Police complaints reach record high in England and Wales

There were a record number of complaints against police in England and Wales last year, figures show.

A total of 37,105 complaint cases were recorded in 2014-15, figures from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) show.

The numbers show a 6% rise in the amount of complaints made in 2013-14, with the figures reaching a record high for the second year running.

The most common complaint made was for “neglect or failure in duty”.

The IPCC said a survey conducted last year showed public satisfaction following contact with the police was falling, and there was a greater willingness to complain.

‘Over-complex and inconsistent’

The figures also found:

  • Wide inconsistencies in the way police complaints were handled between individual forces
  • More people were dissatisfied with the way their complaint was handled – the total number of appeals made by dissatisfied complainants increased by 7%
  • Of the complaints investigated 14% were upheld – the same proportion as in 2013-14
  • 14% of complaints were made about “incivility, impoliteness and intolerance”
  • The time taken to resolve complaints increased to 147 days – 12 days longer than the year before
  • Those who appeal over how their complaints are handled are twice as likely to be successful if their case is heard by the IPCC than the individual force

Home Secretary Theresa May announced an independent review of the IPCC’s structure and governance in August.

Dame Anne Owers, chairwoman of the IPCC, said the figures showed a complaints system that was “both over-complex and inconsistent, and is clearly failing to satisfy a significant number of complainants”.

She said: “We welcome the fact that the government proposes to bring in legislation to simplify and streamline a system that at present satisfies neither those who need it nor those who have to operate it.”

Deputy Chief Constable Alan Goodwin, who is the national lead for complaints, added: “We police by public consent so it is always disappointing when somebody is unhappy with the service they have received.

“The system for handling complaints is complex and leads to inconsistencies between forces. The system is being reviewed with the aim improving it for those with a complaint and the forces handling it.”

‘Relatively low’

The number of complaints made to the watchdog marks the most it has received since it started collecting data in 2004-05.

A regional breakdown showed that Staffordshire Police recorded the greatest annual jump in complaints, with a 66% rise from 310 in 2013-14 to 516 in 2014-15.

The Metropolitan Police, the UK’s largest force, had the highest overall number of complaints with 6,828. However, this number was down by 4% on the previous year.

Alex Duncan, professional standards lead at the Police Federation of England and Wales, said he was “concerned by the length of time it can take to resolve complaints”.

However, he said, while the number of complaints was rising, the number of those actually upheld remained relatively low.

Policing minister Mike Penning said: “At the moment, as these figures show, it [system of complaints] is too often complex, opaque and unresponsive to complainants and officers.”