Quality of Service
A review of the investigation of complaints against the police in Scotland
Chapter 2 Progress Against Part I and Part III Suggestions
2.1 In addition to a series of recommendations, "A Fair Cop?" also contained suggestions arising from the thematic inspection at Part I of the report and further suggestions arising from consideration of issues concerning the misconduct regulations (Part III). In total, these amount to some 17 suggestions. In relation to the Part I Suggestions, while progress has been made, there is scope for further work. However, progress in relation to Part III has been deferred due to consideration of the introduction of an independent element to the police complaints process. The opportunity has been taken to re-examine these issues and make further comment that, hopefully, will contribute to the way forward. While no new recommendations arise from the review of the Part I Suggestions, areas to be progressed have been identified and are summarised at the end of the chapter.
Progress Against Part I Suggestions
SUGGESTION 1: The Scottish Executive, COSLA and ACPOS give further consideration to the regulations dealing with complaints against chief police officers, and in particular seek to clarify the extent to which the 1999 regulations allow a preliminary enquiry prior to full consideration of a complaint or allegation.
2.2 In putting forward this suggestion, HMIC expressed the view that this was "a complex area in which the needs for integrity, transparency, the proper use of public funds and protection of chief officers from unfounded, eccentric, or malicious complaints all intersect and sometimes conflict.". Police authority members found the process complex and HMIC found little evidence of any police authority regarding the existing regulations and guidelines in a positive light. In light of the widespread unease, HMIC considered, at the very least, further review of the effectiveness of the regulations was required.
2.3 Whilst carrying out the current inspection, HMIC met with chief officers, police authority members and clerks to police authorities across the country and in many respects found the situation unchanged. From the perspective of authority members and their clerks, the regulations continue to be viewed as unclear and inadequate. When dealing with allegations against chief officers, they are often faced with having to take, often highly sensitive, decisions with insufficient information. One Clerk to a police authority summed up the situation as follows:
"From the outset the Clerk and Board are faced with a difficult decision as to what action they should take. They have only one version of events and in many ways it would be preferable, indeed, it would be in line with natural justice, that they should also have some indication of the views of the officer complained against before deciding what to do. However, the regulations offer no scope to do this. It would be helpful if an approach could be made to a chief constable, but what would happen if the complaint were against the chief constable? There isn't an easy way to establish the facts. It is therefore difficult to advise members as to what they should do and therefore a cautious approach will be taken and it will likely involve an investigation by an outside force. To take the alternative route and declare that there had been no misconduct could merely reinforce a public perception that the Board and Force had a cosy relationship."
2.4 Similar views were put to HMIC on a number of occasions. The regulations were seen as unclear and lacking in precision, with one Clerk citing the lack of a definition for the term 'neglect of duty' as one area that required urgent attention. Further negative comment was made that there was no satisfactory mechanism for dealing with minor or trivial complaints. Due to their nature such complaints would not merit an investigation by an outside force but the options available to the Police Authority were stark - do nothing or invite in a chief constable from another force. Another shortcoming highlighted was in relation to service delivery issues. Quite simply, the regulations dealt only with misconduct or criminality and there was nowhere for someone to go when they were unhappy with a service delivery issue.
2.5 The final, linked, area of concern was that of the preliminary enquiry. Where this was deemed necessary, there was a reliance upon the force to provide details. Invariably, this co-operation was forthcoming but the situation was seen as being unsatisfactory as Police Authority members were reliant upon the goodwill and professionalism of the force and its chief officers, against one of whom the complaint has been made. HMIC was made aware of practice in one English force where the initial enquiry was carried out on behalf of the police authority by utilising the services of a retired senior officer and former clerk to the police authority. Such a procedure seems to HMIC to be sensible and practical. The guidance in support of current regulations indicates that "the authority can take whatever steps it considers reasonable to obtain further particulars". In the current climate of uncertainty, the appropriateness of such a measure needs to be clarified.
2.6 Various approaches had been taken by police authorities and their Clerks to deal with these issues. Some had sought legal opinion and had received detailed briefing papers augmented by personal presentations from the solicitor concerned to guide them through the complex issues and legal requirements. Members of one authority had even met with a complainer in an effort to establish greater clarity as to the substance of the complaint. The meeting lasted for over two hours, and it is perhaps indicative of the nature of these matters that no greater clarity emerged as to the specifics of the complaint or the desired resolution. While anecdotal evidence suggests that the number of such complaints is not high, approximately a dozen or so a year with perhaps half necessitating an enquiry, inevitably they attract media attention and such publicity has the potential to impact on public confidence.
