Police force set to lead way with independent complaints unit

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A YORKSHIRE police force wants to become the first in the country to run its own independent complaints unit in a bid to restore public trust after a series of damaging scandals.

North Yorkshire Police will move its professional standards unit away from the control of the force’s chief constable to tackle the widely-held belief that the police are allowed to investigate themselves.

Under the plans put together by police and crime commissioner Julia Mulligan, the new Independent Complaints, Standards and Ethics Office will be led by a civilian former police officer.

Though staff at the unit, which deals with complaints and allegations of misconduct by officers, will initially be employed by the force, they may eventually come under the control of the commissioner herself and report directly to her office.

North Yorkshire is one of a number of forces where public confidence in policing is thought to have been damaged by recent public scandals.

In 2011, Chief Constable Grahame Maxwell was given a written warning for disreputable conduct after helping a relative gain unfair advantage in a police recruitment drive for 60 jobs.

His deputy, Adam Briggs, who has since retired, was found to have helped a relative get a job during the recruitment exercise when he received “management advice”.

Mrs Mulligan said: “When you talk to complainants, because of what has gone on here and in the wider world beyond North Yorkshire, they have real concerns about independence. We therefore want to do things differently in North Yorkshire.”

The plans, which are still in their early stages, are thought to make the force the first in the country to operate an independent police complaints unit.

Disciplinary matters arising from complaints would still come under the remit of the chief constable, while more serious complaints can still be referred to the watchdog Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Mrs Mulligan said: “At the moment the current professional standards department team is under the direction and control of the police force, but we want to ensure that they can act as independently as possible.

“North Yorkshire Police has an excellent track record, one of the best police complaints offices in the country. We have the highest local resolution rate in England and Wales by some margin.

“We need to address the fact and perception by the public that the police investigate the police. “As far as possible I want as many complaints dealt with successfully at a local level rather than involving the IPCC as this can take several months, in which time no progress can be made locally.”

West Yorkshire police and crime commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson is also planning a similar move and has pledged to have “a much more thorough look at the whole way complaints and integrity issues are handled and improved”.

He said: “It’s about making sure there’s a proper independent and robust response so that people can have trust and confidence.

“That includes for police officers and police staff. It’s always difficult when departments are set up to investigate colleagues in the same force area.”

The reforms come a month after Home Secretary Theresa May announced plans to give the IPCC the capacity to investigate all serious complaints.

She told MPs she would draw on the existing resources of professional standards departments of individual police forces to provide the increased capacity for the IPCC.

Mrs May said it was unacceptable that the IPCC had the capacity to investigate only 130 of the 2,100 “serious and sensitive” cases referred to it last year, with the rest returned to individual police forces to investigate.

Skipton and Ripon MP Julian Smith said: “I welcome this move by Julia Mulligan. I have campaigned for years to make North Yorkshire Police and the police authority more transparent. It was one of the reasons I felt the role of the PCC would really make a difference in North Yorkshire.”