Published Date: 09.07.2008
The number of complaints made against police officers in Northern Ireland fell by 10% during the 2007/8 financial year, according to figures published today in the Police Ombudsman's annual report.
The annual report is the first published by the Police Ombudsman's Office since Al Hutchinson succeeded Nuala O'Loan in November last year.
It reveals that members of the public made 2,970 complaints about police officers during 2007/8, compared to the previous year's total of over 3,200.
The number of complaints recorded over the past four years is also down by 14% compared to the four years prior to the establishment of the Police Ombudsman's Office in 2000.
Mr Hutchinson said the figures were one indication of greater community support for the policing system in Northern Ireland.
"Given that confidence in this Office is at a significant high, that complaints come equally from all communities, and that confidence in policing continues to increase, it is logical to note that policing in Northern Ireland is moving towards an increasingly acceptable state."
He said public and police confidence in his Office was indicated by the fact that 81% of respondents to a major survey believed the Police Ombudsman to be impartial, while 85% of police officers who had been investigated by the Office said they had been treated fairly.
However, Mr Hutchinson also cautioned that the investigation of historic cases was affecting his Office's ability to properly deliver a modern and effective police complaints system for current complaints.
Significant additional funding would be required if - in the absence of society reaching agreement on how to deal with issues from the past- his office was to continue to investigate historic cases, he said.
"There is a real danger that we will not be able to significantly progress major historic investigations unless resources are diverted from the work arising from current complaints.
"This in turn has the potential to undermine both the police complaints system and public confidence in the system and in policing.
"If there is no societal resolution of how to deal with the past, post the Eames-Bradley report due this autumn, and should this Office be expected to continue its work in relation to the investigation of very serious allegations of police wrongdoing in the past, then the Government must address the resource need, which is far beyond our existing provisions," said Mr Hutchinson.
Currently some 25% of the Police Ombudsmans staffing budget is spent on historic cases.
The report also reveals that the Police Ombudsman recommended disciplinary action against 200 police officers during 2007/8, and criminal charges against 12 officers during the year.
Of those complainants who provided information about their religion, 43% were Protestant, 41% Catholic, and 16% said they had no or another religion.