Information for Police Officers: FAQs

Use the links below to find information to a range of issues of interest and concern to police officers and members of civilian staff subject to investigation by the Police Ombudsman's Office.

I have received an OMB52 - why is there so little information on it?

We share your concerns about the way in which officers are informed that a complaint has been made against them. However, we are required by legislation to inform officers immediately about such complaints. When sending this notification, we provide as much information as we can. This may be limited because it is not until we conduct further enquiries that additional details emerge.

Officers should bear in mind that the receipt of an OMB52 does not mean that they are under investigation. The form is to advise officers that a complaint has been made about an incident. If it transpires that an officer is to be the subject of an investigation he or she will receive an OMB3 form (Regulation 9 notice), which is the formal notification that they are being investigated in a complaint matter.

Bear in mind that currently about 50% of all complaints go forward for investigation. In other cases, complaints may be deemed outside our remit, they may be withdrawn, or they may be referred for informal resolution.

The Police Ombudsman is acutely aware of the stress, in many occasions unnecessary stress, this notification process can produce. We have previously recommended that the requirement to issue OMB52s be dispensed with to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy and the confusion caused by it.

We understand your concerns, but while the law remains as it is, we have no option but to provide these notifications. We will continue to do what we can to provide as much information as possible.

I have been told that the Police Ombudsman's Office has the power to view all material held by the police. Some of the material we hold is very sensitive. Must we disclose all material?

The first point to make in response to your question is that Police Ombudsman investigators have security clearance: the level of clearance they have will cover the nature of the information asked for. There are special procedures in place for different types of information. In general terms, if the information we ask you for is 'routine' such as notebooks or custody records that should be supplied through your Police Ombudsman Liaison Officer. That person also deals with requests for copies of local crime files. (There are special arrangements for departments such as Traffic, the TSGs etc). If the material asked for is Sensitive or Protectively Marked, then requests will be channelled through the Detective Superintendent, Force Intelligence Bureau. If the request relates to covert human intelligence or confidential sources, the Chief Constable or Deputy Chief Constable will handle it.

As a Custody Sergeant, if I am with a person who is drunk and has just been arrested, who then says that he or she wants to make a complaint, do I stop the custody procedure and record the complaint?

No, complete the custody procedures first and then record the complaint. Please ensure that an OMB2 form, onto which details of the complaint are recorded, is completed and sent to our offices as quickly as possible.

Why does the Police Ombudsman have retrospective powers which allow him to investigate historical cases? I thought the Good Friday Agreement and the release of prisoners was supposed to allow us all to move on?

We carry out retrospective investigations because the law requires us to. The law states that if a matter of alleged police misconduct is grave or there are exceptional circumstances and the matter has not previously been investigated, or if there is new evidence in relation to the case, then the Police Ombudsman must investigate.

For this reason the Police Ombudsman has investigated, and is continuing to investigate, a series of cases related to allegations that police conduct may have resulted in a death. These include the deaths of military personnel, prison office staff, Protestant and Catholic civilians, and also of police officers themselves.

The families of all of those who lost their lives have a right to expect the terrible crimes committed against their loved ones to be investigated. Legislation requires that we continue to investigate the historical cases people have brought to us, and that will only change when those cases transfer to the new Historical Investigations Unit once it has been established.

I know that people have up to 12 months to complain about any incident, but is there a limit to how long an investigation should last and the time an officer has to endure the associated stress of an investigation

We share your concern that some investigations can take a long time. In many cases this is for reasons which are beyond the control of this Office. These might include delays waiting for forensic or medical reports to come back, or for the Public Prosecution Service to direct on a file.

Delays also arise when officers are unavailable for interview. This can be for a variety of reasons, but the net effect can be that investigations can be delayed for months because one or more officers cannot be interviewed. This obviously adds to the stress for their fellow officers and is a matter of some concern to the Police Ombudsman's Office.

Another factor which is having an impact on the length of investigations is the fact that complaints are becoming more complex. Complaints are now much more likely to include multiple allegations, such as police didn't respond to my call and failed to properly investigate a crime. This added complexity creates an additional workload for our investigators.

We have been working with the police to improve the situation and have introduced a number of measures to help speed things up. These include the electronic exchange of information between the organisations and designated single points of contact within Criminal Justice Units to deal with Police Ombudsman requests. Officers are, of course, under an obligation to supply any material required for a Police Ombudsman investigation.



 

Can you offer any reassurance to police officers who are in the front line of public order situations and are required to use force to protect themselves and others?

