Published Date: 23.07.2002
Almost 13 thousand people contacted the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland during its first year and a half of operations, seeking help and advice on policing matters.
This statistic is among the information contained in the organisation’s first Annual Report, which was presented to the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Dr John Reid today when he visited the Police Ombudsman’s office in central Belfast.
The Report, which covers the 17 months from the November 2000 when the Office opened until March 31 2002, discloses that the 12,500 telephone calls and 1500 visits to its premises resulted in 5129 complaints of police misconduct.
Almost half of these complaints (49%) related to allegations of oppressive conduct, such as assault; 23% were allegations of failure of duty and 14% alleged incivility and rudeness.
Although, her Office initiated more than 2300 investigations during this period, Mrs O’Loan has revealed that her staff has been able to deal with more than 2400 complaints without resorting to official investigations:
“There was a variety of reasons for this. Sometimes when we examined a complaint, while it was obvious that the person involved may not have been happy with their encounter with the police, the issue in question did not amount to misconduct by an officer.
Then there were issues which are just not capable of investigation, maybe because of lack of detail. We also had situations where people have changed their mind about making a complaint.”
In an additional 394 complaints, the person making the allegation and the police officer who was the subject of it managed to resolve their differences informally:
“While many people were upset about their interaction with certain police officers, in reality all some wanted was an explanation as to why the officer acted as they did. We were able to resolve such issues without the need for a full investigation, which could have been stressful for both the person making the complaint and for the officer concerned.”
Mrs O’Loan said such outcomes were only possible at present because both the member of the public making the complaint and the officer in question had agreed to try and resolve their differences informally.
She believes far more complaints could be dealt with at such an early stage and has called for the Office to be able to use increased powers of mediation:
“The current legislation regarding Informal Resolution and Mediation is very prescriptive and neither meets the needs of the officer complained of nor the complainant. I believe that the system needs to be more flexible to allow for the speedy resolution of less serious matters,” she said.
The Report has also disclosed that the Police Service of Northern Ireland has agreed to changes to some of its policies and procedures following recommendations from the Police Ombudsman’s Office. The practice of locking defence solicitors in consulting rooms in one of the police facilities was discontinued following representations the Police Ombudsman.
Certain changes were also made to police policies and procedures on issues such as the use of firearms, the driving of Landrovers, and the supervision and assessment of disturbed or mentally ill prisoners following Mrs O’Loan’s suggestions.
The Report also gives a break down on independent research carried out into public attitudes to the Office of the Police Ombudsman. That research indicated that 83% of Catholic people and 75% of Protestant people believed the Office would treat them fairly:
“That is a terribly important statistic for me. My Office strives above all else to be independent and impartial. It has been a very busy time for us and I take comfort from the fact that the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland now seem to know that we will treat them fairly. I trust that knowledge about the Office will continue to rise in the months and years ahead,” she said.