Supplementary written evidence submitted by the Police Superintendents’ Association (PCO46)
Police Conduct and Complaints Inquiry - Supplementary Evidence
Thank you to you and the committee for the opportunity to comment further on 3 areas that the committee has indicated it would be interested in the views of the Police Superintendents’ Association (PSA) namely: -
The PSA submits the following under each of the headings above.
1. Can you explain further the approach to lesson learning in the Airline industry and how this approach could be used within policing?
1.1 The PSA believes that there needs to be a change to the culture which exists around police complaints and conduct which has traditionally focussed on blame and punishment at the expense of learning and improvement.
1.2 As mentioned in our evidence to the committee, we have been very interested in the approach taken in other industries to examine the aftermath of when things go wrong such as in the airline industry.
1.3 To explore this further we have previously invited the journalist Mr Matthew Syed to our national conference to give a presentation on what he entitles ‘Back Box Thinking’ as captured in his book of the same title.
1.4 Mr Syed explores case examples from the airline and medical industries to illustrate that a culture based on what he terms ‘the blame game’ can actually cause people to cover up mistakes and therefore the industry itself does not benefit from true learning and therefore improvement to ensure such matters are unlikely to occur again.
1.5 I quote from this reasoning, ‘Think of it like this: if our first reaction is to assume that the person closest to a mistake has been negligent or malign, then blame will flow freely and the anticipation of blame will cause people to cover up their mistakes. But if our first reaction is to regard error as a learning opportunity, then we will be motivated to investigate what really happened’.
1.6 This of course is not to be interpreted that police officers or police staff members who commit egregious acts should not be investigated and subject to appropriate sanction. However, the starting point in a complaints system should not be a rush to approach an inquiry into what happened with a mindset that someone must be to blame for professional misconduct. Indeed the very meaning of what constitutes professional misconduct has been examined in some cases before the courts and seems to have developed into describing professional misconduct as ‘serious and reprehensible’ conduct and therefore a high test should be applied.
1.7 In the policing context the current system places a very low test on consideration of whether a person serving with the police may have committed a criminal offence or behaved in a manner justifying bringing disciplinary proceedings. The test is set very low with merely ‘an indication’ of the alleged conduct being required to trigger the service of a Regulatory notice of investigation. In our view this can and does often result in officers being served with notices that they are under investigation for professional misconduct (potentially with their career in jeopardy) or worse as a suspect in a criminal offence.
1.8 The resultant effect is that the officers, quite properly, will seek representation, including legal representation where appropriate to deal with the allegation made against them. This changes the dynamic of the nature of the investigation from one of wanting to find out in a timely fashion what happened and why in order to learn and prevent future occurrences to being adversarial and defensive with the resultant delays and mistrust of the system.
2. In what ways do you think that police and crime commissioners’ oversight of how local forces handle complaints could be changed?
2.1 The Policing and Crime Act 2017 introduced new measures in which police and crime commissioners were given the powers to choose between three models of more involvement in the complaints system. This ranged from being the ‘review’ body for complainants dissatisfied with how their complaint was handled by the force to being able to be responsible for the recording of complaints and being responsible for communicating with complainants throughout.
2.2 The decision for how involved the PCC’s office wishes to be is a matter for each PCC and therefore a number of models may be operating.
2.3 As elected representatives, the PSA would like to see further strengthening of the powers for Police and Crime Commissioner’s to intervene in cases being handled in force where there are concerns about (for example) the length of time that is being taken in an investigation, the proportionality of it or the lack of information provided. This would provide some independent scrutiny of such cases and would complement the PSA’s call for legally qualified chairs also being given case management powers as part of holding the IOPC to account for their decision making in cases.
3. To what extend does the IOPC oversee Professional Standards Departments?
(a) In what ways, if any, do you think the oversight of Professional Standards Departments by the IOPC could be improved?
3.1 The IOPC is the ‘guardian’ of the complaints system and issues statutory guidance which professional standards departments are required to follow.
3.2 The other main oversight role of Professional Standards Departments by the IOPC is when the IOPC is overseeing a ‘directed’ investigation. This is where the Professional Standards Department’s investigation is under the direction and control of the IOPC.
3.3 The PSA do not consider that there are any further oversight provisions required.
Victor Marshall, OBE
Professional Standards Co-ordinator
 ‘Black Box Thinking’ Matthew Syed
 Walker v BSB PC 2011/0219, 19 September 2013