We are acutely aware of the pressures and danger that police officers face while dealing with public disorder.

Officers in these situations perform a vital role under extreme pressure. Their role is sensitive and often dangerous. They often perform it in the full glare of media and political attention and in the knowledge that their actions may also be scrutinised by the Police Ombudsman's Office. They are required to balance the competing rights of opposing groups, while safeguarding their own right to protection and personal safety. It is by no means an easy task, and we recognise that.

Nevertheless, the Police Ombudsman's Office has an important role to play in ensuring that the use of force - including potentially lethal force such as AEPS - is justified and proportionate in the circumstances of its use. We test compliance with the law and with force orders, and any officer acting in accordance with those will not be subject to criticism by this Office.

We will also consider whether an officer has been properly trained for the role he or she is undertaking and will take into account the stress and pressures likely to be experienced by officers in any given scenario.

However, laws, force orders, processes and procedures have been put in place for good reason. They help to ensure that force is used by police only when necessary, and in a way which protects officers and members of the public while minimising the potential for serious injury. We have a role in ensuring the law and guidelines are complied with, which is in the long-term best interests of everyone concerned.

If you want to learn more about our investigation of incidents associated with unrest in Northern Ireland, summaries of some of our investigations of these incidents can be found here.

Who has primacy at a crime scene: PONI or PSNI? Can you take the exhibits?

There is no simple answer to this question. There will often be crime scenes from which either complaints arise or where an officer discharged a firearm etc. In such a situation the police Investigating Officer and PONI Investigator would have an interest in the scene. The general agreement is that the more serious incident takes precedence. This has worked well but does require the Senior Investigators on the ground to agree forensic strategies and the approach taken.

Is it true that representatives of the Police Ombudsman, during previous serious public disorder, have been in the police Gold Command Room advising on elements of the police operation? There is a concern that this might have compromised the ability of police commanders to make speedy operational decisions when officers' lives depended upon it - in particular, decisions relating to the deployment and use of AEPs

Neither the Police Ombudsman or his staff would seek to influence PSNI operational decisions during a public order situation.

The only time we attend a control room is where we are called, i.e. following the discharge of AEPs, never before. An Investigator may then attend the Control Room to gain an understanding as to what happened and make decisions as to what action the Police Ombudsman needs to take immediately. The Investigator would only remain in the Control Room for a short time and not influence operational decisions.

We have no remit to perform such an advisory role during these situations, and for good reason. If we did so we would then find ourselves in the ridiculous position of investigating decisions which we ourselves influenced.

You can be assured that we have never, and never will, seek to influence or impede in any way the decision making process in Command Rooms during situations such as this.

If someone makes a complaint to your Office and after you have investigated it you do not find any evidence to support the allegation, what recourse does the officer have against that person who made the complaint?

A police officer has every right to seek legal advice to pursue civil legal proceedings in a private capacity or supported by his/her Staff Association if the officer chooses to do so.

I have fired several AEP rounds but I have not received any Form OMB3, OMB3a or OMB3b. Why?

In accordance with a protocol agreed with the Chief Constable, individual officers are not served a Form OMB3, OMB3a or OMB3b unless a complaint is made or the investigation reveals that the officer may have acted in contravention of instructions. Otherwise officers who discharge baton rounds are treated as witnesses.

How will I be updated about the investigation?

Police Ombudsman Investigation Officers have a responsibility to keep both the complainant and police officers informed of progress every six weeks. This may be done by letter, email or phone call.

Officers who are the subject of an investigation are also encouraged to contact the office if they require additional information. You should contact the Investigation Officer dealing with your case, whose name appears on the Form OMB3 or Form OMB3B which you will have received to notify you that you are under investigation.

While every effort will be made to conduct an expeditious investigation, it should be noted that, due to the complexity of some investigations and input from outside agencies, delays might occur.

Can I be compelled to remain for a misconduct interview?

You can be instructed by a senior officer of the PSNI to attend a misconduct interview, in which case failure to attend would be a disciplinary offence. The Police Ombudsman cannot compel you to remain, however, you should be aware that if you terminate an interview, an inference may be drawn from your action, or you may be acting in breach of the Code of Ethics.

Do you have the power to demand that officers remain on duty while your staff are en route to deal with a situation?

No, we have no power to do so. But there is an onus on the PSNI to preserve a possible crime scene and any potential evidence. Any evidence that may relate to officers allegedly involved (e.g. uniforms, batons, notebooks etc.) that may be required for the investigation must be secured.

