces handle allegations of discrimination. The reports identified significant failings in how forces handle complaints and can be found here.