FAQs related to the Police Ombudsman's investigation process, and how it operates in relation to police officers.
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 In other cases, complaints may be deemed outside our remit, they may be withdrawn, or they may be referred for informal resolution.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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.