Your Office seems to be investigating all incidents where we drive at crowds. You do not seem to understand that this is a public order tactic. What else do they expect us to do?

In talks to communities, the issue of the aggressive use of Land Rovers by PSNI officers is regularly raised. We also do receive complaints about their use. It is accepted that there will be occasions when Land Rovers have to be used to keep crowds separated particularly at the initial stages of spontaneous riots when police resources are not available in sufficient numbers to deploy safely. We fully understand that.

However, the use of Land Rovers to intimidate persons or drive at crowds when such justification is not present does not form part of any public order tactic and will make such drivers vulnerable to criminal prosecution or misconduct proceedings. Such irresponsible driving can unnecessarily put lives at risk and impact on community confidence in the police.

What happens if I refuse to attend an interview in relation to a complaint?

We will endeavour and take all reasonable steps to secure the officer's attendance voluntarily. If he or she still refuses and there is a power of arrest, and arrest is deemed necessary, then we may be forced to exercise that power. If the issue is in relation to purely a misconduct matter, the officer can be ordered by a senior officer to attend for interview and the PONI Investigator will request this is done. Failure to attend then is potentially a breach of discipline.

What happens when an Investigation Officer from the Office of the Police Ombudsman is called to an incident? (Chief Constable's Referral)

At any incident it is important that steps are taken to establish the facts. It is vital that evidence is preserved. Necessary action will be taken for that purpose and will be carried out in accordance with agreed protocols between the Office of the Police Ombudsman and the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Prior to the arrival of the Police Ombudsman's Investigation Officer the police officers present must take necessary steps to preserve the scene(s) and any other evidential material.

Further guidance can be found in the Guidance Notes which accompany Form OMB2.

In what circumstances would the Police Ombudsman appoint a Family Liaison Officer?

The Police Ombudsman is required to investigate all cases of death which may have resulted from the conduct of the police. In these cases the Police Ombudsman will appoint a Family Liaison Officer.

When can a solicitor or "friend" accompany me at an interview?

In an interview concerning criminal allegations your solicitor is entitled to be present subject to the normal rules. It is at the discretion of the Investigation Officer as to whether or not your "friend" may be present.

In an interview concerning misconduct allegations your "friend" is entitled to be present. It is at the discretion of the Investigation Officer as to whether or not your solicitor may be present.

Your solicitor cannot act as your "friend". A "friend" must be a serving member of a police service who is not an interested party.

Is the use of Tasers by police subject to automatic investigation by the Police Ombudsman?

Until late 2016, all discharges of police TASER stun guns in Northern Ireland were investigated by the Police Ombudsman's Office.

However, following discussions between the PSNI and the Police Ombudsman's Office this has now changed.

The PSNI continues to notify the Police Ombudsman’s Office about all firearms discharges, including TASERs. But rather than automatically initiating an investigation, Police Ombudsman staff now conduct preliminary enquiries to assess whether a full investigation is necessary.

Only in cases where the Police Ombudsman is of the view that an investigation is required in the public interest, will TASER discharges now be subject to a full investigation.

We hope this will streamline the process and free up investigative resources.  

If there has been a traumatic incident, such as a death in custody, surely it is reasonable to ensure a Police Federation member is present before your officers conduct interviews?

We would accept that there are situations where an officer has been traumatised and it would be best that he or she see a FMO before being interviewed. An officer is entitled to seek Federation advice at any stage and it is something we would encourage. It is important that both the officer and his or her representative are fully aware of the process and of their rights. Our officers liaise with the Federation representative in such instances if they are present.

Will the Police Ombudsman tell us if you become aware that a complainant may have committed a criminal act?

The law is clear on this - Under Section 5 of the Criminal Law Act 1967 we are required to disclose to police information relating to any individual who may have committed a relevant offence. We have passed on such information on numerous occasions and will continue to comply with the law.

Having said that, when the evidence in question is clearly already available to police (for example if it is contained on police CCTV footage), the law does not require us to pass that information on. This is important in safeguarding our independence.

What material may be disclosed at my interview?

There is no statutory requirement for any disclosure to be made, but it is the practice of the Office of the Police Ombudsman to make disclosure of appropriate material prior to and at various stages of the interview. The decision whether to make such a disclosure and the extent of it is entirely a matter for the Investigating Officer.

How will my interviews be recorded?

Interviews concerning allegations of a criminal nature will normally be recorded on audiotape in accordance with PACE Codes of Practice. Interviews concerning only misconduct issues will also normally be tape-recorded.

