COMPLAINTS about discrimination by officers at Yorkshire’s largest police force are “poorly handled” from beginning to end, according to a highly critical watchdog’s report.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) says there are “significant failings” in the way West Yorkshire Police deals with claims of discrimination from the public, most of which relate to race.
Officials examined a sample of 202 cases where allegations were made against officers from West Yorkshire, Greater Manchester and the West Midlands, after last year publishing a damning report about the Metropolitan Police’s performance on the same issue.
One section of the report, refuted by West Yorkshire Police bosses, claims: “Police in these force areas do not appear to have a good understanding of the diverse communities they serve.”
Across the three forces, the report suggests allegations of discrimination are taken much more seriously when claims come from the police themselves than those from the general public.
Of the 170 complaints from the public alleging discrimination only 94 were investigated and of those none were upheld, despite the forces upholding up to 13 per cent of allegations from the public overall.
Eighty per cent of cases were not properly assessed, failing to take into account the gravity of the complaint or the officer’s previous record, while nearly half the investigations launched did not meet basic standards.
The report said the number of cases where officers had reported their colleagues was lower for West Yorkshire Police. It added: “The difference suggests West Yorkshire Police officers are not reporting discriminatory behaviour to the same extent as the other two forces, and this is a cause for concern.”
The report accused the forces, the three biggest outside London, of not providing enough diversity training, adding: “This both results in complaints and means that they are not well handled.”
It made recommendations for improving the quality of investigations into allegations, training and contact with complainants.
IPCC Chair Dame Anne Owers said: “Our findings are stark - generally complaints of discrimination made by members of the public are poorly handled from beginning to end – in relation to the way the complaint is investigated, the conclusions drawn and the contact with the complainant. It is vital that police forces deal effectively with allegations of discrimination. For particular sections of the community, likely to be more distrustful of the police, or more vulnerable, or both, they are a litmus test of confidence in policing as a whole and of the police’s understanding of the communities they serve.”
The IPCC also invited groups such as Leeds Race Card Project and JUST West Yorkshire to take part in focus groups and offer feedback on their local forces. Cindy Butts, IPCC Commissioner for West Yorkshire, said: “Their insight has contributed to the recommendations we have made which I look forward to discussing with senior officers from West Yorkshire Police.”
West Yorkshire Police’s deputy chief constable Dee Collins said: “We are very disappointed with the suggestion that we are ‘failing at every stage’, however we recognise there are some improvements to be made and we are well advanced with that work, significant changes having taken place since the time this data was collected.”
“Furthermore, we refute the report’s assertion that we ‘do not have a good understanding of the communities (we) serve’. It is not our experience, or what we hear from the communities where our Neighbourhood Policing Teams are firmly embedded and have an excellent relationship and a real focus on local issues.”
As well as alleged racism, the report looks into how the forces deal with allegations in relation to any kind of discrimination, including race, disability, age, gender and sexual orientation.
The reports contains a number of case studies where allegations of racism are dealt with poorly, though it is not clear whether they relate to West Yorkshire Police or the other two forces.
It showed officers’ version of events being given more weight than those of claimants, investigators failing to look into the history of complaints against particular officers, and incidents being treated less seriously than they should have been.
One incident mentioned in the report saw a complainant allege an officer used excessive force when handcuffing him and called him a “stupid Paki”.
It said: “The complainant was a prominent member of his local community and suggested that the officer had a poor relationship with the entire community.
“The investigating officer did not explore this assertion and failed to look at the officer’s complaint history to see if there were any similar complaints logged against the officer, which might indicate a pattern of behaviour.”
The report concludes: “While there were some examples of good practice, we found that all three forces are failing at every stage of the process to investigate discrimination allegations properly, in a customer-focused way.”
Mark Burns-Williamson, Police and Crime Commissioner for West Yorkshire, said: “The findings of this report are a cause for real concern and reflect some of the issues that have been raised with me when I have been out and about in our communities such as training, stop and search, hate crime and data integrity.
“I will continue to work with the Chief Constable to tackle these important issues as set out in the refreshed Police and Crime Plan.”