2.7 In essence, the views expressed by chief police officers, elected representatives and public officials during the current inspection echo those made by their peer group during the previous inspection. The regulations and the means by which they are applied are perceived by many of those subject to them and those charged with applying them as lacking clarity and effectiveness. Despite discussions between the relevant parties, including ACPOS and the Scottish Executive, HMIC is disappointed at the lack of progress in this area. Complaints against Scotland's chief police officers are rare but the level of widespread uncertainty in the current system is of concern to HMIC and it believes an urgent review of existing regulations is called for. A specific recommendation in relation to a review of the legislative framework surrounding police conduct is made within Part II of this report at paragraph 5.35. Such a review should include the Senior Officer Regulations.
SUGGESTION 2: COSLA and the Scottish Executive jointly consider the role of police authorities in carrying out their statutory function in dealing with complaints, with a view to producing national guidance on good practice.
2.8 Previously, HMIC found that police authorities exhibited a rather low profile in respect of complaints against the police and concluded that a number of factors had contributed to this situation, including:
- a lack of understanding among members of the nature of their statutory responsibilities
- the absence of independent professional advice on the specific subject of complaints
- the lack of confidence by authority members in their ability to question senior police officers on a potentially complex subject.
2.9 Some examples of good practice were evident and, generally, it was found that the process worked well when a number of councillors had a specific responsibility, usually by means of a sub-committee. However, even where the process worked well, councillors tended to doubt they were getting to grips with issues and HMIC saw there being distinct benefits to be derived from the publication of national guidance that would facilitate elected members' ability to exercise their statutory responsibilities in a more effective manner. It was also suggested that authorities should review their own procedures in light of their experiences and that of others.
2.10 During this review, HMIC found that, on a regular basis, information on complaints against the police is presented to police authorities and most authorities have established sub-committees with specific responsibility for complaints against the police. In one instance, the authority has only recently established a working party to examine the issue of complaints against the police and HMIC would hope that this working party will provide the basis for a permanent arrangement allowing increased focus on police complaints.
2.11 HMIC does have some reservations regarding variations in the quantity and quality of information that is presented to police authorities or their complaints sub-committees. An example is the lack of detail around the timeliness of enquiries into police complaints and further comment about this issue is made in relation to Suggestion 12 ( paragraph 2.53). Nevertheless, HMIC found evidence that, regardless of any shortcomings in the information presented to elected representatives, questions were being asked of forces as to performance in key areas such as numbers of complaints, timescales for concluding enquiries and numbers of dissatisfied complainers. Clear evidence was also found that individual complaints files were being inspected. This was being done by members calling for files to be presented to them at sub-committee meetings or by members visiting force complaints departments and viewing files. Regardless of the approach, files were chosen at random with members examining the actions of the force from the perspective of a complainer seeking to satisfy themselves that all appropriate steps had been taken to investigate the complaint under scrutiny.
2.12 This level of involvement is welcomed by HMIC and by forces. Without exception, chief officers interviewed during the course of this inspection expressed a strong desire to work closely with their police authorities to bring about better-informed and more robust scrutiny of complaints investigation. In many ways, the following statement made by one chief officer typifies the desire of forces:
"We want our Board members to be informed customers and we want them to come in and be robust in their questioning. We want to know if we are getting it wrong and where we are getting it wrong. That's how we will learn and that's how we will improve."
2.13 However, HMIC is disappointed to note that no national guidance has yet emerged and believes there is value in the eight police authorities, with the support of ACPOS, COSLA and the Scottish Executive, meeting regularly and sharing best practice with a view to published guidance emerging.
2.14 Elsewhere in this review, the role of HM Lay inspector of Constabulary is referred to ( paragraph 4.13). This role applies an independent element to the consideration of police complaints referred to HMIC. No such element operates elsewhere in the non criminal police complaints process. While the role of HM Lay Inspector will change following the introduction of the independent complaints body by the Scottish Executive, HMIC has seen the significant advantage in lay involvement in relation to complaints and there is real potential for this also to be applied at force level, working with police authorities, particularly complaints sub-committees, in all aspects of their deliberations, including complaints analysis and monitoring, inspection of individual files and complaints against senior officers. This is a matter which can be considered against the backdrop of the new independent complaints body.
SUGGESTION 3: Forces maintain statistical records of letters of appreciation received as an indicator of the good and, in some cases, exemplary service provided by officers and other staff.
2.15 All forces are now routinely recording letters of appreciation and details are submitted to HMIC as part of the Annual Statistical Return. From the evidence submitted to HMIC, it is clear that there is now much more consistency when it comes to recording and collating statistical data in this area and there are no longer huge discrepancies or variances from one year to the next within force figures. HMIC was pleased to note that in one force a comprehensive database of such letters is kept linked to the officer's personnel file. HMIC regards this as good practice.