If the Police Ombudsman had CCTV which showed the identity of an individual who police believe had committed an arrestable offence, would you inform the police of the identity of that individual?

If police asked us for the information we would certainly pass it on, and the law requires its disclosure, but it would be impractical for us to routinely call the police to check that they knew the identity of individuals. It would also be likely to significantly dent public confidence in our independence.

What information does the Police Ombudsmans Office hold on its files about officers?

We do not hold files on individual officers. We do, of course, have case files with information relating to the complaints that have been made and the investigations we have undertaken, which might include information relating to officers. We have procedures in place to ensure that such files are held for no longer than is legally necessary.

Can I be compelled to provide a duty statement to the Office of the Police Ombudsman?

You can be instructed by a line manager of the PSNI to do so and in appropriate circumstances the Police Ombudsman's Investigation Officer will ask that such instructions be given. Failure to comply may constitute a breach of the Code of Ethics, which would then be the subject of a separate report to SID.

Can I be compelled to make a witness statement when requested to do so by the Office of the Police Ombudsman?

As a police officer you will be expected to make a witness statement if asked. This is consistent with your obligations under the Code of Ethics. In such circumstances you can be assured that you are not under investigation, and you will not be asked to make such a statement if you are under investigation. Further information can be found in Weekly Order 26/03 - Interview of Police Witnesses.

If I am asked for my notebook or other documentation or material, do I have to hand these over to the Office of the Police Ombudsman?

Yes. Police officers are required, under the Code of Ethics, to ensure that accurate records are kept. Section 66 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 and Regulation 8 of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (Complaints etc.) Regulations 2000 make it clear that the Police Ombudsman can demand such items required in connection with an investigation. It is for the Police Ombudsman to decide whether the items are so required. These will normally be requested through the Liaison Officer at the Criminal Justice Units.

Does the Police Ombudsmans Office have access to the Register of Notifiable Interests or make use of it in any way in relation to its investigations?

Police Ombudsman investigators would only seek access to the notifiable interests register if information from it was specifically relevant to a complaint under investigation. This would occur very rarely - there have been only a very few cases in which we have required access to the register.

Are officers ever identified to complainants?

Officers are never identified to the complainant. However, in the majority of cases the complainant is aware of the identity of the officer complained about, as he or she will often have been the arresting officer.

If the Police Ombudsmans Office had an investigative report which would support an officer's civil claim, would you make it available to him or her?

We cannot make the material automatically available to the officer or their legal team as we are not allowed to do so under law - Section 63 of the Police Northern Ireland Act 1998 is quite specific about the restrictions on the disclosure of information.

I have heard that you have arrested a large number of officers and I am worried that if someone makes a serious complaint of something like assault against me I will be arrested. Why is it sometimes necessary to arrest a police officer?

We are often asked this question and there seems to be a perception among many officers that we have made a large number of arrests. This is simply not the case.

The decision to arrest an officer is not taken lightly. We consider if there are grounds for arrest, a power of arrest and if an arrest is necessary. If those conditions are met, an arrest has to take place. At that stage we would tend to liaise with the Service Improvement Department.

The majority of arrests have been because serving or retired officers have refused to attend for interview.

Have you the powers to search an officer's locker with or without his or her permission?

That locker is technically the property of the Policing Board and if need be we will get the authority to search it. No such search will take place without a senior PSNI officer being present.

How do officers know the outcome of an investigation into a complaint made against them?

When an officer receives a form known as an OMB3 (OMB for Ombudsman) which notifies him or her that they are subject to investigation, then he or she will also be informed when the case is closed and how it has been closed.

If the complaint is dispensed with early on in the process and before the service of an OMB3 - for example the person making the complaint has not notified us of their intentions or the complaint is outside our remit - we do not correspond directly with an officer. In fact, in many such cases, no specific officer is named by the complainant.

Do complainants have to pay to make complaints to the Police Ombudsman's Office?

No. We believe it is important in terms of police accountability that the police complaints system is freely accessible to all in society.

When investigating a complaint do you look at the officer's previous disciplinary record?

An officer's previous disciplinary record, depending on the facts of each case, may (if appropriate and relevant), play a part in an investigation. Similarly, the Police Ombudsman's Office may look at any previous complaints made by the complainant.

 

Is it right that when your office is investigating a road traffic collision, you will look at the officer's driving record and take into consideration other incidents he or she may have been involved in?

No, it is not the case that this is done as a matter of course. There may be occasions, however, when the particular circumstances of an investigation leads to that line of inquiry.

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