Published Date: 16.03.2004
The Police Ombudsman, Mrs Nuala O'Loan, has told a Security Commission meeting in Washington that there has been a drop in the more serious types of complaints made against police officers in Northern Ireland and that she senses a change in culture within the PSNI.
Mrs O'Loan was speaking today (Tuesday, March 16) at a meeting of the United States/Helsinki Commission on Security Cooperation in Europe, held to discuss "Human Rights and Policing Reform in Northern Ireland" at which she presented a paper on the role of her Office.
The Police Ombudsman told the Commission that there was a major shift in the patterns of complaints against the police in Northern Ireland since her Office opened more than three years ago. There has been an overall drop in the numbers of complaints: from 3590 in 2001, to 3340 in 2002, and to 2954 in 2003.
She said there was also a marked decrease in the rate of the more serious allegations:
"There has been a reduction in the number of allegations about the use of force, (including issues such as alleged assault, intimidation and harassment) from 50% to 34% of allegations.
"Allegations must be treated as such initially: they are not proof of misconduct. Even so, the fact that the numbers of such allegations are going down is something the PSNI should take comfort from."
There has also been a reduction in the number of allegations of misuse of batons from 419 in 2001, to 240 in 2002, and to 148 in 2003.
Mrs O'Loan told the Committee that every investigation her Office carries also considers whether PSNI policy, practice or training issues may have been a factor in the alleged incident. If her Office finds such problems, it will make recommendations for change.
“These recommendations have been welcomed by the Chief Constable and have led to improvements in a variety of areas within PSNI, including improved training to cover the effects of ricochet and cross-fire, recommendations that fire arms should not be used to stop moving vehicles and that officers, particularly those carrying firearms should not be on duty for continuous long periods, even with rest breaks,” she said.
Mrs O'Loan told the Committee that she believed her Office's recommendations may be partly behind the PSNI reduction in the use of 'live fire:' since her Office opened the use of live fire had dropped from 21 in 2001, to 11 in 2002, and to 5 in 2003.
Similarly, the number of complaints about other use of firearms (such as assault by firearm) has dropped from 40 in 2001, to 25 in 2002 and to 12 in 2003.
“I believe these reductions have been achieved in part through my Office working with the PSNI regarding problems we have identified during our investigations of complaints.
There has been no corresponding increase in injuries caused to police officers and no corresponding increase in the use of firearms by criminals against the police during this period, she said.
In conclusion, Mrs O'Loan told the Commission that she sensed a change of culture within PSNI in a number of areas and said she believed the Service was now moving towards real community based policing.
“I have also noticed that officers are now coming forward to my Office about wrongdoing and to give evidence against their fellow officers. This is the true face of modern policing.
There are corrupt and violent police officers in most forces, but there are also those who act justly and with integrity and courage and who are prepared to be seen to do what is right,” she said.