2.16 It is, however, disappointing to note a steady downward trend in the numbers of letters submitted. Between 1 April 1996 and 31 March 1999 there were some 11,309 letters of appreciation received by Scotland's eight police forces. For the three most recent years for which figures are available, 1 April 2000 to 31 March 2003, the number of letters received by forces had fallen by almost 32% to 7718. The reason for this marked reduction is unclear. It may be that people are becoming less inclined to recognise good or exemplary service formally by putting pen to paper. A more negative view could be that it was due to instances of good or exemplary service becoming less common. However, this would be somewhat at odds with the results obtained by forces in their customer satisfaction surveys. In recent years, the results of these have remained fairly static with the percentage of respondents either 'fairly' or 'very' satisfied with the service they received being in the region of 80% and the number of those 'fairly' or 'very' dissatisfied being about 10%.
2.17 Policing is often a difficult job done in difficult circumstances, requiring hard work, dedication and commitment to deliver a service that meets people's expectations. Praise and recognition can often prove to be great motivators and HMIC believes it to be important that forces should not just be well placed to capitalise on those occasions where members of the public feel moved formally to record their thanks but should examine ways in which they could more actively elicit such responses. During a comparative visit to Boston Police Department, it was found that the force's website contains a section allowing the public to both register a commendation as well as a complaint and the force's Bureau of Internal Investigations own explanatory leaflet for the public details how to both commend and complain about an employee of the force. As is commented upon elsewhere within this report, forces are actively pursuing alternative mechanisms whereby members of the public can lodge complaints against the police, such as third party reporting or use of the internet. HMIC considers that a similar focus should be given to encouraging more positive comment from members of the public thereby assisting in the production of a balanced picture of service delivery in forces.
SUGGESTION 4: Chief Constables develop common procedures in respect of how disciplinary warnings are administered and the use to which they are put on a future occasion.
2.18 HMIC encountered considerable uncertainty and ambiguity on the status and use of warnings which were administered for a diverse range of matters. Some forces recorded these in an officer's personal records whilst others considered this improper. Most forces also considered hearings should not be told of previous warnings. HMIC found this position difficult to reconcile with the 1996 regulations which stipulate that warnings administered in terms of the regulations should be recorded.
2.19 HMIC also expressed the opinion that warnings should have a more robust status, ideally supported by specific actions, such as training or mentoring, and they should be fully considered should any further breach occur.
2.20 While acknowledging the difficulty in achieving consistency, HMIC is disappointed to find that no common procedures have been developed. During the financial year 2002-03, a total of 407 warnings of varying categories were given to officers. HMIC believes there is value in analysis being undertaken in relation to these warnings with a view to identifying consistencies and divergences and producing common procedures or guidelines and also to assess whether the use of warnings is being linked to training and mentoring. This is a worthwhile task which should be undertaken by ACPOS, under the direction of ACPOS Professional Standards Standing Committee. Consistency in the use and administration of warnings is just as important as consistency in disposals that result from misconduct hearings.
SUGGESTION 5: It would be good practice for only trained senior officers to chair misconduct hearings.
2.21 During the previous inspection, HMIC gathered material, which may not have been representative, that the majority of those who had chaired hearings had had no training whatsoever for the role. Training had been available at the Scottish Police College but this resource had not been fully exploited by forces. Evidence obtained during the current inspection strongly indicates that there has been considerable progress in this area and forces have taken advantage of the facilities provided by Strathclyde Police to ensure that all persons who may be called upon to chair misconduct hearings receive appropriate training to prepare them for this role.
2.22 This training is of a day's duration and comprises a series of inputs that focus on key areas such as the roles of the chair, presenting officer, conduct representation at hearings and appeal procedures. In addition to the presentations, there are two mock hearings. These are based on previously heard cases but are also modified to incorporate any current or emerging issues. They are also anonomised and disguised to ensure that the confidentiality of the original cases on which they have been based is not compromised. Additionally, a comprehensive "training pack" is provided to all delegates.
2.23 This training is commended by participants and is seen by HMIC as a welcome and positive development. Credit is due to Strathclyde Police for accepting the responsibility of making the course available to others. However, HMIC also believes that there are a number of issues relating to the training of chairpersons which would benefit from further attention. Firstly, although delegates invariably provide either verbal or written feedback to Strathclyde Police as to the perceived effectiveness of the course, it is not subject to formalised evaluation. HMIC believes that the introduction of such a mechanism would permit more focused feedback which could better inform the force as to the effectiveness of the training content, delivery and effectiveness.
2.24 Secondly, there is the issue of the availability of the training. At present, training courses are organised on an ad hoc basis in response to requests and three such training events have been held between January 2002 and December 2003. Forces appear to be satisfied that they have adequate numbers of trained officers available to meet their needs. However, this situation may change with the onset of the so-called 'Edmund-Davies Effect' when, from around 2005 to 2010, a significant proportion of serving officers will retire. The impact of this phenomenon is likely to be significant right across the service and is well understood by ACPOS. However, it will undoubtedly be the case that the service will lose a significant proportion of senior officers. As such, it is highly probable that there will be an enhanced demand for chairperson training and ACPOS may wish to review the current structure and frequency of training provision in this area to ensure the service is well placed to meet its future needs.
