Little success in attempts to mediate between police officers and members of the public

Published Date: 16.10.2009

In a pilot project carried out by the Police Ombudsman's Office to attempt mediation of complaints made about police officers, only one out of 20 cases proved successful.

The pilot project, which was carried out mostly in north and west Belfast, took place between September 2008 and March 2009. Its aim was to facilitate meetings between people who had made less serious complaints and the police officers they had complained about as a means of resolving their issues.

The reasons why all but one attempt at mediation failed ranged from a failure by members of the public to cooperate with the mediation team to a refusal by both the public and the police officers to engage in the process even after it had been explained to them.

The Police Ombudsman's Director of Research and Performance, Mr Greg Mullan, who oversaw the project, said its findings demonstrated that perhaps the time is not yet right to 'roll out' mediation through Northern Ireland as a means of resolving less serious complaints against police officers.

At present the Police Ombudsman can recommend to a member of the public that a complaint they have made about a 'less serious' matter could be resolved informally. If that person rejects the offer, then the matter must be subject to a full investigation.

The project identified 20 complaints against police officers which the Police Ombudsman viewed a suitable for mediation.

In one instance both the person making the complaint and the police officer complained about agreed to mediate and as a result, the issue was resolved.

In 13 cases, members of the public rejected mediation: three people felt it was too extreme and said they just wanted the police officer 'spoken to;' three people felt their issues too serious and wanted the matter investigated and seven people failed to cooperate with the mediation team.

In all of the remaining six cases where members of the public agreed to mediation with police, the police officers in question declined the option.

"Most of the officers felt that engagement in mediation was tantamount to admitting they had done something wrong and that a formal investigation would vindicate them," explained Mr Mullan.

Mr Mullan said that despite the results of the project, he was of the view that mediation should be available to the public and the police as an alternative to formal investigation:

"There are challenges in mediation but they are not insurmountable. There is still much to be done in building public and police trust in the process."

A report of the pilot project is available on the Police Ombudsman website:, under Publications: Research Reports.

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