New police era begins

Published Date: 03.11.2000

The long awaited new system for dealing with complaints against the police will be launched in Belfast later today (Friday) with the official opening of the Police Ombudsman’s Office.

From Monday, the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, Mrs Nuala O’Loan and her staff will provide independent, impartial investigation of complaints against the police: the RUC will no longer investigate themselves.

Mrs. O’Loan, says the new complaints system, which has an annual budget in excess of £5 million, is the most far-reaching initiative of its kind in the world.

More independence, powers and responsibilities.

“ Internationally, the concept of the police investigating themselves is being rejected. Northern Ireland is leading the world in the introduction of the investigation of complaints by investigators who are completely independent both of police and of government. We have a combination of more independence, powers and responsibilities that any other organisation I know,” she said.

The Police Ombudsman’s building is in St Anne’s Square in the Cathedral Quarter of Belfast. The five storey premises has more than forty rooms. Its equipment includes a specially designed computer system to allow for the tracking and monitoring of police conduct:

"We will determine the causes of recurrent problems. If we think a particular policy is inappropriate, we will make recommendations to have it changed.”

A highly skilled team of researchers and policy analysts will identify trends, carry out research and make policy recommendations.

The Police Ombudsman will begin taking complaints on Monday morning. Specialised teams will process complaints, and carry out investigations.

Each investigator will have the same powers as a police officer for the purposes of an investigation. They can obtain search warrants, secure evidence and make arrests.

Mrs O’Loan says she has already been made aware of some of the types of issues which will be brought to her in the first few weeks:

“I have been advised that there are those who have been holding back in making a complaint against the police until this office opens.

Complaints likely to range from allegations of rudeness to criminal matters.

We will be handling all kinds of complaints. We cannot predict what they will be but we know from past records that they will range from allegations that police officers were rude and discriminated against people to allegations that they have committed assault and other criminal offences. We will investigate all of these.”

Emphasising that Monday marks the beginning of a new era in policing, the Police Ombudsman said:

“This is an exceptional moment in the history of Northern Ireland. We have a new independent, impartial police complaints system. My Office will do all it can to ensure public and police confidence in that new system. By doing so we will contribute to the development of the best possible policing service in Northern Ireland.

We are looking forward to providing that first independent impartial investigation of police complaints.”

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