2.25 HMIC also believes that any such review should also examine the issue of refresher training in order that knowledge and skill levels remain high. Misconduct hearings are not an everyday occurrence and, since 1997, there have been, on average, seventy two hearings each year. These are not spread evenly across all forces and it is entirely possible that some trained officers may not be called upon to act as chairpersons until some considerable time has elapsed since they received their initial training. Ready accessibility to the details and findings of misconduct hearings, an issue which is discussed elsewhere within the report, may well reduce the need for refresher training, nevertheless HMIC remains convinced that this is an area worthy of further consideration.
SUGGESTION 6: ACPOS liaises with the director of the Scottish Police College to consider training for investigating officers appointed under the misconduct regulations.
2.26 When HMIC previously examined the question of training for investigating officers (IOs) it found that there was no specific training available and skills development occurred through a combination of personal experience allied with advice and support from colleagues. In response to this situation, HMIC suggested that there would be benefit in ACPOS and the Director of the Scottish Police College liaising in regard to training needs analysis and training provision for investigating officers.
2.27 Since then, the matter has been considered by forces and a move towards centralised training deemed unwarranted and unnecessary on the basis that:
- full time IOs invariably receive in-house training within their own force, with the opportunity to shadow experienced IOs and/or be mentored by one prior to undertaking an investigation
- whilst all forces operate under the same Regulations and very similar procedures, the unique aspects of each force's approach remain such that centralised training would have difficulty in taking account of all local circumstances and, as such, immersion in the local system was seen as more valuable in producing skilled and efficient IOs
- the number and infrequency of turnover of IOs was such that it would be difficult to deliver the necessary training in a sufficiently cost effective, or timely, manner.
2.28 As part of this inspection, HMIC examined not just the training delivered to full-time IOs based within Complaints or Professional Standards Departments but also the training support provided to those local supervisory officers who are regularly appointed to this role in some forces. In general terms, the training given to full time IOs within Scotland's eight forces comprises the supply of guidance documentation augmented by inputs or briefings from managers or colleagues along with some form of mentoring arrangements and, although these arrangements appear to be well received by staff, HMIC remains convinced that there would be benefit in moving to a more formalised approach to the training of IOs.
2.29 The current arrangements contain much that is worthy of praise, having been developed by complaints practitioners, well versed in current and emerging issues, with a wealth of personal experience, ideally placed to provide practical support and assistance to officers new to the role. HMIC is not questioning the appropriateness of complaints department officers being involved in the training of colleagues. This should remain a core element within the training programme. Rather, what is being advocated by HMIC is that the content of the training programme should be established by more formal means through the use of a Training Needs Analysis (TNA). It is accepted that each force's approach contains certain unique elements and due account should be given to these. However, there is also much that is shared, for example legislation and core skills and, as is the case in many other areas of policing, the use of TNA has proved invaluable in determining the content of appropriate (national) training programmes. Allied with the use of TNA, HMIC believes that there should be greater use of formal evaluation techniques to obtain participant feedback as to the effectiveness of the training delivered, its impact on workplace performance and organisational effectiveness.
2.30 HMIC also believes that this more formalised approach should be applied to the training and support provided to non-departmental staff who have enquiry or investigatory roles within the complaints investigation process. At present this training tends to be less formalised than that delivered to full-time IOs and generally comprises some form of guidance documentation being issued to officers allied with access to support from complaints department staff. Two forces do deliver in-house training and three offer secondment opportunities for supervisors. In the main, these are aimed at inspectors but there are also some opportunities for sergeants. It is well documented that HMIC is supportive of short-term secondments for developmental purposes and considers such secondments to be good practice.
2.31 Elsewhere within this report ( paragraph 4.20), HMIC outlines its belief that forces should move towards a complaints investigation structure that sees the role of local supervisors confined to that of enquiry officers with all investigating officers being appointed to this role on a full time basis, based within either a centralised department or local office. Nevertheless, the need for more structured training remains. Even in a more restricted role these officers will have an important part to play in the complaints process. It is therefore vital that they are appropriately trained in order that they can carry out their duties in a competent and effective manner. During the current inspection, HMIC had the opportunity to speak with officers who had experience of this initial enquiry role and also that of IO. A number expressed the opinion that more training should be given to assist them to carry out their role more effectively and it was an issue that at least one Area Procurator Fiscal believed worthy of attention.
2.32 When HMIC previously considered the issue of training, no reference was made to the training needs of other officers or staff, the overwhelming majority of staff within Scotland's eight forces. Throughout the course of the current Inspection, HMIC took the opportunity to take soundings as to the level of knowledge and understanding of the complaints process among these staff. It was found that there was uncertainty regarding the complaints process, force policy and the role of key personnel such as the Area Procurator Fiscal.
