(POP0067)

Written evidence submitted by IOPC (POP0067)

 

Background

  1. The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Home Office. Our statutory duty is to secure and maintain public confidence in the police complaints system. Robust independent oversight of the police is essential for trust in policing and maintaining the model of ‘policing by consent’. Our mission recognises this link between independent oversight and public confidence; we aim to improve public confidence in policing by ensuring those who work within the police service are accountable for their actions and lessons are learnt where something has gone wrong. We oversee the police complaints system and investigate the most serious incidents and complaints involving the police. All our work is done independently of the police, government and interest groups.

 

  1. We have previously provided evidence to the Home Affairs Committee that would be relevant to this inquiry through our submission to the 2020 Police Conduct and Complaints Inquiry. This submission focuses on terms of reference 4 and 5 for the inquiry and aims not to repeat previous submissions or to pre-empt the findings of the significant amount of work that is currently ongoing to review policing practice.

 

Term of reference 4: What can be done to improve community policing and increase trust in police officers and forces, including on funding and on disciplinary powers when police officer behaviour falls below required standards?

 

  1. Our engagement with stakeholders (including service users, our External Stakeholder Reference Groups and Youth Panel) combined with our Public Perceptions Tracker[1] research shows that relationship building is a key factor in improving community policing and trust in police officers and forces. It is vital that this is genuine two-way engagement and that communities can see its impact on how policing is delivered.

 

  1. It is crucial that the police provide a good quality service to all communities; that officers and staff carry out their work with competence and professionalism, and demonstrate the highest levels of integrity in all interactions with the public. To ensure this, the police service needs to be sufficiently resourced, officers and staff need to be supported by high-quality training and guidance at both local and national level, and poor performance and misconduct needs to be addressed in an effective and transparent way.

 

  1. Through our work we see the damaging impact that experiencing or witnessing a poor level of service or misconduct by the police (from serious corruption to lack of courtesy and respect) can have. When trust and confidence is damaged, it can be extremely difficult to regain. 

 

  1. We would highlight that while this term of reference specifically mentions police officer behaviour, members of the public often also interact with members of police staff or contractors. It is unlikely that members of the public will draw distinctions between poor service or wrongdoing by police officers and by others working in policing. All those who work in the police service need to maintain the highest standards of professionalism, and the system needs to ensure this.

 

  1. Given the extraordinary powers and responsibilities held by the police, it is vital that only those who have the necessary levels of integrity and will uphold the standards of professional behaviour are recruited and retained in the police service. The findings of the recent HMICFRS inspection into vetting, misconduct and misogyny in the police service highlight issues we have been concerned about for some time. There is a need for vetting to be more intrusive and diligent, including social media and background checks on those hoping to join the police service. It is important that where there are disciplinary issues and/or a history of behaviours that bring into question the character of an individual, red flags are raised that, where necessary, stop an application or transfer to another police force from progressing. There also need to be suitably robust ongoing vetting arrangements to ensure that those who are already in the service remain fit to do so.

 

  1. The disciplinary system plays an important role in this too. It is vital that the disciplinary system is, and is seen to be, fair and effective. We have previously suggested to the Home Office that there may be merit in a review of whether decision-making by panels is suitably consistent and in line with the College of Policing’s guidance on outcomes in police misconduct proceedings, and whether decisions, and the rationale for them, are adequately transparent and being communicated effectively to the public

 

  1. We welcome the Home Office’s announcement that it will be reviewing police dismissals. However, we think it would be helpful to extend the parameters of this review. We are concerned that the proposed focus on dismissals only is too narrow. In our view, it will not be possible to consider how effective the current system is in ensuring that those who are not fit to continue in policing are dismissed, without considering other earlier stages of the process – including decisions which determine whether matters are referred to any misconduct meeting or hearing in the first place.

 

  1. We would not wish to pre-empt the outcome of any such review but are aware that the current system can be slow and some argue that it is too adversarial. The current system is a hybrid of traditional employer / employee internal disciplinary process with a more regulatory, fitness to practice consideration added on. Combining both of these can add to the complexity and therefore the time taken to deal with individual cases.

 

  1. We are also mindful that not all individual failings in policing are a matter of misconduct. The current approach, which is not fully aligned to the fundamental consideration of whether someone is suited to serving with the police, creates an excessive focus on wrongdoing rather than looking, for example, at someone’s ability to assess risk and take appropriate action or exercise appropriate judgment in situations of high stress and conflict.

