Published Date: 23.01.2001
The Police Ombudsman's Office today announced the results of its first survey of public awareness of the new system for dealing with complaints against the police.
In a large-scale survey of people throughout Northern Ireland carried out during October and early November 2000, nearly 1,200 respondents were asked about their experiences of police conduct and how they would react to it.
Overall 19% of people interviewed said that a police officer had at some time behaved towards them in a way they thought was unacceptable. 28% of men compared to 10% of women said they had received unacceptable treatment, and 23% of Catholics compared to 15% of Protestants said they had received unacceptable treatment.
The most commonly reported problem with police behaviour was incivility, mentioned by 57% of those people that had received unacceptable treatment (equivalent to 10% of all people interviewed).
However, 79% of respondents who said they had been treated badly did not bother complaining about the incident. The reason most frequently being given for not complaining was that people thought the police wouldn’t do anything about their complaint. While 59% of Protestant respondents said they would go to their local police station to make a complaint, only 45% of Catholics said they would do this.
Despite the fact that the Office of the Police Ombudsman only opened on 6 November 2000, 57% of all people interviewed had heard of it – although knowledge was less prevalent among young people (aged 25 and less). The fact that the Ombudsman's Office is independent of the police was known by 81% of those respondents that had heard of the Office.
The Police Ombudsman’s Director of Research and Policy, Dr. Malcolm Ostermeyer, said the survey has provided invaluable information about people’s willingness to complain about unacceptable police behaviour:
“The Ombudsman's Office will use this information to improve its service to the public and to increase public awareness of its functions. In particular, it’s apparent that people still think they have to go to a police station to make a complaint, when in fact they can come straight to the Ombudsman's Office in Belfast or make an appointment to see one of our investigators at their local Citizen’s Advice Bureau
I’m particularly pleased that public knowledge of the Ombudsman's Office is so widespread even at this early stage in its operations, and that the public understands that it is totally independent of the police”.
The Office of the Police Ombudsman will be publishing a full report of these findings in January 2001, and will in future commission further surveys and research to investigate the public’s awareness of the complaints system.
Notes for editors
The fieldwork for the survey was carried out independently by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency. A total of 1,189 respondents selected randomly throughout Northern Ireland were interviewed between 16 October and 10 November; this represents a response rate of 62%. There is no evidence to suggest that any particular group in the community was under-represented in the final sample.
The Office of the Police Ombudsman was set up by the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 to provide an impartial and independent system for investigating complaints against the police. It opened for business on 6 November 2000.