2.33 HMIC is disappointed that such uncertainty exists. However, it is important that HMIC takes this opportunity to give due recognition to the work that has been, and is being done by forces in the area of information giving. In recent years, a great deal of time and effort has been devoted to the creation of detailed policy documents and guidance materials, much of which is readily accessible to staff via local intranet sites in addition to training inputs, for example, newly appointed supervisors and probationers. HMIC would encourage forces to ensure all staff take full advantage of these facilities to improve their knowledge in this key area.
SUGGESTION 7: Forces establish procedures to analyse civil claims in a way which allows learning opportunities to be fed back into the operational environment.
2.34 In making this suggestion, HMIC was seeking to ensure that forces integrate the administration of civil actions with the management of complaints to ensure a consistent and corporate approach to considering expressions of dissatisfaction with performance. It was also important that all actions were monitored by forces with a view to identifying key issues and initiating remedial action to improve performance and effect long term savings.
2.35 During the review inspection, a varied picture was found. HMIC acknowledges that in all forces a structure was in place to deal with civil claims, usually involving the Deputy Chief Constable, Force Solicitor or external legal adviser and head of Complaints or Professional Standards. This structure appears to work well, particularly in smaller forces where the numbers of claims are small. Examples were found of lessons having been learned and fed back into policy and procedure.
2.36 However, a number of forces did not supply details of claims made or, where details of claims were kept, did not supply them because they were not able to differentiate between those that arose from complaints against the police and those that arose from, for example, faulty equipment. In contrast, HMIC found in one force examples of excellent statistical and management information being produced monthly in relation to civil claims. Information included breakdown of claims by origin, for example employee/public, further sub-divided by type e.g. negligence, assault, faulty equipment etc. Claims had also been analysed by department/division of origin. HMIC considers such detailed analysis as good practice.
2.37 The general lack of detail or analysis suggests to HMIC that procedures are not as robust as they should be, a view that was acknowledged in several forces. HMIC would encourage forces to re-examine their procedures to ensure they are satisfied that the arrangements in place effectively address the suggestion. In addition, there is again scope for the ACPOS Professional Standards Standing Committee to act as a clearing house to allow lessons learned to be disseminated between forces.
SUGGESTION 8: HMIC suggests that all forces have in place some form of structured system for addressing the issues presented by officers who are persistently subject to complaint.
2.38 HMIC acknowledged in "A Fair Cop?" that the "issue of officers who are subject of persistent but unsubstantiated complaints is a difficult one in that police officers, like all citizens, are entitled to be seen as innocent until proven guilty. However, a persistent pattern of allegations is undoubtedly a matter of legitimate management interest. Some forces have a system of conferences triggered when more than a set number of complaints are made over a specified period.".
2.39 Forces do have such processes in place but due to deficiencies in current recording software, an issue that is addressed under Suggestion 12, there is a reliance on manual records to address this issue. In small forces, Deputy Chief Constables and heads of Complaints and Professional Standards are well placed to identify officers persistently complained about. In larger forces, in addition, local management has a part to play. Indeed, in all forces, first line supervisors play a key role. It is they who have first hand knowledge of the officers under their command.
2.40 Irrespective of the systems in place, HMIC would encourage forces to adopt a holistic approach. Such an approach proactively manages personnel, taking account of a whole range of indicators both negative and positive that help inform a detailed understanding of the individual and his/her behaviour. An excellent example of this is a process pioneered by the Boston Police Department known as PAM (Personnel Analysis Meeting) and, while the cultures involved are quite different, HMIC views the concept as one which could be developed to suit the needs of Scottish forces.
CASE STUDY OF PAM - PERSONNEL ANALYSIS MEETING
The main goal of the Boston Police Department's Personnel Analysis Meeting (PAM) is to develop better ways for the department to work more effectively with its personnel. The meetings which are held at the various operational police district headquarters on an annual basis are attended by the Police Commissioner and a number of senior command staff, including the force legal adviser and head of administrative support, along with the host District's management team, right down to squad/shift supervisors who are sergeants. At the meeting, the district management team must be prepared to discuss both strengths and areas needing improvement, in regards to their personnel.
PAM is centred on distinct areas where statistical indicators highlight potential areas of concern regarding individual officers. The current nine areas include the following:-
- Police vehicles road accident history - personnel with two or more accidents in last 4 years
- Use of sick leave and injury time - personnel with ten or more sick days in the last 12 months and personnel out injured 30 days or more
- Complaint history - personnel with two or more complaints in the last 12 months, OR three or more complaints in the last 24 months.
- Total Arrests - last 12 months
- Use of force - personnel with more than one use of force (firearm, pepper mace, baton, etc.) in last four years
- Awards or Commendations received - last four years
In addition, a summary details those officers appearing in more than one category. For example, at a PAM attended by HMIC, one officer listed on the summary also appeared under commendations, total arrests and injured days. The resultant outcome of the process was the identification of several officers with whom local management were expected to work to address agreed areas of weakness. In one example given, an officer with a record of complaints, both substantiated and unsubstantiated, had been transferred to another area where there was less likelihood of the sort of confrontation which had contributed to the complaints.