 

  1. It remains important to ensure that anyone who is serving with the police is fit to do so and any issues can be dealt with swiftly. In the longer term, it may therefore be helpful to consider whether there would be merit in adopting a ‘fitness to practice’ approach, more akin to some other professions.

 

 

Term of reference 5: Specifically, what the Metropolitan Police must do to increase trust under its new Commissioner.

 

  1. The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) must ensure that all its officers and staff conduct their work with professionalism and integrity. It must also recognise and respond to concerns that communities have about the way in which policing is delivered.

 

  1. We are aware from our research that people from Black and other ethnic minority backgrounds are more likely to report low confidence in the police. In August 2020 we made eleven learning recommendations to the MPS[2] following five investigations involving the stop and search of black men by MPS officers. We expressed our concern that confidence in the MPS, particularly with black communities across London, is being affected by how officers undertake stop and search.

 

  1. The MPS must continue to address issues relating to disproportionality which significantly impact on trust and confidence. Our recommendations included:

 

 

  1. Other investigations we have carried out have highlighted the need for cultural change within the force. Following our Operation Hotton investigation - which uncovered underlying cultural issues around bullying and discrimination at Charing Cross police station, making colleagues unwilling to report bad behaviour - we made 15 learning recommendations[3] which were all accepted by the force. These recommendations were aimed at preventing environments from developing in which unprofessional and inappropriate behaviour can thrive and go unchallenged. Included were recommendations for the MPS to publicly commit to being an anti-racist organisation with a zero-tolerance policy towards sexism, misogyny, bullying and harassment.

 

  1. Another related, recurring issue we have seen in investigations involving MPS officers is the inappropriate use of WhatsApp and social media, including the sending of offensive and discriminatory messages. While this has resulted in the dismissal and criminal conviction of some officers, and concerns about the use of WhatsApp and social media are not limited to the MPS alone (in 2021 we issued nine learning recommendations to all forces in England and Wales regarding police use of WhatsApp), the MPS needs to continue to be vigilant of this type of inappropriate behaviour and cultural issues within the force that may risk it going unchallenged.

 

  1. We welcome the findings of Baroness Casey of Blackstock’s interim report into the misconduct system in the MPS, which highlights issues that we have raised through our own work. We also welcome her full independent review of culture and standards of behaviour in the MPS. We are encouraged by Sir Mark Rowley’s frank response to Baroness Casey’s findings so far. The MPS now has an opportunity to take positive action to address the issues raised in her report, and to ensure that previous recommendations made by the IOPC are implemented fully.

 

An opportunity for meaningful change

  1. We welcome the focus that is being placed on some of the current issues in policing through work such as Baroness Casey’s review; the NPCC’s work, led by DCC Maggie Blyth, to establish and coordinate the national response to violence against women and girls; HMICFRS’s recent thematic inspection of vetting, misconduct and misogyny in the police service and the Home Office’s planned review of police dismissals.

 

  1. This increased focus needs to be seen as an opportunity to reflect and make meaningful change to improve policing. It is important that the findings of these pieces of work are brought together and dealt with in a holistic way to respond effectively and achieve the best possible outcomes. The joint work of the IOPC, HMICFRS and the College of Policing in investigating super-complaints also offers valuable insight into concerns about systemic issues in policing and we would encourage the police service and others to implement the recommendations made to them as a result of our findings.

 

  1. It is important that the structure of the police service supports those who work within it to deliver the best possible service. An area we would suggest may be worthy of consideration is whether the current 43-force model is still the best model for policing in England and Wales. We are aware that others, including the NPCC and HMICFRS, have previously questioned whether the 43-force model is best placed to deal with the current and future challenges of policing. While we are not in a position to provide a view on the best model, we are aware from our own work of difficulties that the 43-force model can sometimes cause, both operationally and in terms of effective implementation of guidance, learning and change across the service. 

 

 

November 2022


[1]               Public confidence and engagement | Independent Office for Police Conduct

[2]               IOPC_thematic_stop_and_search_learning_recommendations_to_MPS_21Aug2020.pdf (policeconduct.gov.uk)

[3]               Operation Hotton recommendations - Metropolitan Police Service, September 2021 | Independent Office for Police Conduct