The director general of the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has admitted the watchdog is not at the ‘winning line’ yet and it still needs to make further improvements to the way in which it works.
Michael Lockwood’s comments in an online meeting with Police Federation conduct leads have been welcomed by Liz Groom, chair of Cambridgeshire Police Federation.
“It is encouraging to hear the director general openly discussing the fact that the IOPC still has a way to go in terms of how it handles its investigations into officers’ conduct,” says Liz, “He appears to have listened to what the Federation has been telling him and is taking on board our views.”
During the meeting, Mr Lockwood gave a commitment that the IOPC would now notify officers if they would be served with a notice within three months after Federation conduct leads raised concerns that ‘radio silence’ from IOPC branches was leaving officers in limbo as they did not know what was happening with investigations.
He insisted the IOPC is ‘working hard’ to learn lessons and improve and said: “We know that, for police officers and staff involved in our investigations, this can be a time of considerable concern. To reduce this impact, we will introduce a new commitment that, when an investigation is not completed within three months, we will aim to confirm the status of all those involved – whether they are to be considered witnesses or to serve the appropriate misconduct notices.”
The IOPC has come in for criticism from the Police Federation over cases that have dragged on for five or more years, as highlighted by the Federation’s Time Limits campaign which is calling for investigations to conclude within 12 months as standard, from the point of an allegation being made.
Mr Lockwood also told the conduct leads the IOPC had streamlined its case management data entry and hired specialist report writers.
“This is a great opportunity here to future-proof investigations, he said. “If we can do them in two or three months, let’s do them in two or three months – but not at the expense of quality.”
He also pointed out the IOPC had closed 93 per cent of investigations within 12 months to the end of October 2019.
But he added: “We are not at the winning line yet. We need to make improvements which are sustainable by operating quicker, being proportionate and learning best practice from other organisations. I am in the process of visiting all forces and I am grateful for the advice already given to me by front-line officers I have spent the time speaking to.”
The IOPC inherited 538 legacy cases from its predecessor, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which were two years or older but has reduced these to 17 and, the director general said they ‘should be cleared by August’.
It is discussing participating in Post-Incident Procedures training with the College of Policing and has introduced a Quality Committee as well as investigator training to improve the standards of its investigations.
Mr Lockwood identified several thematic areas where he would like to focus on learning including mental health issues, domestic abuse, abuse of authority for sexual gain, RTIs and near misses in custody in a bid to improve police practice to reduce the number of incidents in these areas.
Phill Matthews, the Federation’s national conduct and performance lead, said: “We are encouraged that Mr Lockwood recognises his organisation still has a long journey ahead of it and has plans to continue to change and improve it. There is a willingness to work with us rather than against us to improve the complaints system that will benefit everyone.
“We will continue to hold the IOPC to account where an investigation could have been handled better and push for outcomes for members that are just and proportionate.”