By adopting this holistic approach involving headquarters and district management, it is the intention "not only to define and demonstrate appropriate levels of supervisory guidance, accountability, mentoring, and professionalism for all our personnel, but also to underscore the Department's ongoing commitment to a tradition of excellence in the years to come".
2.41 While the introduction of the national computerised Human Resource Database in Scottish forces may facilitate the adoption of such a process, it should not be seen as a prerequisite to the introduction of such a scheme. The compilation of data to inform the PAM was undertaken manually by a member of the Department's Office of Research and Evaluation.
SUGGESTION 9: Forces set and monitor tight timescales for preliminary enquiries and attempted conciliation. In order to avoid uncertainty as to whether conciliation has been achieved, it should be "signed off" in a way which leaves no room for misunderstanding.
2.42 Within "A Fair Cop?", HMIC was of the opinion that the reason a number of cases are brought to its attention was not because of the final outcome but rather the apparent reluctance of a force to accept, register and investigate allegations from a complainer. HMIC was also aware of cases where "preliminary enquiries" and "attempts to conciliate" had dragged on for months, even years, or where the force claimed that the complaint had been conciliated but the complainer denied this had happened.
2.43 There is evidence of progress in addressing this suggestion and, while examples continue to reach HMIC, it does not regard the problems highlighted in the original inspection as being a common occurrence. However, in examining force policies and procedures, ambiguities were revealed around timescales. Some make no specific reference to appropriate timescales while others set figures ranging from 14 to 21 days. HMIC would encourage all forces to review their written polices/guidelines to ensure that a timescale is set. A maximum of 21 days seems reasonable to HMIC.
2.44 In terms of "signing off", again HMIC found most forces now insist an unambiguous letter of confirmation is sent by the local commander/head of department or in several instances from the Deputy Chief Constable. In one force, a recent change to procedure sees a signed minute of agreement completed between the complainer and local commander. HMIC was impressed by this innovative approach and considers it worthy of consideration by other forces. HMIC was disappointed that in one force while the Complaints/Professional Standards Department receive a copy of the complaints form indicating that conciliation has been achieved there is no further information available to indicate how that conciliation has been signed off. HMIC does not accept that the headquarters department's monitoring role "could be interpreted as a diminution of local autonomy". If the local command has successfully conciliated then there must be a record of this, be it a notebook entry, conciliating officer's report or letter to the complainer. HMIC is firmly of the view that a copy of the appropriate documentation should accompany the complaints form to allow effective central monitoring.
SUGGESTION 10: Letters to complainers should be comprehensive, free of jargon and where appropriate contain a brief précis of the investigating officer's report.
2.45 Along with Recommendation 1, HMIC made this suggestion commenting that "Telling a complainer that their complaint is unsubstantiated is a task which, with the best of intentions, is likely to result in some dissatisfaction. However... tone and content of letters can make this situation worse". A direct result of this was further correspondence from the complainer to HMIC, the Scottish Executive etc.
2.46 Taking cognisance of the comments made under Recommendation 1 ( paragraph 1.3), HMIC has found clear evidence that forces have addressed this suggestion. When dealing with dissatisfied complainers who come to HMIC, close examination is made of how a force has responded to the complainer. This examination includes an analysis of all correspondence to the complainer. Consistently, it is found that, where a clear and detailed explanation to a complainer is provided, this often resolves matters/provides satisfaction. Where this is lacking, despite the fact a thorough investigation has been undertaken by the force, it is the experience of HMIC that a complainer will continue to complain. Inevitably, some forces are better than others in providing a full response and HMIC would encourage forces to continue to learn from best practice established elsewhere in Scottish forces.
SUGGESTION 11: The Scottish Executive commissions research into customer expectations and experiences in respect of the police complaints system and that the findings are used to assist in developing some of the procedures and guidelines recommended in this report.
2.47 During "A Fair Cop?", HMIC considered such evidence as was available on the expectations and experiences of customers of the police complaints system. However recognising the limitations of this evidence, HMIC considered wider debate could usefully be informed by more comprehensive research.
2.48 In making the proposal, HMIC was seeking academic research which presented a clearer picture of the public perception nationally. The case for good research still stands but HMIC acknowledges that progress towards establishing an independent police complaints body during the lifetime of the current Scottish Parliament has implications for such work. Research prior to such a body being established would help inform its decision making once established but, in any case, HMIC is keen that the issue should not be viewed in isolation but in full consideration of its comments put forward with regard to Recommendation 15 earlier in this report ( paragraph 1.69).
SUGGESTION 12: Forces work towards using the same software, to provide a common level of complaint statistics and management information essential for annual review/analysis.
