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Police complaints commission needs urgent reform, say MPs

By Richard Johnstone | 1 February 2013
 

MPs have called for the Independent Police Complaints Commission to be reformed after finding the ‘woefully under-equipped’ watchdog does not have the trust of the public.

The home affairs select committee said many allegations of police corruption or misconduct had been ‘under-investigated’ by the commission, as it was ‘bound by its limited powers’.

Between 2008 and 2011, 8,542 allegations of corruption were made against police officers, the committee found. Around 837 were referred to the commission, but it investigated just 21 cases, sending many back to the force in question to be re-examined.

In 2010/11, the IPCC received £35.4m of funding, all from the Home Office. The committee said the body’s funding should be increased to enable it to undertake more investigations, with police forces obliged to cover some of the costs. The government should also provide a specific budget for a serious cases response team.

Committee chair Keith Vaz said it was vital that a ‘strong watchdog’ was being seen to hold the police to account. However, the IPCC left the public ‘frustrated and faithless’ as it could only ‘scratch the surface’ of allegations.

He added: ‘It is woefully under-equipped to supervise the 43 forces of England and Wales, never mind the UK Border Agency, Revenue & Customs, National Crime Agency and all the private sector agencies involved in policing.

‘Nearly a quarter of officers were subject to a complaint last year. Many were trivial, but some were extremely serious, involving deaths in custody or corruption. It is an insult to all concerned to do no more than scratch the surface of these alleged abuses.’

The committee also urged the IPCC to aim to reduce the number of investigators who were former police officers from 33% to 20%. Vaz said the public was ‘bewildered’ by its reliance on former officers.

Responding to the report, the IPCC admitted it could not ‘meet public expectations without increased resources and powers’.

Many of the recommendations were similar to those IPCC itself had highlighted in recent years, commission chair Dame Anne Owers said.

‘This report recognises that we do not yet have the resources or powers to do all that the public rightly expects and needs from us. That is what we have been saying for a long time.

‘Without that, we will continue to struggle to meet the legitimate expectations of complainants and of families who have lost someone in tragic circumstances.’

She said there was a need for ‘rigorous oversight of the way police deal with complaints, and follow up our own recommendations’, but added: ‘All of this needs resources and powers.’

A Home Office spokeswoman said the government would make an announcement imminently on reform.

‘Improving police professionalism and integrity are at the cornerstone of the sweeping reforms we are making to the police force, and the IPCC has a key role to play,’ she said.

‘We are already working to ensure the organisation has the powers and resources it needs to manage the challenges it is currently facing and we will shortly announce a package of new measures designed to further improve the public's trust in the police.’



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