2.49 "A Fair Cop?" found that most complaints departments were setting local objectives towards achieving performance related targets, particularly for recognised timescales and the provision of management information. All forces were using computer technology to assist this process, although the technical capacity of the equipment and its overall effectiveness were found to be diverse. One force was using software developed by an English force, another an in-house system and others adaptations of commercially available business software. The use of different software together with reported differences in complaint recording practices were seen as making benchmarking performance between forces difficult.
2.50 This review inspection found that six forces are now using the same software. The other two are using in house developed programmes. The software being used by the majority of forces, however, has its limitations, e.g. in terms of what is recorded, its search ability and the ability to produce management information. HMIC was pleased to find that the next generation version of this software is currently being piloted by one force. HMIC is encouraged by the progress being made and the willingness expressed by all forces to adopt the same software if the pilot proves successful.
2.51 HMIC has been party to discussions around developing the next generation software to ensure, for example, the ethnicity of complainers can be recorded and analysed. Currently, this information is initially captured on the generic complaints form used by forces to record the initial complaint. Recording and analysing it electronically, however, has proved difficult because of the limitations of the current software and forces were found to be utilising a number of different methods to hold this important information, from electronic to manual. Pending the successful roll out of the next generation software, forces need to be alert that they have such information to hand and actively review same to identify trends or issues. HMIC will continue to monitor this during primary and review inspections.
2.52 HMIC was pleased to find one force proactively addressing the ethnicity of complainers via its Race Equality Scheme. The Complaints and Professional Standards Department is responsible for taking forward a number of action points including the recording and reporting of complaints against the police relating to racially discriminatory behaviour to meetings of the police authority and the provision of translator/interpreter to all complainers whose preferred language is not English. HMIC regards this proactive approach as good practice.
2.53 Just as it is important to analyse and produce management information at a national level, it is also important for it to be available at force level to help inform police managers and police authorities as highlighted above. Having viewed the information being supplied to police authorities, there are variations in style and content. Some include useful comment on costs associated with complaints, trends and timeliness, all key factors which HMIC currently examines and comments on during primary and review inspections, others do not.
2.54 HMIC does not accept that the lack of suitable software prevents analysis of data currently held and information being presented to police authorities in a suitable format. Comment has already been made under Suggestion 2 that police authorities should meet to discuss the requirements for national guidance. Such discussions should include agreeing a basic template of management information with regards to complaints and which would ensure all authorities were receiving a common synopsis of performance in addressing complaints and allow them to compare and contrast performance across forces if appropriate.
Progress Against Part III Suggestions
SUGGESTION 1: The Scottish Executive considers further the impact of ECHR regulations on current procedures which relate to deputy chief constables appointing the chair of a misconduct hearing.
SUGGESTION 2: The Scottish Executive considers the significant change in the disciplinary role of chief constables.
SUGGESTION 3: The Scottish Executive reviews the definition of 'complainer' within the interpretation of the Police (Conduct) (Scotland) Regulations 1996.
SUGGESTION 4: The Scottish Executive considers the question of 'discreditable' in terms of the conduct regulations and the likely impact of ECHR.
SUGGESTION 5: The Scottish Executive considers the working of police appeals tribunals when sufficient experience in this area has been gained.
2.55 As part of this review inspection, HMIC consulted with the Scottish Executive, in particular officials of the Justice Department. While the above suggestions have not been addressed directly, HMIC acknowledges that, during 2001-2002, the Scottish Executive undertook a public consultation on proposals for enhancing the independence of the police complaints system, addressing both the recommendations contained within "A Fair Cop?" and the concerns raised by the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report.
2.56 Following on from this consultation exercise, there is a recognition that a significant amount of work is required on the various elements of the complaints process to ensure Scotland has a modern and effective system which provides fairness and transparency for all those involved. This is being taken forward in a number of ways including a commitment to establish an independent police complaints body. Alongside this, the Scottish Executive is also aware that it needs to review the subordinate legislation governing police conduct and discipline, the role of police authorities in dealing with complaints against the police and the effectiveness of police appeals tribunals.
2.57 In furtherance of this work and drawing on the findings of the Review Inspection, HMIC, in Part II of this report, examines the way forward for the investigation of complaints against the police. In doing so, a series of recommendations are made that HMIC believes will assist the work of the Executive and address the issues raised within the Part III suggestions outlined above.
Recommendations Arising From Part I of the Review Inspection
RECOMMENDATION 1: HMIC recommends that ACPOS, in consultation with COPFS, develops a mechanism to allow complainers who have a specific criminal complaint to make to be able to register this directly with the procurator fiscal ( paragraph 1.17).
RECOMMENDATION 2: HMIC recommends that ACPOS enters into discussions with COPFS and the Scottish Executive with a view to publication of a suitable police complaints leaflet ( paragraph 1.28).
RECOMMENDATION 3: HMIC recommends that ACPOS creates and maintains a national database of all allegations and disposals from misconduct hearings ( paragraph 1.32).
RECOMMENDATION 4: HMIC recommends that forces benchmark their suspension policies to ensure that all policies are consistent in content ( paragraph 1.35).
RECOMMENDATION 5: HMIC recommends that ACPOS engages with its partners in the Scottish Criminal Justice system, including COPFS and the Scottish Court Service, to discuss the merits and practicalities of fast tracking criminal cases involving police staff ( paragraph 1.41).
RECOMMENDATION 6: HMIC recommends that a national evaluation of lay visitor schemes should be carried out by the Scottish Executive in consultation with police authorities ( paragraph 1.79).
Areas Requiring Further Attention (arising from work to progress recommendations and suggestions contained in Part I of "A Fair Cop?")
1 The recording, monitoring and analysis of activity in relation to external investigations ( paragraph 1.7).
2 The formalisation of arrangements with third party reporting organisations and to ensure such arrangements deliver practical outcomes as has been achieved with racist incidents ( paragraphs 1.14 & 1.15).
3 ACPOS and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) should examine the issues raised in relation to moving to misconduct before criminal proceedings with a view to reaching a consistent and effective approach across Scotland ( paragraph 1.24).
4 The collation and circulation of chairs' notes and disposals ( paragraph 1.32).
5 The need to maintain contact with suspended officers ( paragraph 1.38).
6 Developments in complaints handling within common police service arrangements ( paragraph 1.56).
7 ACPOS to develop policy further in the area of persistent complainers in light of the work undertaken by the NHS in Scotland ( paragraph 1.63).
8 The carrying out of Best Value reviews into complaints by forces ( paragraph 1.66 ).
9 The development of effective complaints costing regimes ( paragraph 1.67).
10 Completion of CCTV schemes ( paragraph 1.74).
11 The promotion of Lay Visitor Schemes to the general public and within forces ( paragraph 1.78).
12 Formal implementation of a Code of Ethical Practice across the Scottish Police Service ( paragraph 1.82).
13 The potential benefits in the governance of complaints against the police to be derived from police authorities, with the support of ACPOS, COSLA and the Scottish Executive, meeting and sharing best practice, with a view to publishing national guidance on good practice ( paragraph 2.13) and a common template of management information ( paragraph 2.53).
14 An examination, by forces, of ways in which they could more actively solicit public commendations thereby assisting in the production of a balanced picture of service delivery ( paragraph 2.17).
15 An analysis, by ACPOS, of warnings given with a view to developing common procedures in respect of how disciplinary warnings are given ( paragraph 2.20).
16 A review, by ACPOS, of the training given to the chairs of misconduct hearings, to include formalised evaluation, the structure and frequency and the need for refresher training ( paragraphs 2.23 - 2.25).
17 A review, by ACPOS, of the need for training for investigating officers to include training needs analysis and greater use of formal evaluation techniques ( paragraph 2.29).
18 A re-examination, by forces, of their procedures in relation to civil claims to ensure they effectively address the suggestion ( paragraph 2.37).
19 A review, by forces, of the way they address the issues presented by officers who are persistently subject to complaint ( paragraph 2.40).
20 A review, by forces, of their written policies/guidelines to ensure a timescale for conciliation is set ( paragraph 2.43).
21 The opportunities to benefit from research into customer expectations and experience in respect of the police complaints system to be linked to work currently being considered by the Scottish Executive and COPFS ( paragraph 2.48).
Good Practice (arising from work to progress recommendations and suggestions contained in Part I of "A Fair Cop?")
HMIC considers the following to be good practice.
1 The entering into of a formal arrangement through a memorandum of understanding with appropriate bodies, e.g. Citizen Advice Bureaux to allow for remote reporting of complaints ( paragraph 1.14).
2 The simultaneous presentation to the Area Procurator Fiscal (APF) of the outcome of both the misconduct and criminal enquiry for consideration. Where the likely outcome of misconduct may be more effective than dealing with criminal allegations, then the APF is in a position to let the force undertake the former ( paragraph 1.22).
3 The utilisation of a case conference approach wherever possible when dealing with suspension ( paragraph 1.37).
4 The utilisation of an effective costing regime and arising from same the provision of appropriate management information to police authorities and for internal force use ( paragraph 1.67).
5 The trialling of CCTV technology within police vehicles intended to transport custodies with a view to installing in all such vehicles ( paragraph 1.73).
6 The recording of letters of appreciation as part of the officer's personnel file ( paragraph 2.15).
7 Secondment opportunities for non-departmental staff ( paragraph 2.30).
8 The regular publishing and circulation of detailed analysis of civil claims ( paragraph 2.36).
9 Proactively addressing the ethnicity of complainers as part of the complaints process ( paragraph 2.52).